The Psychology of Survival – Your Brain is Your Most Powerful Survival Tool!

It isn’t always the person with the greatest physical strength that is better at handling an emergency and more likely to survive. Being able to think clearly is your most valuable asset in a survival situation. That goes for any survival situation, whether that is the aftermath of a natural disaster, or being confronted by a gang of street thugs –keeping your head is the key.


It has been proven time and time again how mental and emotional states are more important than physical skills in survival situations. You can have the strength of an Olympic athlete, and the best survival gear available, but they will be useless to you if you allow fear and stress to takeover – and you sink into despair and a negative attitude.

The Psychology of Survival

Survival is problems solving, and that means you need to be able to THINK! You must be able to recognize threats to your life, know their priority of significance, and the severity of the threat. Then you must be able to take the necessary action that will keep you alive. It is physical fact, that when you are calm your brain can process information more efficiently, and problem solve more effectively – that is what is meant by “thinking clearly.”

In Special Ops training you learn that stress can inspire you to operate successfully and perform at your maximum efficiency in a survival situation. But you are also taught that stress can cause even the best soldier to panic and forget his training.

The key to your own survival is your ability to manage the inevitable stress you will encounter in an emergency. You are a survivor when you work with stress instead of letting your stress work on you. In any survival situation, your greatest enemies are fear and panic. If uncontrolled, they can destroy your ability to make intelligent decisions. Fear and panic causes you to react to your feelings and imagination rather than to the realities of your situation.

Special Ops Troops are taught to vanquish fear and panic with training and selfconfidence!

But you don’t need military level training to achieve that! What you do need is some basic training, but more importantly the self-confidence that comes from knowing that your life can be threatened, and knowing what to do when it is.


When getting yourself mentally prepared for disaster, always keep in mind too, that it doesn’t take a major catastrophe or earth-shattering event for you to find yourself in an emergency situation. As the saying goes “Sh*t Happens”. Cars breakdown, power goes out, unexpected weather moves in — a simple wrong turn and you can be in dangerous and unfamiliar surroundings.

Changing Your Mind Set

Think of the hardest mental challenge you ever had to face and overcome in your life. In any survival situation you will likely be confronted by problems far worse.

Your mental attitude will be your greatest strength, but it could also be your downfall. You will have to defeat negative thoughts and emotions, and also conquer your greatest fears. You will never be further away from your “comfort zone.” Being prepared to deal emotionally with a disaster before it occurs will help you to shift your mental processes away from despair, and take on a “can do attitude” when a crisis arrives!

Modern society has conditioned your mind to expect instant relief from discomfort. If it’s dark you just flip on a light switch, if you are hungry, you just run to the fridge, when you are cold, you turn up the heat.

But your mental conditioning can also be unconditioned. Your mind has a remarkable ability to adapt. You can turn back to your instincts, and retrain your mind to always hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

Fear is a very real human emotion. Fear is a natural reaction to a crisis. There is not a warfighter, a police officer, a first responder, or anyone else that you might consider “brave” that would tell you they are “fearless” in a combat or other life and death situation. The definition of courage is not the absence of fear but it’s acceptance and ability to use it positively when you can, and overcome it when you must.

Of greater concern then fear, is panic. Simply put, in survival situations – panic kills. Panic is your uncontrolled need to forget everything and just try to run from your situation. Panic is triggered by the stress caused by fear of the unknown, a lack of confidence, not knowing what to do next, and letting your imagination get the best of you.

What it really all boils down to is this: you may never be able to control the circumstances that have put you in a survival situation – but what you can ALWAYS control is your reactions to them.


Fear, anxiety, anger, frustration, guilt, depression, and loneliness are all possible reactions to the many stressors common to survival. These reactions, when controlled in a healthy way, help to increase your likelihood of surviving.

Being able to manage stress and avoid panic will significantly improve your ability to stay calm, remain focused and keep yourself and those around you alive duringany crisis. Learning relaxation techniques, assertiveness skills, and keeping a positive attitude will all help.

One of the ways soldiers are taught to deal with psychological stress of going into combat or other life-threatening situations is to use the acronym “AIM.”


  • Anticipate the anxiety and concerns that will arise. Don’t pretend that you will have no fears. Begin thinking about what would frighten you the most if forced into a survival situation or violent confrontation. Train in those areas of concern to you. The goal is not to eliminate the fear, but to build confidence in your ability to function despite your fears.
  • Identify uncomfortable or distressing thoughts that could cause further anxiety. Don’t be afraid to make an honest appraisal of situations. Follow the adage, “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.”
  • Manage your emotional responses using controlled breathing and self-talk so that your ability to cope remains as effective as possible and you can focus on the practical tasks that need attention

But your greatest power over panic is the confidence that comes from the level of preparedness.

Survival Shape

Next to being mentally prepared, one of the most important things you can do to increase your chances of surviving a disaster or crisis situation, is to keep yourself as physically fit as possible. The time to get into “Survival Shape” is NOW — and not during a crisis!

But unfortunately today in the land of junk food and couch potatoes, you are more likely a lard-ass, than a badass! If that doesn’t apply to you – sorry, but the truth is most people can’t run for a freaking bus without feeling like they are going to pass out! Yeah, we spent a lot of time on mental preparedness, but the reality is, if you are not physically up to what it takes, your chances of survival are severely reduced, no matter how good your attitude is or your planning was.

Physical fitness is as equally important in a “street survival” situation as it is insurviving during or after a natural disaster. Lets look at street crime for a minute.

First of all if you are overweight and out of shape, you look like an easy target.

Street thugs are not looking for a fight, they are looking for a victim – don’t look like one and you are less likely to be one. Even if you are trained and licensed to carry a handgun, do you think that means you will not have to be physically fit to survive a mugging or other street attack?

Check this out. It’s late at night; you, your wife and teenage daughter are walking out of a late movie. You are approached by a group of thugs with nastiness on their minds.

Maybe you can see some weapons, a knife, chains etc.

Whatever is going to happen is going to happen quickly. Your speed and reaction time is going to depend on your fitness – even if that means how quickly you can draw and use your weapon to defend yourself, assuming you have one. If you don’t, are you in good enough shape to out run and/or outfight them, and get your family to safety?


Even if you are carrying, do you think when you’re attacked by a group there won’t be some hand-to- hand involved? Are you prepared to draw in time to drop every attacker without a struggle? Unless you are Law Enforcement or have been in combat, “shooting to kill” is probably a pretty hard decision to make – and while you are thinking about it, before you know it the dirtbags have the drop on you with your face pressed into the concrete – and God knows what happens to wife and daughter next!

This is where physical fitness comes in, if you LOOK and feel strong you have a much better chance of coming out of this alive.

First of all, if you don’t look like an out of shape slob, you stand a better chance of not even being put in this situation. If you look and carry yourself like somebody who shouldn’t be messed with – you probably won’t be!

Now that doesn’t mean you need to be a bodybuilding gym rat. You just need to get in shape! Work out at least 2 to three times a week, walk, jog, stop taking the elevator and use the stairs. If you do go to a gym, yeah lift weights, and do some push-ups and crunches, but also start to hit the heavy bag. Get to feel what it feels like to throw and connect with punches. If you can’t or won’t go to the gym, just get moving – bike ride, use the car less, run around with your kids, wash the car, play tennis — anything at all is an improvement! Once you start to be less sedentary, you’ll be amazed at just how much better you feel. If you do some kind of exercise everyday, it may save your life in more ways than one!

One of the best “Survival Shape” workouts I can recommend is TRX Suspension Training. Not surprising The TRX was invented by a former Navy SEAL to keep his team pumped, primed and ready, while deployed. So it is no wonder that it has been embraced by the military. According to Department of Defense statistics, use of the TRX system by forward troops across all branches of the military has shown a 50% increase in physical job performance, in tasks such as forced rucksack marches, obstacle courses, and other Physical Training tests — and more than an 80% decrease in stress and strain related injuries compared to those not using the TRX in training.

The TRX is totally portable. It is merely two nylon straps with handles on them, and is used anchored to a door, wall, etc. The bands themselves do not expand and contract like resistance bands; instead your bodyweight suspended from the TRX provides the workout. The bands allow you to do multiple reps of core strengthening activities, using your body weight as resistance, specifically, pushups, squats, lunges, as well as dead-lifts, chest presses… just about anything you can do on typical exercise machines. Fire-fighters, SWAT Teams, and other lawenforcement agencies swear by the TRX for the same reasons. As do personal trainers and professional athletes such as UFC Champion Dominick Cruz, LaDainian Tomlinson of the San Diego Chargers, and Mixed Martial Arts Champion Bas Rutten.

Now, lets talk “Survival Shape” and natural disasters, or other apocalyptic scenarios. Unless you have been in the military you probably do not know what it is like to walk all day and all night with little sleep, or food, while carrying a hundred pounds of junk on your back. Or, to dig holes in brutal heat or deathly cold to sleep in, to go for weeks with out a proper bath or bathroom – and to have to do all of this while other people are trying to kill you!

Unless you have experienced it, you have no idea how brutal this could be, and how terribly UNPREPARED for it you likely are. But, you can get used to these kinds of field situations, every soldier does – but it starts with “basic training” and basic fitness.

You will not make it past day one in any kind of post disaster scenario, without some physical training before it strikes!

Final Tips

Besides getting in “Survival Shape” another part of improving your physical preparedness to face a disaster is to gain some additional skills you don’t have, but that could come in handy. If you don’t know how to swim, learn. Take a course in Yoga, Tai-chi, or other stress reduction techniques. These can help you cope before, during and after a disaster.

Get trained in basic self-defense, learn how to shoot. The more you can learn, and the more you can challenge yourself physically – the better you will be able to react in an emergency.

It is also a very good idea to learn CPR and basic first aid.For more info watch this video.

They can help you be better prepared in emergency situations, build confidence, and may just save your life or the life of a loved one.

Stay safe,


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