Survival Tips #5
Stress and managing stress during and after a survival related event or incident.
“Stress arises when individuals perceive a discrepancy between the physical or psychological demands of a situation and the resources of his or her biological, psychological or social systems” (Sarafino, 2012).
(I am not a psychologist, nor am I an expert in stress management- these are simply tips that may help you mentally and physically should an event occur that requires you to become self-reliant in order to survive)
There are two main ways to deal with stress in high stress environment: working on your feelings and working on the problem causing the stress.
These categories each cover a number of different coping mechanisms, which if you consider them rationally each have the appropriate time and place. Although the common perception in a survival situation is “screw your feeling loser” that isn’t exactly accurate- coping emotionally has its place and as you read through these many of my military, law enforcement, and criminal friends will be able to relate to them.
This is trying to reduce the negative emotional responses associated with stress. Getting injured, getting shot at, being locked up, and a giant pandemic, are good examples of stress. This may be the only realistic option when the source of stress is outside of your control. Keep in mind that although a stressor may beyond your control utilizing this form of coping and ignoring the other may only intensify your stress. Usually even if an event is beyond your control some form of problem solving focus will reduce your stress.
Here are some common methods of emotional coping strategy:
Praying- “Ktulu bless my bullet and give me favorable winds so my bullet might hit its mark” or something like that.
Talking about your feelings- “shut up private, nobody cares about your f’ing feelings”. Just kidding, this is very effective in the right time and place. Ask any combat veteran and they can tell you that speaking about traumatic events with someone who has shared them is both appropriate and useful. Go ahead and tell your friends that you think your all gonna die. Best you don’t do it in front of the kids while driving them to the doctor for a checkup.
Meditation/Breathing- exercises like combat breathing, yoga, running and… meditation.
Eating- coping mechanism, probably not a great idea in a survival situation. “I eat because I’m unhappy, and I’m unhappy because I eat”- Fat Bastard
Drinking- you know who you are, again not a great idea generally but it has its place.
Drugs- like drinking this method of emotional coping can be effective (“give him a shot of morphine so he’ll shut up doc”) but generally will worsen or greatly complicate a survival situation. Being high doesn’t generally help you with problem solving strategies. Don’t confuse this with drug treatment that directly increases your ability to survive.
Journaling- this is a pretty good way to cope, and can actually help keep a record for identifying and working on problem solving at a later time. Look at our current situation- how cool will it be for your great, great, grandkids to be able to read about your experiences in the pandemic of 2020 that started the last great depression? I wonder how I cope (as you read this say “aaah”).
Reappraisal- This is one of my favorites; you can probably tell if you didn’t already know. This is a way of stepping back and in a rational and detached way and try to create an emotion eliciting way that changes its emotional impact. In Sniper school this is called “maintaining a positive attitude”. People also call it “looking for the silver lining”. A popular joke: “Reminds me of that fella back home who fell off a ten-story building. As he was falling, people on each floor kept hearing him say, “So far, so good.” “. In our current situation, you are alive. You can communicate with friends and family. You most likely have more as a homeless man in America than a homeowner in Mali. And it only gets better. You can hug your kid, drink water that is safe and keep you and your family out of the rain and wind. Not many places you would rather be for this life altering event when I think about it, considering my loved ones and friends.
Suppression- Suppression emotions can be a necessity when you focus on problem solving strategies. Make no mistake- in a survival situation you should probably just gut your fear, anxiety, depression, and terror. When a bear is eating your companion’s face it is inappropriate to sit there and think about how you feel about it. However, if you suppress your emotions over an extended period of time compromises your immune system, mental competence, and leads to poor physical health. So get your feelz on when it’s safe to do so.
Here are some examples of Problem focused coping mechanisms:
Problem-focused coping focuses on the sources of stress in practical ways. Because it is you who addresses the problem or stressful situation that is causing stress, it will directly reduce or remove the stress.
Problem focused strategies aim to remove or reduce the cause of the stressor, which makes it the best form of coping. While emotional coping helps with the emotional effect of stress problem focused coping removes it. This will be a lot easier to remember too.
Problem solving- Take responsibility, Identify the problem, identify a solution, apply it. If you fail try again. Ignore anyone who says “you cant”- it really doesn’t matter what they think.
Time-management- You need to research some time management skills if you don’t have them (if you’re not sure, you don’t). The army uses the CARVER method: In order, go with: critical tasks, attainable, high return, vulnerability (if a task takes longer to complete it goes down the scale of how soon you need to do it), effect, and recognizability. (is it easy to define how critical, easy, valuable and doable the thing is?). If this is too much just get a notebook and write down some things stressing you out that you CAN fix. Put them in order of what is needed most (all of them), assign yourself a time limit for each, and get them done. If something is not possible, delayed, or questionable (“no really where do YOU want to eat tonight babe”) then save that time and do the next thing on the list.
Obtaining instrumental social support- Note that no matter what your “feelings are” this is not about obtaining emotional social support. Social organizations have two types of solidarity- Social cohesion and task cohesion. Social cohesion tends to break down under social stressors like divorce, bankruptcy, or criminal conviction. It is more effected by your financial status, ethnicity, and religion than by true solidarity. Task cohesion on the other hand is formed by accomplishing shared tasks under stress, threat, and hardship. It also tends to get stronger under social stressors. Israeli Defense Forces, Special Operations, Law enforcement officers, Convicts are all examples of Task cohesion. All of these groups tend to form a bond that goes beyond their shared time and place. When looking for instrumental social support look at existing social structures like banks, Police, fire departments, and hospitals, but also reaffirm those social structures like veterans groups, church groups (formed as I have stated) family, your Biker club, your cellmate (husband, whatever) and very close friends. When you are using problem solving coping mechanisms you need to be able to focus on solving the problem, not maintaining face or social status.