PRE­SERV­ING THE SOLO SUR­VIVOR’S SAN­ITY

HOW TO MAIN­TAIN GOOD MEN­TAL HEALTH WHEN YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN

American Survival Guide - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - By Michael D’angona

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.

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