The Psychology of Survival: Inside the Minds of 4 Survivors

When ordinary people find themselves in extraordinary circumstances, survival becomes a state of mind

In any survival situation, a will to live becomes your most powerful tool. The U.S. Air Force survival manual (AFR 64-4) recognizes this, and has three chapters dedicated to the “psychological aspects of survival.” It states: “The emotional aspects associated with survival must be completely understood just as survival conditions and equipment are understood. An important factor bearing on success or failure in a survival episode is the individual’s psychological state.”

In other words, the proper gear, knowledge, and training won’t help you if your head isn’t in the right place. We interviewed four recent wilderness survivors to find out what kept them going, against the odds. These are their stories.

One Wrong Step
Alone, severely injured, and 10 miles into Idaho backcountry, elk hunter John Sain had a decision to make: end the suffering or crawl for help

john sain

<a href="http://www.outdoorlife.com/articles/survival/2016/04/one-wrong-step-solo-elk-hunters-crawl-out-backcountry"><strong>One Wrong Step</strong></a><br /> Alone, severely injured, and 10 miles into Idaho backcountry, elk hunter John Sain had a decision to make: end the suffering or crawl for help

The Crash
Sixteen-year-old Autumn Veatch, the sole survivor of a remote plane wreck, rescues herself

the crash

Eye of the Tiger
Hawaiian spearfisherman Braxton Rocha fights back fear and swims for his life after a shark attack

braxton rocha

Torn to Pieces
Greg Matthews’ training as a first-responder saved him from certain death after being mauled by a grizzly in the Alaskan wilderness

torn to pieces

Greg Matthews survived being mauled by a grizzly in Alaska.

Your Brain on Survival
Here’s what happens when the body shifts into survival mode, and how you can stay in control

crash