I can say with confidence that I am truly blessed to be alive today after some of the misadventures I’ve endured throughout my life. While I often use these blog posts to share how-to information related to the vast field of survival, this week I’ll tell you about the three times I should have died. And to add a little service to these episodes, we’ll also talk about the psychology and physiology of survival that can that either keep us alive or cost us our lives.
My first brush with death came during my teenage years. I must have been 15 or 16, just a bald-faced lad who had only recently become interested in survival skills. My parents and I were on a trip, driving down a busy interstate in the family minivan. I remember being quite bored, until an odd sight caught my eye.
In the lane to our right was a fire truck being towed by a very large tow truck. This fire truck was clean and shiny; new looking, in fact. I had never seen a fire truck being towed before, and it seemed odd how the front half of this red truck was lifted up on the tow truck’s back. I unbuckled my seatbelt and moved across the van to get a better look. As this uncommon piggyback passed us, I heard a very loud bang. I’m sure the ensuing chain of events happened very fast, but it all seemed slow to me. The huge steel driveshaft from underneath the fire truck had broken free and bounced to the left into our lane of traffic. As this quarter-ton of metal began to bounce on the asphalt, I found myself crouched in the middle of the mini-van, just behind and between my mom’s and dad’s seats. I saw the drive shaft immediately in front of us, bouncing as if it were dangling from a sting. For a moment, the end of the shaft was lined up perfectly with the center of the van’s windshield. I sat there unable to move, watching helplessly as the titanic metal spear moved closer.
As the distance between the driveshaft and our vehicle closed, the miraculous happened. The shaft end drove downward and hit the bottom of the van’s front bumper. The crunching sound and the jumping van let me know that we had made contact, and I snapped out of my stupor as if I had been slapped. The van skated over the metal of the shaft and we came to a halt, as did the rest of the traffic behind us. Not one of us had as much as a scratch–no one in my family, or anyone behind us. The only damage to our van was on the front bumper and some component of the air conditioning system had been torn free. We had made it. I had made it, but by grace and through no effort of my own. I had fallen prey to a psychological and physical response as old as humanity. I froze. This natural reaction might have kept some of our ancestors alive, such as when threatened by a predator scanning for motion. But this “frozen like a scared rabbit” response has most likely taken more lives than it has saved over the millennia.
When the brain perceives a “fight or flight” scenario, neurotransmitters and hormones can create a third reaction: freezing. This frozen state is a sensory overload in your brain, meaning that your ability to process sensations (such as vision, hearing, and touch) is completely overwhelmed. It may not be possible to logically or mentally override this automatic response in a timely manner, but there are some ways to snap out of it. Here are four of your best options.
1. Concentrate your vision. Pick just one thing to look at, rather than gazing unfocused as you would when frozen.
2. Focus on your breathing. Count your breaths, or just think about breathing. This calms the mind and body, and can restore your ability to think and move.
3. Study the things around you, using your senses. Try to think about what you smell, feel, hear, and see.
4. Rub your hands together. This draws your awareness to touch. It’s a little action, using only gross motor skills, which you should be able to perform under any conditions. It can also get you moving and help you to break free from your psychological bonds.
Ever have a close call? How did you react? Tell us about it in the comments.