Actively participating in a couple of adventure (AKA extreme) sports, I have had my share of accidents/carnage/trauma. Anyone who participates in such pastimes knows that we're all in between accidents and they are part of the game.

We all know that severe bodily injuries can require assistance from others to get to the front country or a safe location, which may include a rescue squad dispatch if your buddies are not there or unable to assist. That scenario is not the subject of this question. What interests me is what happens when the bodily injury (if any) does not prevent further motion and getting to safety BUT the post traumatic stress does. Let's call it a mild form of PTSD.

In my 8 years of whitewater kayaking, I (as well as anyone else who's done it that long pretty much) have had my share of ugly carnage, swims, and close calls that, if not beating your body, causes your mind to become shaken and so freaked out to the point of walking off the river (hasn't happened to me but I've seen it in other people). In a recent snowboarding accident, I fell on my rear end, which sent reverberations up my spine to my head and the rest of the day I was getting quasi hallucinations (I swear I wasn't drunk or drugged) that I almost couldn't tell if I was dreaming or not, it was creepy.

I am curious to learn about the psychology of outdoor trauma and how to overcome mental hurdles (loss of confidence in proceeding) caused by it. Someone told me that when trauma occurs, your blood sugar level drops, causing a feeling of weakness and loss of confidence, therefore it is advisable to carry a candy bar to compensate for it. What are some techniques in overcoming the mental implications of adventure sports trauma so that you can at least get yourself to safety? They can really finish the handicapping job that the bodily injury (if any) left off.

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    Very interesting question, especially because we had a serious incident last weekend. I have no idea of all the consequences yet and I hope we aren't influenced mentally in a negative way. Looking forward for answers but I doubt there are differences in sports trauma to any other trauma. – Wills Feb 25 '15 at 0:13
  • good point but i think there is some difference between hurt in the wild vs. being hurt in the sandbox environment of a basketball court. – amphibient Feb 25 '15 at 0:15
  • Are you asking for "techniques" to encourage self rescue when an assisted rescue might be appropriate? Maybe we should replace "mental hurdles" with "learning from mistakes". – Pepi Feb 25 '15 at 4:44
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    It sounds like you're asking how to deal with the immediate situation where you're shaken by an accident, rather than long term fears. If so, the comparison to PTSD is completely wrong and the word trauma itself is misleading. The question would be easier to answer if it were more focussed. – Michael Borgwardt Feb 25 '15 at 9:38
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    I would love to see some answers for this. I have had a few close shaves myself and i've been able to think about something totally different while doing similar activities to prevent my mind from wandering off to the negativity. – Ricketyship Feb 26 '15 at 9:01

I think there have to be two parts to the answer:

If you are in an immediately life-threatening situation where you have to act in order to survive, then the only thing that can save you when you are mentally shaken is training and routine. You can train dangerous situations in a safe environment so that when they occur for real, you know what you have to do and can do it almost on autopilot, without having to think about it. This is an important part of what the training of firefighters, police officers and soldiers tries to achieve.

On the other hand, if you are in a reasonably safe place (or can get to one without effort), then the most important thing to do is to stop, calm down and think. There's an aphorism in wilderness survival that says, very aptly,

You can survive three minutes without air, three days without water and three weeks without food, but three seconds of panic can kill you.

So calm down until you can asses your situation:

  • Is there real danger? Are you injured or is what you were doing more dangerous than you thought or than your skills can handle safely? If so, walking off and getting to safety is absolutely the right thing to do!
  • Did you make a mistake that created an actually dangerous situation? Did you skip some preparation or check, go beyond a safety margin? If so, that's what's known as a "wakeup call", and you should absolutely take it serious and make sure not to make that mistake again. Take your time to let that sink in, go over it a few times mentally, and then you should be able to find the confidence that as long as you don't make such mistakes, you can continue without worrying.
  • Or was the situation well within what your equipment and skills can handle safely, even if it felt scary? Then the process of calming down and assessing that the two previous cases don't apply should help you get recover mentally to the point where you can go on.
  • I like that quote. I don't doubt that proper training in a safe environment will help you in case of emergency. Still it's tough to calm down and act proper in that situation. I realised this by myself. But I guess you can just try it and be as well prepared as possible. – Wills Mar 1 '15 at 18:41

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