Saving Yourself From Yourself

By Mike Wallace Superstition Search & Rescue

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In the hot summer heat, a young lady who had been on a day hike in the Arizona desert was reported missing. Search teams from Maricopa and Pinal counties were called out to find her.

The area in which she was lost was saturated with ground, horse, and air support. She had wandered for three days, lost in the desert. She also had hidden from the rescuers who were trying to save her.

What would cause a person to hide or flee from the very thing that could save her? The answer is terror!

Most of us have not experienced pure terror, so it is hard to comprehend people s avoiding aid that could save their lives. The reality is that a very large percentage of people who get lost do just that. It is a natural result of the mechanics of physical response to life-threatening situations.

Four Stages And Their Signs

There are four stages to one s initial response in a time of crisis, whether the crisis is real or just perceived.

Stage 1: Alarm a state of alertness as a result of stimulus. Anxiety appears as a natural reaction to what could happen.

Stage 2: Reaction the physical body gears up for action. The entire body, physically and mentally, prepares for what could possibility happen. Symptoms of stage 2 are as follow:

a. Muscles tighten.

b. Sweat glands close down.

c. Sugar is released for energy

d. Adrenaline starts to flow.

e. Heart rate increases.

Stage 3: Response and options (fight or flight syndrome) adrenaline is dumped into the system. Symptoms of stage 3 are as follow:

a. Confusion and loss of the ability to think rationally and refusal to believe that the situation you are in is very serious or is happening at all

b. Complete panic and possibly frozen limbs and mind possibly accompanied by weakness, crying, trembling, nausea, and vomiting

Stage 4: Rest sharp emotional and physical letdown after a high output of energy. This will happen eventually whether wanted or not. Symptoms of stage 4 include the following:

a. A complete drain, both physically and emotionally

b. Shock

None of the above physical reactions to mental stress is beneficial when in a survival circumstance.

There are a lot of theories about priority of tasks to maximize your ability to survive. Some would argue that shelter is the most important, others, a source of water. These are both vital to sustain life.

Since each survival situation is different, it is almost impossible to list any one task that is first and most important except one. You have to save yourself from yourself!

Mental stress is directly tied to physical stress. Both will burn much needed energy reserves. Fear and anxiety are normal responses to a crisis.

Managing your body in an emergency is the key to survival. Failure to manage your body will directly affect your ability to exist in any environment for any amount of time.

Don t think because you re a specimen of manhood, bulging in brawn and mental capacity, that you re not vulnerable to terror and irrational behavior. If anxiety and fear are allowed to evolve on their natural course, it won t matter how strapping or intelligent you are. Search and rescue will more than likely find you and pry you off the tree you are hugging in hysteria if you are lucky!

How Do We Control Fear?

1. Understand your body s natural responses to crisis. Knowing the signs of the four stages of response will give you a comprehension of what your body is doing and will help you understand when to start managing your emotions.

2. Fear is mostly of the unknown, although there are things that are real and can threaten your ability to survive. Define what is real and what is created. Deal only with real threats.

Fear, unchecked, can lead to panic. If you fail to control panic, it will lead to pure terror. Recognize fear as a natural phenomenon, accept it and stop its progression.

3. A crisis is a good time to rely on spiritual faith.

4. As silly as it sounds, talk to yourself. Convince yourself that you are okay. Compliment yourself for the things you are doing right. Forgive yourself rapidly for the things that you do wrong and don t let them get you down. Talk your way through tasks to keep your mind busy.

5. Set realistic goals for yourself.

6. Understand that most survival situations are temporary and short term. Only 5 percent of all survival situations go longer than 72 hours.

7. It is crucial to think positively. To keep your mind and body at peak performance, you must stay up and mentally positive!

8. Know, and truly believe, that you are going to make it out of this situation, no matter what. Never waiver from that thought.

9. Train yourself beforehand. Knowledge will replace fear of the unknown. Understanding how to survive will give you confidence and a positive attitude.

There are two more human emotions that you need to control to save yourself from your self. Compared to controlling anxiety and fear, they should be easy to manage.

In 2000, a very successful businesswoman was reported as missing in the Superstition Mountains. After a day of searching in over 100-degree temps, a member of the search team noticed something move in his peripheral vision.

He hiked across a small canyon to a large bolder to find a woman hiding and covering her face. He asked what her name was; she would not tell him.

She was an important and prominent woman and was embarrassed that she had to be rescued. She was extremely dehydrated and could have died on that mountain Embarrassment is a foolish thing to die for!

In the summer of 2001, a father and his daughter decided to take a three-day hike. They planned to hike in and spend two nights in the wilderness together.

The third day came, and they ran out of water. The father lost his sense of direction and started hiking farther into the wilderness. They were found by a search helicopter and brought back to base camp.

As the father stepped out of the helicopter, he said, We were fine. We could have made it out. We were just out of water. The daughter said. Dad, you need to shut up. Pride kills if mismanaged.

Left by itself, the human body cannot survive in the outdoors. Our ability to think, adapt, and change our environment are the only reasons we even exist.

Letting anxiety progress on its natural course is a serious mistake. Thinking is critical to survival. Pride, embarrassment or any other attitude or emotion that keeps you from making logical decisions all need to be controlled. It s up to you, yourself, and you.

For more insights into survival, contact Mike Wallace at

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