Adversity and Survival

by Joe Alton, M.D. aka Dr. Bones of

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

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 Alton, M.D. aka Dr. Bones

About M.D. Creekmore

M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. Isn’t this the same article that the Survival Mom website is showing today?

    • Linda,

      Could be – it was sent to me by my friend Joe Alton, M.D. aka Dr. Bones and I wanted to share it with you. btw did you leave the same comment over there with a link back to us? If you did you would be eligible for or book / DVD giveaway… See how easy it is to enter…

      • I went over and checked out the survival mom site, it did have the same article,, but no posts, even though it has a spot to leave a comment. I thought maybe I had just been there too soon after the posting,, but I went back today and there are still no posts, so I left a comment about being surprised there were no posts, mentioned and talked about how helpful the community is to each other

        Right now it says my comment is waiting moderation. I’ll be interested to see if they post it.

        • R-Me, I think she will post it, all her comments go to moderation. Her blog doesnt get a lot of comments like we do here, most of her comments are on facebook.

  2. JP in MT says:

    Attitude is everything. I’ve seen “big tough manly-men” turned into children in a matter of seconds. I don’t consider myself one, but I’ve faced at least my share of adversity in my life; I’m still here.

    • hvaczach says:

      I agree Big Tough and Manly has nothing to do with “Action or Inaction”. Stressful times show the wilt in men. Several times through out my time as a fire fighter and EMT you are faced with truly bad situations and the true leaders are not the ones labled “chief” they are the ones who don’t hesitate who act not wait to react. When the metal meets the meat the calm head and the stress hardened are the ones I want on my side, not a bulked up tuff guy whose only experiance in stress is trying to be a badass in a bar.

    • I was a Big, Tough, and Manly Man up until my mom passed away. Yeah, moments of adversity can knock you down, but if you let it, they can make you stronger.

      • Donna in MN says:

        Rick, I know what you are going through and sorry for your loss. I lost my mom and best friend 3 months ago today. I am trying to find my place without her in this life, and it has been difficult sometimes, but I believe it will pass. I lost many close friends lately and faith kept me going.. One door closes, another one opens.

  3. I read this and reblogged what a good message, thanks.

  4. Michael Renzelman says:

    Have you herd about Angela Duckworth’s work on Grit. Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait, based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or end-state coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective. Her work is looking at this psychological trait that is akin to pursurverence under fire. She has a website for her lab, where you can take an assessment to find out how how high your Grit is. More importantly, though, is how this new discovered trait predicts success rates to stick to long term goals than just about any other.

  5. That is going to be a test for everybody , we all know or have met a person that is just a shell going through the motions . Everybodys level is going to be different . There comes a point where we are no longer capable of fighting the good fight , too much loss on several levels wears a person down .

  6. TN Mommy says:

    Great article, this is something everyone should be thinking about! It’s very easy to be prepared with lots of supplies, but it’s hard to be prepared mentally for what is going to happen because none of us are psychic (at least not that I know of).

    I think it’s important to remember to share your feelings with an adult partner once the SHTF. Don’t keep your fears bottled up inside or they will get the best of you.

    • Bottom line is that NOBODY can guarantee they will survive . Stonewall Jackson was once asked why he appeared to have no fear in battle , his reply was to the affect that the good lord has already determined the time and place of each mans death , and to worry is futile because until the time comes that god has appointed for you , you will survive .

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