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Nature can be a wonderful and inviting place, but if we lower the lighting and add in some unfamiliar sounds, nature can also seem like it’s out to get you. We could each think of a hundred hazardous things that are found in the outdoors, and dozens of ways that we could meet our maker. But we often overlook one of the most dangerous things: the thing that we brought with us into the wild.

Oftentimes your own mind—and the fear that fills it—can become your worst enemy in a crisis. When we become stressed or fearful, we are often at the mercy of the cocktail of hormones and chemicals that pump through our bodies. It’s quite common that this flush of hormones will lead to panic. This unrestrained fear is a common response to crisis, and it can manifest itself in many ways. If you panic, you may run around frantically. Or you may be frozen in fear and be unable to move. You may even become overwhelmed by emotion, and ultimately find yourself screaming, crying, or destroying things. Any of these responses could get you injured—and then you’ll have a whole new set of problems.

When you become involved in a survival situation (especially if you’re injured), it’s very common for you to feel unduly helpless and overwhelmed by the circumstances. You may even become less social, withdraw from a group, sleep excessively, and grow less interested in food and water than you should be.

This is a common and natural “wound healing response,” and we can see it across the animal kingdom. Couple that response with the fact that a person’s daily rhythms of epinephrine and cortisol (which affect your mood and healing) are usually at their lowest in the middle of the night, it’s no wonder that survivors tell of being frightened out of their minds on their first night in the wild (and that their injuries hurt more at night). Around 2 or 3 a.m., pain naturally seems to intensify, swelling increases, and feelings of dread and hopelessness abound. This weakened state is not due to any character flaws or poor fortitude. Rather, it’s a natural part of the body’s cycles.

The good news is, since it’s a cycle, this will change. The first light of dawn signals your body to wake up, and the hormones that follow will help you feel better about your situation. The moral of all this biochemistry is this: hang in there and tell yourself that any bad thoughts or feelings you’re having will pass. The dawn truly does look brighter after a long dark night.

Have you let fear get the best of you? Please tell us your story by leaving a comment.

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