Stay calm: What it takes to survive an emergency

Would you know how to think in a survival situation? Most of us like to believe survival is somehow embedded in our DNA, which to a certain extent it is. You can get by acting on impulse alone, but this will only carry you so far.

One of the better books I’ve read on survival is “Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why” by Laurence Gonzales.

Gonzales notes that when confronted with a life-threatening situation, 90% of people freeze or panic. Clearly the odds are not in our favor.

“Deep Survival” explores a variety of survival situations, examining how people responded along the way. Without giving away too much, those 10% who do survive tend to carefully assess their situation with a calm demeanor, no matter the circumstances.

This, of course, is easier said than done. When the proverbial shit is hitting the fan, staying calm and using your brain will be your greatest challenge.

Those who die? Well, they tend to do the exact opposite, as calm gives way to frantic. Victims lose touch with their mental clarity and thus the ability to think straight. Poor decision making is commonly responsible for people dying in survival situations.

Without trying to sound too macabre, you should contemplate what it takes to survive a potentially deadly situation. In theory, you’ll be a little more prepared should that moment ever come.

Technique is one thing. Practicing and familiarizing yourself with what it takes to survive is always a good idea. Survival philosophy, however, is just as important. Arm yourself with the knowledge that a calm demeanor just might make the difference between life and death.



  1. I think few people ever play the “what would I do if….” game. Perhaps they never imagine anything going wrong or perhaps, as you said, it is too macabre to consider. This issue involves all kinds of life issues, such as illness and designating someone as a medical power of attorney, for example.

    1. You are absolutely correct! I should probably make it a point to say that this mentality definitely extends into many different areas of life, not just outdoorsy pursuits.

  2. Great post. I think it’s so important to mentally prepare for extreme situations. When you have children it could be a matter of life and death. My kids were always prepared for all the horrors you can think of. I almost started to pity the idiot who would try and harm them. Haha!
    Seriously, if we do this for our kids we should definitely do it for ourselves.

  3. Interesting concept to practise in the event of. It may be correct that it could give you a slight edge over someone who hasn’t prepared. Something to think about, that’s for sure.

    1. I agree, John. That moment may never come, but if it does, you will be just a little more preparded.

  4. My plan is just to help other people and/or stay out of the way. It is okay sometines to be alright with death. My biggest fear is not being able to get to my kids. We talk about situations that could be dangerous though, so hopefully they will not panic in a bad situation.

    I just want to throw this out there, if anyone is ever car-jacked, they should put their seatbelt on and crash into something. The odds of the car-jacker having a seatbelt on are slim, you don’t want to ever be taken anywhere, and it will get the attention and aide of anyone in the area as quickly as possible. I heard that somewhere, and thought it a good “just in case” idea.

      1. Yeah, even if there was a life at your throat or a gun near at the side of your head, the momentum and force of the impact would force it away…in the right direction. I don’t drive anymore, but that is something I used to think about a lot. I’m a little morbid like that. 😉

  5. Another great post, Eric.
    Have to agree with commetns above – it is just as important to think about and prepare for these things in normal everyday life too.
    And always remember to breathe. As long as you’re still breathing, there’s still hope.

    1. Why thank you, Guap. You’re right, this idea is not restricted to adventurous outdoor pursuits at all. Best to be prepared, I always say.

  6. Nice post, Eric and I think this sort of thing needs to be taught in school, maybe junior high or highschool. Functional skills like staying alive in dangerous situations should be right up there with learning multiplication and long division..although, that has gone by the way side as well, I fear. Calm and logic should always be the most valued attributes in any situation…life threatening or not.

  7. hmmm.. the mental preparedness… it;s easy to think you know what you would do.. but the practice is different. I think a lot of it ends up being how steady you are, how quickly you can get yourself together and your ability to reason – fight or flight? an everyday life example that may seem trite but I think is a good one…what would you do if you became aware that there was an intruder in your home – let;s say…2 am your garage door was up just a foot and you go into the garage from the house. Also you are home alone with sayyy..a small child in the house sleeping. As you open the door you are instantly aware of someone being in there – even with the lights off… what do you do?
    It happened to me and I did exactly the wrong thing even though if you had given me the scenario beforehand I would have thought I would be able to act accordingly…. of course these types of things then teach you how you are REALLY and if you can learn from that and accept you might not be the best person in a pinch… you might actually adapt better and have a better chance at survival….. just saying…

      1. I SHOULD have closed the door quietly and locked it and called the police from inside the house. Instead I not only turned the light on, I went onto the garage (towards the danger) and announced my presence with loud authority. It was a neighbor kid who was mentally challenged -saying kid loosely – 32 – I then proceeded to puke because the could be scenarios went through my head. My husband had been home he woulda shot first and this kid who was just poking around… or. I could have been in a lot of trouble. .And in any situation I have been in… I guess my brain says fight not flight and it;s a silly brain cause I would rather run away…. any idea where I could get a new one?

  8. I think one of the keys to remaining calm is to be resourceful enough to realize you have options. Even if some of the options aren’t necessarily ‘good’ ones, they still exist and the more you have the better your situation.

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