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Survival Friday: Learning to Cope with Adversity

Avatar for Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: December 16, 2020
Survival Friday: Learning to Cope with Adversity

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How many times have you experienced a setback in your life and felt angry, lost, disoriented and worse?  From personal experience, I can tell you that the stress of it all can be overwhelming and without being aware of what is happening, you can suffer a bit of meltdown. When I say meltdown, I do not mean nutsy cuckoo but rather a minor depression where everything in the world looks bleak and you see no way out.

In my own research, I have read about the victims of major disasters feeling stressed and also despondent for weeks or even months after a disaster occurs.

Today on Survival Friday I am sharing an article written by Joe Alton.  Joe and his wife Amy are well-known in the preparedness world as Doctor Bones and Nurse Amy.  They are also the authors of the best-selling book “The Survival Medicine Handbook”.  In this article Joe provides an insightful view of survival in the face of adversity.


Adversity and Survival

I recently read an article about a young man who lost a leg to a land mine while hiking in a third-world country.   This stalwart outdoorsman was instantly transformed into a frightened victim with months of surgery, physical therapy, and prosthetic training in his future.  His journey was inspiring, as he battled (as you can imagine) deep depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome in addition to his physical wounds.  Eventually, he formed a support group for survivors, which eventually won a Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to ban landmines.

This got me thinking about adversity in general, and how the preparedness community could face plenty of it in the uncertain future.  Regardless of your level of preparedness, you will likely face your own metaphorical landmine or two after a major disaster.  How you deal with these issues will determine your ultimate success or failure.  As a doctor, what could I tell you that would help you overcome the challenges you would face and remain physically and mentally healthy?

Physically, the ability to overcome adversity is controlling the stress response.  Chronic exposure to stress will weaken your immune system.  Failure to control the physical effects of stress can lead to various ailments that will decrease your chances of survival. Besides depression,  these include ulcers, asthma, heart disease, and diabetes.  Stress can also lead to a cascade of destructive behaviors, such as alcohol abuse and smoking (such as: “Man, I am so stressed out!  I need a drink!”).

Adverse events are part of any survival scenario.  Stress is not always bad: facing challenges can make your stronger. Who makes it and who doesn’t will depend on their resilience. Education, training, and experience is essential, but resilience, or the lack of it, is the factor that will assure success or failure.

A person’s tendency to overcome adversity is partly nature and partly nurture. Could this ability be inherited?  Certainly, some children warm up to new tasks or people more effectively than others. Yet, there are many environmental factors that play a part:  family support, financial status, quality of schooling, and various others.  An unemployed introvert is at a disadvantage when compared to the monetarily secure individual who belongs to a close family or active religious/social community.

Despite this, it is possible to increase your ability to overcome adversity through a disciplined approach.   You can:

  • learn to regulate emotions
  • adopt a realistic, positive attitude
  • become physically fit
  • develop a supportive community

Emotions/Attitude:   If you can control feelings of anger, fear, insecurity, and sadness, you can maintain a clear head in times of trouble.  Oftentimes, people interpret a negative event as being worse than it is. Studies at Columbia University show that people who intentionally “reappraise” an event, such as a rejected application, as being less negative actually increase the activity of the part of the brain that helps to plan and direct. Reappraisal also seems to inhibit the activity of the part of the brain that is involved in feelings of fear.  Study participants reported a stronger sense of well-being after adopting this strategy, which I call “looking for the silver lining in the storm cloud”.

This glass half-full approach could be useful everywhere from the athletic field to the workplace to the hospital room.  Those patients with the ability to find a neutral or positive interpretation of a negative event tend to live longer and have a better quality of life than those who don’t. In another study performed many years ago, a group of women were asked to write a life history.  These were rated accorded to the degree in which they expressed positive emotions.  34% of those who wrote negative history were alive after 80 years of age compared to 90% of the women who wrote positive histories.

In survival scenarios, however, the risk of positive reappraisal could lead to denial of negative events.  If this occurs, you might underestimate dangerous situations; realism and positivity have to strike a balance.

Physical Exertion:  It is well known that physical activity increases the “feel-good” substances in your brain known as “Endorphins” and improves your resilience.  It also inhibits the stress hormone known as “Cortisol”. Regular physical activity not only is good for your heart. Studies at the University of Colorado show that regular aerobic exercise have various benefits: a decrease in anxiety/depression and an improvement in attention span, decision making, and memory.  At the University of Illinois, moderate exercise study seem to indicate improved growth and repair of brain cells.  NOTE:  Always check with your physician to make sure an aerobic exercise program is safe for you.

Community: An effective strategy to improve your ability to overcome adversity is to establish and maintain strong relationships with other members of the preparedness community. A sense of security due to support from others allows you to deal with stressful events positively, and has even been shown to lower ill-effects suffered in veterans from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  A supportive community bolsters self-confidence and provides a safety net that minimizes the damage from failure.  Social bonds are the glue that will keep us together in dark times; make an effort to develop these now by joining your religious community, social organization, and otherwise connecting with like-minded individuals.

You may think you are connected well to others, but ask yourself some questions:

  • Who do you interact with regularly?
  • Who would help you in times of trouble without hesitating?
  • Who would YOU help without hesitating?
  • Who do you turn to for advice who is glad to give it?
  • Who do you know who has bounced back from adversity?

If your answer is few or none to the above, spend some time and effort to develop new and stronger relationships.

We have to be prepared to deal with setbacks if the you-know-what hits the fan.  If we can see negative events as a bump in the road instead of the END of the road, we can succeed, even if everything else fails.

Joe and Amy Alton aka Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy, are the authors of the #1 Amazon Bestseller The Survival Medicine Handbook: A guide for when help is NOT on the way. You will find their articles in Backwoods Home, Survivalist, Self Reliance Illustrated, and Survival Quarterly magazines, and at their website at


No one can predict how we will respond as individuals following a disaster or any other life-changing event.  On the other hand, what Joe has shared with us is a roadmap for preparing ourselves as best we can for the adversity we may face in the future.

Couple this advice with your ability to roll with the punches and you will have done the best you can to cope with the distress of a survival situation.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!


If you have not done so already, please be sure to like Backdoor Survival on Facebook to be updated every time there is an awesome new article, news byte, or free survival, prepping or homesteading book on Amazon.  In addition, when you sign up to receive email updates you will receive a free, downloadable copy of my e-book The Emergency Food Buyer’s Guide.

Spotlight Item:  THE SURVIVAL MEDICINE HANDBOOK is a guide for those who want to be medically prepared for any disaster where help is NOT on the way.  It is written from the non-medical professional and assumes that no hospital or doctor is available in the aftermath of a catastrophic event.

This book will give you the tools to handle injuries and illness for when YOU might be the end of the line with regards to your family’s medical well-being. In circumstances where medical personnel are overwhelmed and access to modern technology is limited or non-existent, The Survival Medicine Handbook(tm) is the essential reference book for every library. Written in plain English, you’ll find step-by-step instructions on how to identify and treat over 100 different medical issues.

From the Bargain Bin: Survival is all about learning to fend for yourself. Here are some of the emergency medical reference books and supplies that belong in every household first aid kit.

3M N95 Particulate & Respirator Mask: This is an inexpensive mask that can be used in a variety of emergency situations. They come in a box of 20 and are NIOSH-certified. The molded cone design is fluid and splash resistant and will greatly reduces your exposure to airborne particles.

Quikclot Sport Brand Advanced Clotting Sponge: A must for any first aid or emergency kit, Quikclot Sport stops moderate to severe bleeding until further medical help is available.

Israeli Battle Dressing, 6-inch Compression Bandage: This is another inexpensive, yet critical item. Combat medics, trauma doctors, and emergency responders all recommend this Israeli Battle Dressing (IBD) for the treatment of gunshot wounds, puncture wounds, deep cuts, and other traumatic hemorrhagic injuries.

Where There Is No Doctor: Hesperian’s classic manual, Where There Is No Doctor, is perhaps the most widely-used health care manual in the world.  Also available as a free download at the Hesperian website

Adventure Medical Kits Pocket Survival Pack: Adventure Medical Kit products are well priced and with an excellent reputation among outdoor types such as fishermen and hunters. This is a good place to start if you are looking for a pre-packaged kit.

The Pill Book (15th Edition): New and Revised: For nine bucks, there is no reason not to have this book in your emergency medical kit.

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This month all Mountain House cans are 25% off with some at 29% off.  For my own food storage, I ordered the Mountain House Chili Mac at $18.97 for a #10 tin.

I also ordered some Provident Pantry Corn Muffin Mix which I cooked up as corn bread in my cast iron skillet.  Oh my gosh – it was better than anything boxed that I have ever purchased and as good as home made.  The best part is that all I had to add was water!  I am thrilled with this mix which is currently on sale for $9.99.

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4 Responses to “Survival Friday: Learning to Cope with Adversity”

  1. Being 70 yrs I am most interested in surviving as a senior. We have so many who reside in assisted help homes. we need to know what foods give the highest calories and longest storage and of course the cheapest foods. Another subject is medication and what med’s will last a long time in storage and what natural products could be substituted in emergencies. also some ways to hide this food so the people who want to take it will not find it. Thanks

    • Grampa – Thanks for the nudge. I am 64 and my husband is 74 so we are qualified to write an article on prepping and surviving for seniors. Most definitely.

    • I was able to out work men half my age. A careless driver put an end to it. I was hit while walking across the street. Injured my back and broke a tailbone. The amount of painkillers are wasting my body. I was 210 lbs. now 155lbs. because I know now what others put up with I look for ways to cope without doing much bending. Any and all ideas will be tried.

  2. I don’t know that I can speak to that question. I only know my own challenges.
    I am JUST recently coming to grips with my…….laziness, disorientation or whatever I’m going through. I’m in a totally new enviroment and when I arrived, was not prepared to tackle it or adjust to the change.
    An accident sort of rearranged my brain molecules and I seem to have frozen up and gone stagnant, so to speak. I am , after over two years, starting to realize and thaw out and do something productive, even though I’m not employable for the work I used to do. I’m slowly moving into another path of volunteerism and looking forward to expanding that to at least part time employment.
    I’m in a place where it is easier to prepare for emergencies of serious proportions and little by little gathering ” things” and knowledge for that event.
    Bottom line is that I’ve come out of my bubble and know I have a lot to live for and work toward for the good of myself…….and the people that live on my road ( as strange as that may sound ). We all have a small part of dependency for each other ( support and skills ). I hope the growing trust will stand up in a truly horrific emergency.

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