The most important tool we carry with us in the outdoors
is between our ears. Our brain and common sense are the most
important tools we have. Individuals who have had life-threatening
illnesses have many different outlooks. Some individuals give
up and do not have a propensity to live. Subsequently death
is imminent. Others have a will to survive and move on, to
live. There are many factors contributing to this. One's personal
view and outlook on life, their family, humor, goals for the
future all play an important role in surviving illness, as
well as surviving in the outdoors. How we cope with our fears,
phobias and stressors in life definitely plays a direct role
as we continue on our life's path.
Phobias for the most part have been derived in our psyche
generally from some past experience. This experience could
be a past interaction as a child, a bad event with a subsequently
bad outcome. It could be a phobia of insects, a phobia of
being alone or isolated. It could be a fear of water, etc.
It is not uncommon as a child that we encounter these ourselves
and/or through role modeling of our parents. If a parent is
deathly afraid of insects, it is not uncommon to see this
same fear transferred onto the child. As they grow up, they
may become very frightened of insects of all types. The first
step in overcoming any phobia is to educate oneself by increasing
one's knowledge base of that particular phobia. If a phobia
is so incapacitating that an individual cannot function in
an outdoor environment, I would strongly recommend seeking
out a behavior modification approach to decreasing that phobia
to at least a level of coping where your anxiety is not so
overwhelming, so that you can continue to enjoy in moderation
the outdoors. A specific phobia will produce fear. Fear is
natural in all man. However when it gets to a point where
it impedes judgment and common sense, then it becomes quite
dangerous. Fear can easily immobilize an individual where
they cannot function, and they literally can be frozen in
a situation where they are unable to move out of that situation
or proceed in a healthy manner. When one is lost, it is not
uncommon to become very panic stricken, have an increased
surge of anxiety, and frequently make bad choices. This can
easily spell out injury, physical and emotional. Research
has shown that after the first 24 hours of being lost and
not being found, the 5 stages of death and dying that occur
with most individuals when diagnosed with a terminal illness
do occur. This was first described by Dr. Ross.
These stages are:
When one is lost in the outdoors for greater than 24 hours,
they may experience depression and sadness about their situation.
They may feel that they are going to die and subsequently
this thought process can easily cascade and snowball into
a very debilitating place.
It is not uncommon for anger to occur next. The individual
may become very angry with himself, that they are in the situation.
They may externalize the anger and blame others as to why
they are lost, and this anger can also be debilitating in
that it may be followed by bad choices and judgment decisions.
Denial is a very frequently encountered emotion, especially
when being lost. This can occur before depression sets in.
Again, all of these do not have to occur in any particular
order. Denial is a very dangerous feeling and thought process
that occurs. What occurs is the individual at that time sits
and talks themselves out of the fact that they are lost, and
they may continue to wander about the woods. They may become
focused on the fact that they can definitely find their way
out when they really can't, again leading to injury or harm
to their person, or perhaps putting them in a situation where
they move farther away from base camp.
When experiencing much despair, an individual may begin to
bargain with a higher power, or with themselves, about whether
they should get up and try to run out of that situation, or
try to make their way back to base camp or the entrance to
where they think they are at. Bargaining can easily lead to
bad decision making, which can lead to physical injury or
harm, or can also cycle back into depression at that time.
Acceptance is not a bad place to be when being lost. If one
can accept the fact that they are lost and resolve themselves
to the fact that they will be found and reach some terms of
agreement within themselves about their unfortunate predicament,
they can then begin to make progress. Subsequently, acceptance
is a very good place in which to be. However one needs to
usually go through all or a few of these states of death and
dying through their minds before they start making progress
in their unfortunately situation.
The first thing one should do when they find themselves lost
is to sit down, take a deep breath, look around, identify
where they are at in terms of marking some trees with some
flags, so in case they do wander or roam, at least that area
will be marked. They should sit still, and this goes along
with hug a tree theory. If you have some water with you, definitely
drink it. You will be amazed at how drinking some water will
calm an individual down and you will begin to think more
clearly if you are hydrated.
We need to differentiate between stress and anxiety at this
point which may both be experienced when being lost. Anxiety
is something that comes from within you, within the person.
This anxiety is very real. However the degree and intensity
of that anxiety will depend on you and your perceptions of
your thought processes at that time. Stress on the other hand
is something that affects you usually from your external environment,
usually from a situation. While anxiety is more intrinsic,
stress is more extrinsic. Both can be beneficial if it is
known how to deal with them. They can be motivators in terms
of getting one out of a situation. Anxiety can be more destructive
since it comes from within. However by recognizing that, one
takes the first step in reducing their anxiety. There has
been a lot of research in Psychoneuroimmunology, which speaks
directly to stress and anxiety. Specifically, stress is not
necessarily the extrinsic event. In other words, it may not
be the car accident, it may not be the tornado that is coming
at you during a severe thunderstorm. It may not be the fact
that you are totally lost and do not know how to get back.
However it has been studied that what is more important is
how you approach the event--more important than the event
itself, in terms of dealing with stress. Subsequently this
is an important aspect when dealing with any stress or anxiety--it
is how you come to a situation, how you walk around a situation
and how you approach a situation, as opposed to the event
itself. It may seem trite, but the event itself is the fact
that you are lost, or the event itself is the tornado. When
looking at it from a different perspective, it is an event
that you are about to encounter, but nevertheless it is only
an event. If you were 250 miles away from the tornado, it
would still be a tornado. So, it is very important to look
at how you approach your stressor, in this case one of being
lost in the outdoors.
I would like to address a little bit more about fear at this
point. Fear for the most part can occur because of the unknown.
Fear has been experienced since the beginning of mankind,
from man's first encounter with fire, until he understood
how fire could benefit him, I am sure he was extremely frightened
of fire. Even when white man landed in America, his fear of
an unfamiliar race definitely colored his perceptions of those
who "appeared to be different." This fear most frequently
produces anger. Fear stems from anger. We seem to have learned
over the years that it is not "manly" to show fear.
Subsequently we transform that fear into anger, and then that
anger can easily become destructive. Subsequently if one can
recognize their fear at the moment or their anger, and realize
where it is coming from, where it stems from, that anger most
likely came from a foundation of fear. Once we learn that,
that fear may be an underpinning of anger, we then can approach
it much differently and overcome it.
These facts should help individuals look in the mirror, look
at themselves, look at some of their shortcomings, so that
when they are in the outdoors and if they do get lost, they
can recognize that it is very common to have these feelings
and move past them. Stay put, use some of the survival skills
that are taught on this page, and be found.