There’s a scene in the movie Airplane where a passenger begins to have a panic attack, the stewardess begins to yell and shake her by the shoulders telling her to “Calm down, get a hold of yourself!” Then another passenger begins to shake her by the shoulders and slapping her while yelling at her to “Calm down!” Then passenger after passenger continue to do the same thing.

Airplane (1980)

The movie is a classic and I love this scene. No body likes being told to calm down. Ever… They definitely don’t need or want someone more excited than them trying to calm them down for that matter.

When you are at a point of needing to provide first aid, perform a vehicle recovery, or rescue a person in need the last thing anyone wants is someone who has an elevated demeanor attempting to direct what happens next. There are few characteristics I have found to be more telling of a leader than being calm and having composure in the mist of a storm.

Calm is contagious. There was a crime scene I was called to once where a guy had been knifed across the abdomen. His intestines were exposed. He was anxious, worried, and crying for help. The first person he saw was me. Had I approached him with disbelief at what I saw, elevated my voice, became excitable, and seemed to be unable to handle the situation, he would have became more concerned and panicked himself. Instead, I approached him like I had seen someone with their intestines out numerous times. I reassured him he would be fine. I calmly called on the radio for medical to come to the scene and provided an update on his condition. I then proceeded to provide first aid.

Mental preparedness doesn’t come naturally to most. That is totally fine. Because I will let you in on some secrets to getting your mind ready for these types of situations. Something we did with tactical team training was mental reps.. This is exactly like it sounds. Imaging a scenario and playing through several variations.

An example would be, you are traveling in back country and you come upon a group of dual sport riders on a trail. They are stopped. A single motorcycle is down in the middle of the trail. There are three riders standing over what appears to be a single rider on the ground. You approach and find the rider to be unconscious. The lower left leg has a compound fracture above the boot. The bone is protruding through the skin towards the front. The riders are trying to formulate a plan. What do you do? From this point you would begin to assess the medical needs, abilities, gear, and make a strategic plan. You may attempt to stabilize the leg, secure him in a vehicle,  and transport him to local hospital. This is a single mental rep. You would then tweak the parameters. The next mental rep you might change there is significant bleeding from the leg. You would then address the bleeding. Then proceed through the remainder of the plan.

What does these mental reps do? They put your mind in situations and trick your brain into believing it has been through these experiences before.

Another thing to do is think positively. If you maintain a positive mental attitude you can drive yourself toward success even in dire situations. A positive mental attitude will also maintain mental well being for those you may be assisting.

Last, arousal control and stress inoculation helps keep your fight or flight response in check. When we begin to have stressors our bodies naturally begin to have physiological responses. Increased heart rate, rapid breathing, narrowed focus, slowed digestion, auditory exclusion, and tunnel vision to name a few. If you can practice arousal control by breathing, making a plan, and controlling what’s within your means you can begin to harness this response. Stress inoculation is understanding your bodies response to stress. You then attempt to understand how to control this stress response. The next step is exposing yourself to similar situations. Going to training that has scenario based experiences is some of the best examples.

When in the backcountry we are significant distance from help. You must have the training and gear to sustain you and who you are with until you can get help or get help to you. Being prepared can provide you with some encouragement to handle most of what is put before you. There may be something beyond what you are trained to do. Remember to be calm. Plan your work. Then work your plan. If you remain calm you will make more rational decisions and be a resource for those in need.

Plan, Prep, Explore