Woods Walker wrote:I am no wilderness survival instructor but have to disagree to some regard. Fear and panic are not weakness no more than susceptibility to pain. These are part of the human makeup forged though millions perhaps billions of years of collective evolution that all living things share. You feel pain, fear and panic for a reason. The question is what you do with it. I have been turned around a few times. Once in Maine during a late season hunt. I got no shame as will freely admit that despite years of experience I was panicked for maybe an hour. If I push on farther the logging road will be just ahead. Move…move…..move…… Is this darn compass right? Can’t be! I should have gotten out by now.
But if you snap out of it there is an acceptance or at least in my case of the fullness of the situation. Just sit down and think. Work it out. Get up and slowly move on. I got lucky and found the truck but if not I had a plain to setup a camp and I didn’t care that my gear collection was not on hand. In short nearly everyone panics to some degree. Now giving up is a whole different topic. At that point you are toast.
I definitely agree that fear and the physical responses of the sympathetic nervous system are fundamental for survival, but what you're describing doesn't sound like panic to me. I'd define panic as a total loss of reason that is triggered by fear. If you're sitting down and thinking or recalling your plan for an overnight shelter, you're definitely not panicking.
When people panic they do things that make zero sense to the observer. The guys at my station once saw a woman who was so panicked by the sounds of her neighbors shouting "Fire!" that she jumped out of her 2nd story window to escape her apartment, which wasn't even involved in the fire. She went head first, broke her neck and died at the hospital. She did this while firefighters were on scene and bringing up a ladder. I've seen another woman get so freaked out by some hotdogs catching fire on her stovetop that she locked herself in her bathroom and got undressed.
This instructor referred to search and rescue operations that turned into body recoveries when the victim apparently panicked and ran off into the woods, shedding clothes and equipment during the flight. He indicated that this happens fairly frequently, to the point that he and the people he works with typically lose their optimism about finding a survivor when they locate clothing or a pack during the search. He said, "When people get lost in the woods and panic, they ALWAYS drop their clothes and pack and just take off running, as though they can find their way if they just move faster." I'm sure the term "always" was hyperbole; there's always exceptions.
At any rate, I'm inclined to agree that when a person panics (as opposed to just being scared), their chances for survival are slim indeed.