The Psychology of Survival

Stress and Survival go Hand in Hand

Sweating bullets.

Sweating bullets.

In this series of articles we are going to explore stress and how it affects your survival, how to deal with it, and how to not just survive, but thrive!

I don’t care if you are a Special Forces, Secret Squirrel, Recon, PJ, SEAL with a gazillion combat jumps if you aren’t stressed and scared when your best laid plans go to complete shit you are either a liar or totally batshit crazy, either of which will get you and those who are relying on you dead when TSHTF.

You need to understand that there is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling stressed and scared when TSHTF, in fact, IT IS NORMAL.  It is how you deal with that stress and fear that can and will mean the difference between life and death. In order to learn how to deal with the stress of a SHTF or in a survival scenario you first have to know what stress is.

What Is Stress?

(From FM 21-76 Survival used in accordance with Dept. of the Army Guidelines on Fair Use)

Stress is not a disease that you cure and eliminate, rather,  it is a condition we all experience. Stress can best be described as our reaction to pressure, it is the name given to the experience we have as we physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually respond to life’s tensions.

We need stress because it has many positive benefits. Stress provides us with challenges; it gives us chances to learn about our values and strengths. Stress can show our ability to handle pressure without breaking; it tests our adaptability and flexibility; it can stimulate us to do our best. Because we usually do not consider unimportant events stressful, stress can also be an excellent indicator of the significance we attach to an event–in other words, it highlights what is important to us.

We need to have some stress in our lives, but too much of anything can be bad. The goal is to have stress, but not an excess of it. Too much stress can take its toll on people and organizations. Too much stress leads to distress. Distress causes an uncomfortable tension that we try to escape and, preferably, avoid.

Listed below are a few of the common signs of distress you may find in the people around you or yourself when faced with too much stress:

  • Difficulty making decisions.
  • Angry outbursts.
  • Forgetfulness.
  • Low energy level.
  • Constant worrying.
  • Propensity for mistakes.
  • Thoughts about death or suicide.
  • Trouble getting along with others.
  • Withdrawing from others.
  • Hiding from responsibilities.
  • Carelessness.

As you can see, stress can be constructive or destructive. It can encourage or discourage, move us along or stop us dead in our tracks, and make life meaningful or seemingly meaningless. Stress can inspire you to operate successfully and perform at your maximum efficiency in a survival situation. It can also cause you to panic and forget all your training. Key to your survival is your ability to manage the inevitable stresses you will encounter. The survivor is the person who works with his stresses instead of letting his stresses work on him.

Now that you know a bit about what stress is and how it can affect you and those with you how do you deal with it?

Unfortunately there is no simple single answer because we all handle things that life throws at us differently. One way is to gain the skills you and your family will need if TSHTF or you find yourself lost in the woods during a camping trip by training on those skills, if you don’t know where to start a quick search of YouTube or Google can get you started.

Two of the biggest killers in any Survival/SHTF situation are fear and anxiety.


Paralyzed with fear.

Paralyzed with fear.

Fear is nothing more than an emotional response to a dangerous situation that you believe will cause bodily injury, illness, or death. A threat to your emotional and mental wellbeing can also cause a fear reaction especially in a survival/SHTF situation. Fear can be a useful tool in a survival/SHTF situation if it causes you to be cautious in situations where recklessness or a lack of caution could lead to injury or death.

On the flip side of that coin fear can also cause a person to simply “freeze up” and make it so they can’t even do the most basic tasks to help them survive. Most people will have some degree of fear when placed in unfamiliar surroundings under adverse conditions. Every one I know and ever deployed with and fought beside had fear at being in battle, we were able to control our fear (and not be controlled by it) because we had used realistic training and practice to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to increase our confidence and thereby manage our fears and you must do the same thing now when things are relatively “normal”, because once the world goes tits up in a hand cart or you find yourself in a survival situation the learning curve goes steeply upwards.



Anxiety is the close friend of fear, they go just about everywhere together. Because it is natural for us to be afraid, it is also natural for us to experience anxiety. Anxiety can be an uneasy, apprehensive feeling we get when faced with dangerous situations whether physical, mental, or emotional. When used in a healthy way, anxiety urges us to act to end, or at least negate, the dangers that threaten our survival. If we were never anxious, there would be little motivation to make changes in our lives.  

In a survival setting you can  reduce your anxiety simply by performing those tasks that will make sure you will come through the ordeal alive. As you reduce your anxiety, are also bringing under control the source of that anxiety–your fears. In this form, anxiety is good; however, anxiety can also have a devastating impact.

Anxiety, like his best buddy fear, can overwhelm you to the point where you can become easily confused and have difficulty thinking. Once this happens, it becomes more and more difficult for you to make good judgments and sound decisions. To survive, you must learn techniques to calm those anxieties and keep them in the range where they help, not hurt.

In our next article we will talk about ways you can manage your stress, fear, and anxiety in a survival/SHTF situation so that you control them and not the other way around.

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


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