Home » Survival Mindset For Bugging Out

Survival Mindset For Bugging Out

If you plan on bugging out or surviving a societal collapse you should get familiar with the survival mindset because it is imperative to a positive outcome. I’ve been through some pretty tough training in the military and the great outdoors, so I know one’s state of mind is crucial to the experience.

“There is a psychology to survival. Soldiers in a survival environment face many stresses that ultimately impact the mind. These stresses can produce thoughts and emotions that, if poorly understood, can transform a confident, well-trained soldier into an indecisive, ineffective individual with questionable ability to survive.” 

(FM 21-76 U.S. Army Survival Manual)

What is a survival mindset?

A person in a dangerous situation may have a survival mindset, let’s call it the fight or fight mode. This person will lack foresight and will hyperfocus on a perceived threat because the brain dumps adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream leading to either the will to fight or to run.

A prepper bugging out can’t stay in this frame of mind because they will become mentally and physically exhausted and over the long term will become lethargic and give up.

“Stress” in a survival situation 

Stress is the human reaction to pressure so it describes the experience we have physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually in response to perceived threats. In a bug-out situation, stress can help you or hurt you. The goal is to have enough stress to be motivated, but not so much stress that you shut down or panic.

Snow Covered Mountain

11 Signs a Survivor is Stressed

If you know the 11 signs of stress in a bug-out situation it is easier to recognize the signs to minimize them. Following, are 11 Signs of stress.

  1. Difficulty making decisions
  2. Angry outbursts
  3. Forgetfulness
  4. Low Energy Level
  5. Constant Worry
  6. Poor Decision Making
  7. Irritability
  8. Withdrawing
  9. Hiding From Responsibility
  10. Carelessness
  11. Hopelessness

So what causes stress? Let’s look at the 9 major causes.

9 Things That Cause Stress When Bugging Out

The following stressors are present in most survival situations and it is much easier to minimize stress if you are aware of its causes. Ok, let’s look at the 9 major causes of stress in a bug-out situation.

#1 Pain

Pain is the body’s warning signal that you are injured but it is also a cause for worry and stress.

#2 Heat

Heat is an uncomfortable nuisance, but it can lead to life-threatening situations like dehydration and heatstroke.

#3 Cold

Coll will drain body energy, cause sluggishness, freeze body parts and drop the core body temperature.

#4 Death

Death is #1 on the stressor list. If someone in your group has died it causes sadness a sense of responsibility or shock.

#5 Uncertainty

Not knowing what is going to happen leads to stress and the survival brain really doesn’t like uncertainty and can throw you into the survival mindset (fight or flight.) Uncertainty also leads to anxiety.

#6 Environment

Uncomfortable or inhospitable environments such as Icy tundra, sweltering dessert, and freezing mountains, leads to stress.

#7 Hunger and thirst

The need to find food and water, cause anxiety if you have a difficult time finding either one. Answer the following questions as early as possible. Where will the next meal come from and how will I get water?

#8 Fatigue

It is more difficult to maintain hope when you are exhausted as a result you could reach a point where staying awake is stressful. Fatigue comes from physical activity, lack of shelter, lack of food, or staying in fight or flight mode too long.

#9 Isolation

Isolation is a stressor because you are on your own; it’s just you; the cavalry isn’t coming.  That saying Misery loves company rings true in this situation.

Man climbing snow covered mountain in the dark

7 Common Reactions To Stress (Survival Mindset)

You are going to have some of these feelings or all of them, that is to say, know that you need to take action to get back to coping. The best way to get out of your head is by taking thoughtful action. Following are the 7 reactions to stress in survival or bug-out scenario.

#1 Boredom and Loneliness

Boredom and loneliness affect people differently they are either a source of depression or a source of inner strength and self-discovery.

#2 Impatience

Rushing to do something can hurt your chances for survival so don’t make rash decisions.

A SpecWar training video shows a soldier boiling a chicken in a pot and there are 15 exhausted guys standing around waiting to eat their meager portion. When the chicken is cooked the lead soldier dumps out the water and cuts up the chicken. Fifteen guys to feed and he dumos out fat calories and energy. He was impatient, exhausted, and made a poor decision. Avoid being impatient in a survival situation.

Scott, Ready Squirrel

#3 Guilt

You may be mourning the death of others or feel guilty that you are among the few survivors. You can look at it like you will survive because you owe it to those who lost their lives.

#4 Anger

If you keep trying to hit a survival goal, but can’t, your reaction may be to get angry or frustrated. Mistakes and failures are magnified in a survival situation which may lead to feelings of hopelessness if not controlled.

#5 Depression

When you get depressed in a bugout or survival situation do something to get your mind off of it. Depression will make you lethargic and incapable of taking necessary action.

#6 Anxiety

Anxiety is the cousin of fear. Reduce anxiety and fear by taking action on the things you need to do to survive. Even small steps lead to rewards and you will feel like you have more control over the situation.

Being sad is ok, but don’t let yourself sink into depression or apathy.

Scott, Ready Squirrel

#7 Fear

Our reaction to a dangerous situation could lead to panic consequently fear can cause us to be more cautious or more reckless. Manage your fears.

Survival Tip: Overcome psychological reactions to stress by recognizing the problem, finding alternate solutions, deciding on an action to take, and evaluating the results.

Crisis Phase

The crisis phase is when you realize how bad the bug-out or survival situation is and it will hit you like a ton of bricks. You are living under harsh conditions and there is nobody to help. The safety net is gone. This is when you will start feeling the 7 common reactions to stress listed above.

The goal of bugging out and surviving is to spend as little time as possible in the crisis phase. Get busy surviving.

If you get your head on straight you’ll go into the coping phase of survival.

Coping Phase

The Coping phase is how you survive by suppressing the desire to freak out. Look at the circumstances, evaluate options and make sound decisions. This doesn’t mean mistakes won’t be made.

When bugging out you will bounce back and forth between crisis and coping phases but suppress the urge to panic. 

In the Coping Phase, you are talking to yourself, trying to figure out the best action plan. “Ok, this is an awful situation, but I’m not a quitter, I will cope with this. I’m going to figure this out. I’m going to take an inventory of what I have and what I need and create a plan.”  

Scott, Ready Squirrel

Nest let’s talk about the most aspect of surviving, hope.


Having hope in a survival scenario is the bridge between the crisis phase and the coping phase this doesn’t mean a person is happy and super excited. What it means is the survivor can suppress fear, anxiety, and physical discomfort to take action toward surviving. Following, are two real-life examples. In the first example the survivalist has hope and in the second he does not.

#1  Real Example

“An Australian sergeant…bailed out of his aircraft and landed in the desert with both legs broken. He used his parachute to bind up his wounded legs but found he couldn’t stand. Knowing his need for medical attention and the unlikelihood of rescue forces finding him, he crawled, dragging his legs for four days and nights. The Sergeant couldn’t sleep at night due to a combination of anxiety and pain. He kept crawling, using the stars for navigation. He reached the point of total exhaustion on the fourth day and started blacking in and out and hallucinating. On the fourth day, he was found by a desert patrol. He had been without food or water for four days.”  The sergeant survived. (Figure 4-3) (SERE) Operations Airforce Handbook 10-644

Let’s take a look at a person who didn’t survive and should have.

#1 Real Example

“In the Canadian wilderness, a pilot ran into engine trouble and chose to dead-stick his plane onto a frozen lake rather than punch out. After surveying the area, he noticed a wooded shoreline only 200 yards away from where food and shelter could be provided. Approximately halfway there, the pilot changed his mind and returned to the cockpit of his aircraft, where he smoked a cigar and then took his own life. Less than 24 hours later, a rescue team found him.”   4.2.2. (SERE) Operations Airforce Handbook 10-644

“A key ingredient in any survival situation is the mental attitude of the individual(s) involved. Having survival skills is important; having the will to survive is Essential.”

U.S. Army Survival Manual, FM 21-76 ,Page 9
Ray Mears’ Extreme Survival: Psychology of Survival

Desire For Comfort (Dangerous Survival Mindset) 

Many consider comfort a primary need, a requirement for survival. It is not. Thinking that it is a necessity is bad for your survival mindset. Focus on survival, for sure minimize discomfort but don’t obsess over it because obsessing over comfort is a slow burn to apathy and depression. Always value life over comfort


Apathy is a lack of interest or concern, and it makes the survivor a victim of their environment. Early survival planning will reduce the conditions that lead to apathy so get to planning. Following, are four signs of apathy.

4 Signs Of Apathy

  1. Hopelessness
  2. Drowsiness
  3. Mental Numbness 
  4. Indifference 

“Two of the gravest threats to survival are concessions to comfort and apathy. Both threats must be avoided.”

AFR 64-4, US Air Force Survival Manual, page 36)

Manage Survival  

Manage survival If you want to survive. Set small achievable tasks to build confidence and reduce anxiety and don’t swell on the big picture, instead, focus on the here and now. For example, if you need water, focus on getting water and then move on to the next task.

Use time management to stay focused and plan out your necessary tasks because planning gives the survivor a feeling of control.

f-16 fighter jet

OODA Thought Loop: Survival Mindset

This thought process will lead to action and will help you maintain a positive survival mindset. The OODA Loop was initially designed by U.S. Air Force Colonel John Boyd as a “decision cycle” for fighter pilots during dogfights or air-to-air combat. The OODA acronym stands for #1 Observe, #2 Orient, #3Decide, and #4 Act. The thought process is excellent for bug-out and survival scenarios.

Let’s take a look at the O.O.D.A. thought process and how it is used.

OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act)

Take the information from step one, observation, and evaluate possible plans of action (Orient). Figure out what the upsides and downsides are for the actions you might take. Your mental model needs to be flexible to change with the environment.   Let’s take a look at the O.O.D.A. in action.

#1 Observe 

Observe the survival situation, and use your four senses to collect information about your immediate surroundings. Your observations might look something like this:

You observe a stream with cold running water and you notice that the area is flat and sheltered from the wind. Then you observe trash and smell smoke from a fire. You also observe pine trees and hear roadway noise in the distance.

Next, you take these observations and move to the next step in the thought process. Orient.

#2 Orient

After observing, you analyze the data you collected and go through the orient thought process.

The stream provides drinking water and possibly food in the form of fish or muscles. The area is flat and sheltered from the wind, so it is an excellent location to build a survival shelter. You see trash and realize you may be close to civilization and the trash pile may have useful items. Then, you smell smoke from a fire again you are possibly close to civilization. You see pine trees and you know pine bows make good shelter. You hear a roadway noise; you are close to a road.  

Now that you have oriented, you will decide what to do.

#3 Decide

You Decide To Take Action Based On Your Current Mental Perspective. The steps you choose to take might look like this: You decide to build a shelter from pine bows, process water from the stream, look through the trash, and see if there is anything you can use. Also, you decide to explore in the morning and see if you can find civilization or a roadway.  

#4 Act

You Act or take action, The physical playing out of Decisions.  This step looks like the following scenario.

You shelter in place and build a lean-to out of pine bows. Then you look through the trash pile and find an old coffee can you can boil water with and a sheet of plastic and an old baby mattress and then you use the mattress and pine bows for your bedding.

The plastic sheet to weatherize your shelter. Water from the stream to boil in the can. The stream contains muscles so you cook them in your can and then you fall asleep. 

The next day you awake and continue to use the OODA Loop. Once you make up your mind, you take action. You continually evaluate your surroundings and change your survival plan when necessary.  

Ok, so we know how Jet Pilots in the airforce handle the survival thought process let’s take a look at how the U.S. Army does it.

8 Steps To S.U.R.V.I.V.A.L. (Survival Mindset)

U.S. Army Soldier training

Another way to manage your survival mindset is by memorizing the U.S. Army acronym S.U.R.V.I.V.A.L. Each letter represents something you should remember to manage in a bug-out situation.  Let’s get down to the 8 steps of survival according to the United States Army.

#1 S-Size up the situation

Size up your surroundings:

What is going on around you? Every environment: forest, jungle, desert, or ocean has a rhythm or pattern. including animals, bird noises, running water, wind, or the sound of civilization.

Size Up Your Physical Condition: First Aid is a priority.

Check to see if you have any injuries because you are in fight or flight mode endorphins could mask wounds. Provide first aid, drink water, and put on additional clothing. 

Size Up Your Equipment: 

If this is a bug-out situation you should already know what is in your bug-out bag. If not, do an inventory of your gear to see what supplies you have, and their condition. What you have on hand is your equipment for survival so keep a close eye on it, so you don’t leave it behind or lose it.

#2 U Use all of your senses

In a survival situation, you need to STOP and think. Study your situation before you make decisions. Think about the consequences of your actions. Plan your moves, so you don’t get disoriented or lose gear. Be observant. Think. Don’t waste energy.

#3. R Remember where you are 

You need to remember where you are in relation to your surroundings. Know where your camp is so you can get back to it or if Bugging out know where you are going. Where is the water in relation to your location?

Be methodical, so you feel like you have control of the situation. If you have a map or a GPS device, use them to plot your movement. If possible, use landmarks to familiarize yourself with the area.

#4. V Vanquish fear and panic

Vanquish fear and panic. They are the biggest enemies of survival, both destroy your ability to make sound decisions. and cause you to react to feelings or imagination rather than the situation and the facts. Fear and panic drain your energy and trigger other negative emotions

#5 I Improvise

Improvise with the tools you have by using them for purposes other than those intended.  Make tools from things you find or from things in nature. For example, an old coffee can could be a boiling pot. Plastic sheeting could be used as a rain jacket, weatherize your shelter, or as a ground cover. Get creative

#6. V Value Living 

Have stubbornness, and a refusal to give up; value your life. We dislike inconvenience and discomfort. Modern living has made us soft. The desire for comfort increases stress. Don’t obsess about being uncomfortable. Make it your primary goal to survive at all costs.

#7. A Act Like Natives

The animals around you can give you clues about where water and food sources might be found. They require food and water too so they may lead you to it

#8 L Live By Your Wits

Learn basic survival and bushcraft skills. Know about the environment where you are headed. Survival and bushcraft training reduces fear of the unknown and gives you self-confidence and teaches you to live by your wits.

United States Army Survival Manual FM 21-76 click here

The United States Air Force Handbook 10-644, Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) click here

United States Marine Corps MCRP3-O2H, Survival, Evasion, and Recovery click here

Leave a Comment