I have been in several situations where panic on a hike has reared its ugly head. The first was when we lost someone. That individual got separated from the group on an unfamiliar trail; they did not stop and think. Instead they gave in to panic and ran headlong down the trail, crossed a river multiple times, apparently at one point even thinking maybe they had passed us but never sat down to wait.
The next time panic almost struck was when we crossed over our trail without noticing it and ended up in a place where the map was unhelpful. We then made a decision to go down a certain trail but it felt like it was going in the wrong direction. I asked Mr. T to stop and told him it felt wrong. We decided to backtrack a little and then to use the compass to hike out to a road. But at that point when we started heading in the wrong direction, I started to have a feeling of panic come on me. Fortunately or unfortunately there were five or six other people to whom I was responsible so I had to push down the panic and help make some decisions.
So what is panic? One definition is that it is fear or fright that results in “unthinking behavior.” One example of panic that appears frequently is when people become frightened in a stadium and head for the exits trampling everything in their wake. There is no thinking in this situation. They are running blindly for the exits.
If you are in the woods, and you panic, you can do things that can put you and your group into more danger.
I’m going to suggest a few things:
1. Don’t give in to your fright. Focus on positive thoughts and avoid negativity.
2. Slow things way down. Down make rash decisions. Sit down in the trail if you have to. Have a conversation and think about the things you can do to get yourself out of whatever bad situation you find yourself in.
3. Don’t go running off through the woods without stopping and thinking about where you are and what your best course of action would be. It might be backtracking the way you came. It might be using your compass to get to the nearest road. Or it might be sitting and waiting for help. But running in the wrong direction is liable to get you more lost than you already are so you have to think it through before you move on.
4. If you are the leader, it is important to convey a sense of confidence that everything will be okay. Giving in to personal feelings of panic will only cause the group to panic as well and that is not constructive. It is not going to resolve your problem whatever it is and may exacerbate it.
5. If you have a hiker who is involved in an accident, you need to take stock of the situation, stabilize the individual, and then make a decision about how you are going to resolve it. But if you give in to feelings of panic, you may not be able to handle the situation correctly which might cause a poor outcome for someone else.
In a nutshell, what it all boils down to is self control when an emergency comes up whether it is getting lost or dealing with an illness or accident. Panic is a natural response to a frightening situation but you must tell yourself that you can deal with it and then stop and take stock of where you are. Once the situation has been resolved, it is okay to acknowledge those feelings and even share them.
Everyone has the potential to succumb to panic. The trick is to recognize what you are feeling and suppress it so that you can deal with whatever situation you find yourself in effectively.