Monday, November 26, 2012

Pain, Fatigue, and Fear


Pain is usually the body’s way of letting you know that you have done something stupid.  Pain sucks, but pain, like lack of comfort, is not life threatening.  Pain’s primary purpose is to warn you that you need to protect and rest the injured bodily part.  Under normal circumstances, this would be good advice, but in survival mode, the pain message may have to be ignored so that the survivor can concentrate on more immediate needs, like suppressing hostile fire so you can pull back to a more defensible position.

Modern medical practice includes a heavy reliance on pain-killing medications.  In a survival situation, access to morphine or even aspirin will be limited, so the survivor must find alternative methods of dealing with pain.  Pain can be managed by:  understanding the source and nature of the pain, understanding that pain is not life-threatening, and focusing on mission critical tasks like camp security, food procurement, or water sanitation.  Pain may also be managed by treating wounds and injuries, so it's important to know the basics of wound management and emergency medicine.  


Stress, hunger, anxiety, depression, dehydration, and over-exertion will all contribute to the survivor’s fatigue.  Fatigue reduces physical and mental efficiency, and since working and thinking are important after a disaster, steps must be taken to avoid and remedy the effects of fatigue.

Group leadership must ensure that there is a proper rest plan in place.  Resting allows survivors to recover from fatigue and avoid future fatigue.  If the tactical situation permits, survivors should be allowed as much recovery time as they need in order to fully regain their strength.  Individuals will need different amounts of time to recover, based on age, fitness level, exertion levels, and health.  In any group, there will be people who try and do less than their share.  It will be important for group dynamics and harmony to closely monitor everyone’s workload and rest periods.  Favoritism when assigning a work detail or laziness on the part of an individual can fracture a group.

Instead of working until you are exhausted and then trying to recover, it is much better to take short rest breaks throughout the day.  For instance, if a work party is sent out to gather firewood, members of the work party can take turn providing a security overwatch for the group.  Standing guard allows the individual to take a break from the physical activity of hauling wood, while still providing a vital function for the group.  Short rests are valuable because they:
  1.          Give the individual a chance to partially recover from the effects of fatigue.
  2.         Lower energy use.
  3.         Increase efficiency.
  4.         Relieve boredom.
  5.         Increase morale and motivation.
The old adage, “Work smarter, not harder.” certainly applies in a survival situation.  Survivors must find the right pace for the energy being expended.  Trial and error and experience will show the survivor the right balance of pace and effort.  Slower, rhythmical movements expend less effort while accomplishing just a much as fast, jerky movements.  Remember to be economical in everything you do.


A healthy amount of fear is a good thing.  Fear, whether conscious (that guy has a gun and seems intent on shooting me with it) or subconscious, (I can’t explain why, but I have a really bad feeling about this) can be a great motivator.  Fear, when harnessed and channeled correctly, allows the survivor to remain sharp and alert, focused intently on the task at hand.  On the other hand, fear, if uncontrolled, can lead to a complete breakdown of the individual and if left unchecked, may spread to the group, causing a panic.  

The ability to control fear and use it to your advantage will be a critical component of long-term survival, because there are going to be a variety of things to be frightened of.  The survivor should come to terms with fear by trying to understand it better.  By admitting that fear exists and is a large part of the new normal, the survivor is in a better position to harness and make use of that fear instead of letting the fear control and paralyze.

In the post-collapse world, the survivor will need to be aware of the tendency (either in themselves or others) to completely blow danger signals out of proportion, turning a moderately dangerous situation into a full-blown, code red disaster of biblical proportions.  Conversely, some people may have a hard time recognizing real danger signals and will downplay or ignore the signals.  Either situation can have disastrous consequences for the survivor.  If the individual or group does not learn to understand, evaluate, and determine a best course of action based on the reality of fear instead of the fantasy, they will not be among the survivors for long.  You guessed it, they’ll be dead.  
Previous training and experience are two of the best ways to control fear.  Other methods of controlling fear include preparation, being informed, prioritizing and accomplishing tasks, setting and achieving goals, understanding your group dynamics, self-discipline, and effective leadership.

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