Wilderness Medicine, First Aid, and Outdoor Skills
Psychology of Survival

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US Army First Aid Manual
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Appendix A: First Aid Case and Kits, Dressings, and Bandages
Appendix B: Rescue and Transportation Procedures
Appendix C: Common Problems/Conditions
Appendix D: Digital Pressure
Appendix E: Decontamination Procedures
Appendix F: Glossary


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:

  1. Depression
  2. Anger
  3. Denial
  4. Bargaining
  5. Acceptance

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.

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