PRESERVING THE SOLO SURVIVOR’S SANITY
HOW TO MAINTAIN GOOD MENTAL HEALTH WHEN YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN
How to keep your head straight when you’re on your own
Humans are social animals. They naturally enjoy, and have a need for, constant social interaction. Sure, everyone looks forward to some quiet time— time to recharge their worn-down batteries, time to take things slowly. But then, the urge to be part of a group, to socialize with friends, family and colleagues drifts back into their psyche, and they once again join other human beings in all forms of interaction, whether at work, school or just having some fun.
But what happens when someone doesn’t have the choice to be part of a social group? What happens to their mindset when they’re abruptly separated from others, and verbal or physical interaction between them and other people stops cold? The short answer: It will eventually drive them to the point of insanity. This fact, coupled with the idea that, at times, a person can’t control
the situation that forces them to become secluded from others, could result in a very scary, yet very possible, scenario.
This can occur after such diverse events as a person’s boat capsizing, being trapped after a natural disaster, being held hostage by a kidnapper or predator, and even being lost in the wilderness, desert or other outdoor environment.
Bear in mind, however, that a person can overcome the mental deterioration caused by isolation—but only if they know what to do physically, mentally and, equally importantly, emotionally.
THE EFFECTS OF ISOLATION
The negative effects of being isolated from other humans can manifest, surprisingly, within a short amount of time for some people. This could mean a few weeks, days or, in extreme cases, a matter of hours. People have different tolerances for being alone, and, once they are exceeded, their overarching need to interact with others becomes a potential liability.
That said, even the most mentally tough individuals will exhibit some of the common symptoms brought on by this type of discomfort at some point.
Isolation, especially if coupled with the aftermath of a man-made or natural disaster, will undoubtedly cause a person stress. In most cases, stress is the first physical and mental obstacle someone in this type of situation will encounter. Stress can then lead to a number of other, more-serious issues, including increased anxiety, paranoia and repeated obsessive thoughts. From there, the decline of mental facilities can become extreme as
... A PERSON CAN OVERCOME THE MENTAL DETERIORATION CAUSED BY ISOLATION— BUT ONLY IF THEY KNOW WHAT TO DO PHYSICALLY, MENTALLY AND, EQUALLY IMPORTANTLY, EMOTIONALLY.
hallucinations become common. Ultimately, the only way to escape the constant “mental pounding” is, unfortunately, suicide.
Keep in mind that not all people will experience this entire range of isolation traits or in the same straightforward sequence. There are also plenty of independent variables that will be in play in such a situation. However, the individual’s overall level of co-dependency upon other human beings can have the greatest effect on their mental health.
While some people can’t handle being alone, whether on a romantic level or by having friends constantly surrounding them, others fare well living a semi-isolated life with little interaction with others. Those with jobs that don’t require the need to interact with other people, such as work-from-home computer programmers, writers, or third-shift watchmen or guards, constantly live a partially solo life and are better suited to deal with a situation in which they find themselves disconnected from other humans.
Conversely, those who constantly need interaction, whether on their social media networks or within a tight-knit group of regulars who work or socialize together, will be more likely to break down quicker mentally and will be overcome with the effects of isolation at a much greater rate.
DOWNTIME EQUALS DISASTER
Doing nothing can be disastrous. The idea of sitting and waiting for someone to appear and save you or that your situation will change with you literally doing nothing will be detrimental to your physical, mental and emotional well-being. Keeping active physically and mentally will help a person maintain their sanity while also perhaps creating a means to save themselves—or, at the very least, increase their chances of being spotted by rescuers.
The focus one should have during a period of isolation is on the small picture. This means that instead
ISOLATION, ESPECIALLY IF COUPLED WITH THE AFTERMATH OF A MAN-MADE OR NATURAL DISASTER, WILL UNDOUBTEDLY CAUSE A PERSON STRESS.
of constantly trying to figure out everything about how they can survive their current circumstances, a person should only focus on one small, but important, task and complete it. This could be creating a fire, building a secure shelter or even something as simple as laying out, organizing and inventorying all their gear and supplies.
These are things that will distract a person’s mind from their perception of the doom and dread surrounding them and create a sense of accomplishment. When one “chore” is complete, another should be started to never let the mind slip into a state of downtime, which can further spiral into a full mental and emotional breakdown.
Remember, as with so many other aspects of life, it’s easier to break down your entire “big picture” into many smaller segments and address those than it is to try tackling the incredibly large problem you face as
KEEPING ACTIVE PHYSICALLY AND MENTALLY WILL HELP A PERSON MAINTAIN THEIR SANITY WHILE ALSO PERHAPS CREATING A MEANS TO SAVE THEMSELVES—OR, AT THE VERY LEAST, INCREASE THEIR CHANCES OF BEING SPOTTED BY RESCUERS.
one, single challenge. If you don’t, you will be overwhelmed and will most likely give up far sooner.
DO THE UNCONVENTIONAL
How can a person cope when isolated from other human beings for a long period of time? The key to literally not losing their mind lies in some unorthodox methods to keep their brain thinking that they are not truly alone.
The first, and perhaps most-used, technique is to find a higher meaning, higher power or any comparable symbol. By viewing your situation as a test or a challenge put forth by an unexplainable powerful source, you will give your ordeal a meaning above that of just being lost and alone.
Another common technique that can be utilized is to anthropomorphize objects around you. To prevent atrophy, talking to inanimate objects can stimulate your mind. This also will lessen the constant “talking to yourself” that, in the long run, can become detrimental to your mental well-being. Nearly any object can be given human traits and become your “friend” during your isolation period. This process can give a sense of comfort. The volleyball that was named “Wilson” by Tom Hanks’ character in the film, Cast Away, comes to mind.
When devoid of everyday objects you are accustomed to seeing and interacting with, creating one is the next best thing. From a stuffed animal to your backpack to even a tree exhibiting human facial features, it doesn’t have to make logical sense, but it will help maintain your sanity for a longer period of time than if you only spoke to and answered yourself.
Sounds, too, can take on human characteristics. From the chatting of a flock of birds or insects at night, the unique sounds of nature can compare
to humans talking or children giggling. Still another technique is to find a true, living friend. A squirrel always nearby, a woodpecker knocking on a tree or a fish constantly swimming near the edge of a pond can provide a flesh-and-blood companion that will give you daily interaction.
NOT ALWAYS A NEGATIVE EXPERIENCE
Being alone doesn’t have to be a harmful, negative experience. While it’s true that there is a difference between choosing to be alone and being forced to be alone, the way a person should approach it is very nearly the same.
For someone planning a months-long excursion into the outdoors with minimal gear and supplies, isolation is a given. They use the time away from others to reflect on their life—free of the daily distractions that plague them regularly. They gain a greater respect for nature and become attuned to the “vibration” of the outdoors, as animals naturally do.
As contradictory as it might sound, at times, isolation can sharpen the mind and brain in conjunction with a person’s physical surroundings. Again, when someone is forced through no fault of their own into a situation far removed from other humans, the experience, once panic has subsided, can be an enlightening one for the individual—if they can get past the negativity of the bigger situation.
WHILE SOME PEOPLE CAN’T HANDLE BEING ALONE … OTHERS FARE WELL LIVING A SEMI-ISOLATED LIFE WITH LITTLE INTERACTION WITH OTHERS.
Near left: Some of our best thinking is done when we're alone. Just be sure to keep thoughts positive and constructive ... or you might spiral into a dark emotional place.
Below: Going off by yourself can be a great way to relax— unless it was not by choice and you have no plan or provisions for getting back to your comfort zone.
Right: Isolation in a room completely devoid of color or objects can further add to an already tormented mind. Kidnapped victims are often locked away for days, weeks, months or longer in such conditions.
Being alone in the woods could have a claustrophobic effect on a person’s mind: They might believe their surroundings are closing in on them.
Above, left: Doing nothing is not only nonproductive, it will also deteriorate your mental, physical and emotional states at a much quicker rate than when you are constantly active.
Above, right: Extended periods of time spent alone outdoors can drive even the most stable person to the brink of insanity.
Focusing on one aspect of your situation, such as building a shelter, will enable you to keep your mind off the big, scary picture while meeting some of your immediate survival needs.
Pastimes that keep your mind working and hands moving (such as wood-carving) help fend off boredom and seem to make the time you are alone outdoors go faster.
Changing the way you think about your situation, say, from fearing for your life to participating in an epic contest with nature, can reduce stress and fear and build a competitive and confident outlook.
Left: Even a simple figurine on a key chain can become an isolated person’s new “friend.” Talking to inanimate objects can help keep a person from literally losing their mind when alone for a long time.
Right: A favorite toy or stuffed animal can become a companion if you’re on your own for an extended period of time. Talking to something other than yourself helps keep an isolated person sane and mentally sharp.
Writing in a journal not only helps pass the time, it will also make a great reference book to help you reflect on your time alone after you get back home.
Far left: If you find yourself alone, use the advantage of higher terrain or man-made structures to try to identify where you are—a key requirement to determining how to get back to civilization.