The Psychology of Survival-Part 2

In part 2 of our series The Psychology of Survival, we will dig a little deeper into stress and what it is and isn’t.


Everyone has experienced stress at one time or another and we all know stressful events very rarely come one at a time, more often, stressful events occur one after the other or even simultaneously. The events themselves ARE NOT STRESS, but they produce it and are called “stressors.” Stressors are the obvious cause while stress is the response. Once the body recognizes a stressor, it then begins to act to protect itself.

In response to a stressor, the body prepares the “Fight or Flight” response. This preparation involves a sort of “internal memo” sent throughout the body that says, “Get ready to run like hell or fight for your damn life.” As the body responds to this “internal memo”, several actions take place, your body releases stored fuels (sugar and fats) to give quick energy; your respiratory rate increases to supply more oxygen to the blood; your muscles tense to prepare for action; blood clotting mechanisms are activated to reduce bleeding from cuts; your senses become more acute (hearing becomes more sensitive, pupils dilate to bring in more light, your sense of smell becomes sharper) so that you are more aware of your surroundings, and  your heart rate and blood pressure rise to give more blood to the muscles. This “Fight or Flight response allows you to cope with potential dangers; however, you cannot keep up such a level of alertness indefinitely.

Stressors are not your friend; one stressor does not leave just because another one decides to show up. They tend to stack up, playing “The King of the Hill.” The cumulative effect of relatively minor stressors (small scrapes and cuts, missing a meal, etc.) can lead to major stress if they all happen too closely together. As the body’s resistance to stress wears down and the sources of stress continue (or increase), eventually a state of exhaustion arrives. At this point, the ability to resist stress or use it in a positive way gives out and signs of distress appear. Anticipating stressors and developing strategies to cope with them are two ingredients in the effective management of stress. It is therefore essential that in a survival/SHTF situation you are aware of the types of stressors you will meet.

In part 1 of our series we discussed Fear and Anxiety, in Part 2 we’re going to cover how Injury, Illness, and Death,  Lack of Control, Fatigue, your Environment, Hunger and Thirst, and isolation and how they affect you in survival/SHTF scenario.

Injury, Illness, or Death

Injury, illness, and death are very real possibilities you have to face; perhaps nothing is more stressful than being alone in survival/SHTF situation where you could die from someone’s hostile action, an accident, or from eating something lethal. Illness and injury can also add to stress by limiting your ability to move, get food and drink, find shelter, and defend yourself. Even if illness and injury don’t lead to death, they add to stress through the pain and discomfort they generate. It is only by controlling the stress associated with the vulnerability to injury, illness, and death that you can have the courage to take the risks associated with ensuring your survival.

Uncertainty and Lack of Control

Some people have trouble operating in settings where everything is not clear-cut. The only guarantee in a survival/SHTF situation is that NOTHING IS GUARANTEED! It can be extremely stressful operating in a survival situation when you have no idea how long it will take rescuers to get to you, if you will find food before you become too weak to move, find water before you become dehydrated, etc. The same is true of a SHTF scenario when you don’t know the status of your family, or if those gang banging, hood rats are still prowling near your camp, as well as the stressors associated with a survival situation such as food, water, and shelter. You will almost certainly be in a setting where you have limited control of your surroundings. This uncertainty and lack of control also add to the stress of becoming ill, injured, or being killed.


Even under the most ideal circumstances, nature is a bitch. In a survival/SHTF situation you will have to contend with the weather, terrain, and all manner and variety of creepy, crawly, biting, stinging,  walking, hungry nasty little creatures inhabiting the area that can make you  ill, injure or  kill you. The heat, cold, rain, winds, snow, mountains, swamps, deserts, and dense forests are just a few of the challenges awaiting you when you are working to survive. Depending on how you handle the stress of your environment, your surroundings can be either a source of food, water, shelter, and protection or it can be a cause of extreme discomfort that will lead to injury, illness, or death.

Hunger and Thirst

Without food and water a person will weaken and eventually die.  The “Rule of 3” applies here, ( 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food), thus, getting and maintaining a supply of food and water takes on increasing importance as the length of time in a survival/SHTF setting increases. When you are used to being able to just open the fridge or run to the local Burger King, Denny’s, or Quickie-Mart to grab some food and a Red Bull, foraging can be a big source of stress.

You can reduce the stress associated with being hungry and thirsty by learning how to make and set snares, hunt  and skin small game such as squirrels and rabbits, fish using only a “Survival Fishing Kit”, learning what plants are edible and which to avoid in the area(s) you might be stuck in/use as a bug out site. The same is true of finding water. The time to learn these skills NOW, not when you find yourself faced with a survival/SHTF situation. By practicing those skills REGULARLY you will greatly reduce those stressors when/if you do find yourself in a survival/SHTF situation.


Forcing yourself to continue surviving is not easy as you grow more tired. It is possible to become so fatigued that the act of just staying awake is hugely stressful in and of itself. In a survival/SHTF situation becoming so fatigued you can no longer stay awake can be deadly. To reduce the effects of fatigue you should rest as much as the situation dictates you can. Obviously if TSHTF and you have to get the hell out of Dodge to avoid the gangs and sacred masses, rest isn’t going to be high on your list of priorities until you are well clear of the danger, conversely if you have found yourself lost in the woods once you have taken steps to make sure you have shelter, fire, food, and water you should be able to rest and conserve your strength while you wait for rescue.


Human beings, as a rule are very social animals, we will often seek out the company and companionship of others when alone. Very rare indeed is the person who truly thrives completely alone without becoming completely window licking, head banging, straight jacket wearing insane. If you are alone during a survival/SHTF situation it will not take long before all of your fears and anxiety run amuck in your head.

Hallucinations are not uncommon when faced with the task of survival. Think the Tom Hanks character in Cast Away with the Volleyball, “Wilson”. The longer we are isolated the more likely that type of thing will occur.

As preppers we have all learned the individual skills (you have, right?) we will need should we be thrust into a survival/SHTF scenario, but we should also be training to work as part of a team. Although we complain about wives/girlfriends, husbands/boyfriends, kids, jobs, and countless other things both big and small we become used to the information, stability, and guidance they offer, especially during times of confusion and stress.

Being in contact with others also provides a greater sense of security and a feeling that someone is available to help when you need it. A major cause of stress in survival/SHTF situations is that often a person or family has to rely solely on its own resources.

By using realistic training, practicing your skills (both individually and as a family), learning to overcome your fears, and having something as simple a deck of playing cards or small notebook to write in you can significantly reduce the effects of isolation in a survival/SHTF situation.

The causes of stress mentioned in this section are by no means the only ones you may face. Remember, what is stressful to one person may not be stressful to another. Your experiences, training, personal outlook on life, physical and mental conditioning, and level of self-confidence contribute to what you will find stressful in a survival/SHTF environment.

It is IMPOSSIBLE to avoid stress so the object is not to avoid it, but rather to manage the causes of stress in a  survival/SHTF situation and make them work for you not against you.

Now that you have a general knowledge of stress and the causes of stress common to survival/SHTF situation in Part 3 of our series, The Psychology of Survival, we will look at the reactions to stress you may have.

I look forward to seeing your comments and as always, Train to Survive!


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