Survival Skills

Hatchet - Cry in the Wild movie photo - Copy

By Judy Berman

What would you do if you were tossed ashore on an uninhabited island and you were the sole survivor of a plane wreck? Or, you were on your own and had no one to turn to when you needed help?

  • One of my classes just finished reading Gary Paulsen’s “Hatchet.” Brian Robeson, 13, was on his way to visit his father when the pilot of his plane has a heart attack, and the plane crashes in the Canadian wilderness.
  • Everyday stresses that most of us just shrug off are overwhelming for many college students who are living away from home for the first time. One college in Orlando, Florida, is trying to help students cope with and overcome these challenges.

Those two scenarios would seem to require different skill sets to survive. In some ways, it doesn’t.

Brian was the only passenger on the single-engine plane. The plane plummeted into a lake on a remote island, and he lost radio contact with anyone who might be able to help.

He’s alone. All alone. He survived. But as he takes in the vast forest, he can’t help but wonder for how long.

Brian has only his hatchet and the clothes on his back. He needs shelter, food, fire and the will to continue until help arrives.

In time, he finds a way to fend off wild animals, keep mosquitoes at bay, hunt, fish and eat something other than berries until he is rescued nearly two months later.

For college students, the basic needs that Brian faced have already been met. Their challenges, during their first semester away from home, are not having the support system they had at home

People are no Damn Good - plate - artisit - W. Steig

When the going got tough at home, they knew they could rely on their parents. Or they could turn to friends that they’d grown up with.

Now, they’re on new turf at college. When a relationship ends badly, some feel it’s the end of the world and threaten to harm themselves.

Breakups can be devastating. I recall my first time on my own and crying buckets when my boyfriend broke up with me. One of my best friends came over to cheer me up … and … I moved on.

Something I hope all can do when they’re faced with a setback.

Here are some coping skills that could be helpful when things are down:

  • Reach out for help. Sometimes, you just need to connect with someone who is a good listener.
  • If you are feeling depressed or overwhelmed, talk to a teacher, a school counselor or someone who deals in crisis intervention.
  • Try not to isolate yourself as it only makes the depression worse. Get up and out, and involved in something positive.
  • Cultivate supportive relationships – ones that will help bring you up.
  • Learn to recognize and express your emotions. This will help you be flexible and bounce back.
  • Here is a link to for more information:
When your smile returns you will again find your joy in life.
When your smile returns you will again find your joy in life.


Do you have any suggestions to help people cope when they’re depressed and/or alone? Please add them in the comments along with any setbacks you were able to overcome.


Main Photo: Cover of movie “Cry in the Wild” based on Gary Paulsen’s novel “Hatchet.”

Photo: American cartoonist – William Steig’s illustration of “People Are No Damn Good”

Photo: Dancing – taken by Jesus Solana, Madrid, Spain – April 6, 2009

  1. Judy, as a teacher you are a rare combination of heart and head and I know your students benefit greatly. I’m pretty sure some have read “Classroom Positives” on your Facebook page, but now I wonder if any of them subscribe to your blog as well.

    The list of coping skills is a good one. You asked for more suggestions to add to the list. If appropriate, I tell the person that I will pray for him/her, and try to follow through. Sometimes a card or phone call later on is a good idea also.

    1. Thank you, Marian. Some of my students have said they read my blog. They are not on Facebook with me, but they might see it on a mutual FB friend’s site. (My former principal did not favor teachers having students on their social media pages. I did, briefly, until one of the student’s friends posted photos that I just found to be ‘awkward.’ )

      I think your words of comfort are helpful as well as the follow-up. 😉

  2. If I was alone on an island, just before I starve to death, I will have become quite the philosopher. 😉

    College kids away from their families can be a scary thing. I’m 52 and recently lost my dad and one day a few days ago, I finally figured out why I felt so lost. It’s because Dad has always been my plan B. I didn’t often pull the Dad card, but I knew it was always there and now it’s gone forever. Somehow I knew that I could not withdraw as is my natural instinct and I have been applying some or your brilliant techniques listed above. ❤
    Diana xo

    1. Diana … Brian’s fortunate that he was rescued before winter set in. Which was the title of Gary Paulsen’s follow-up book, Brian’s Winter. Paulsen lived thru what his character experienced.

      My condolences to you on the loss of your father, Diana. I lived thru some of those techniques and they work. 😉

  3. Great post! I think you mentioned the most important things–to find someone to talk to–even a hotline.
    Sometimes getting some exercise–taking a walk, a gym class, dancing–can be a big help, if the person can force him or herself to do it.
    Also a creative outlet can help.

  4. great post, judy. coping skills/grit and support will together help someone survive the move away from home for the first time. great advice –

  5. I have suffered with depression for most of my adult life and I m not ashamed to tell you . I am so much better now but can still have short episodes of blackness. Here is a few suggestion to alleviate the problem , well at least what helped me .
    Even if you’re not a reader find a book of short stories . It can help take you away into a different world .
    Wonderful places of peace where you are surrounded by likeminded people , they are warm and totally free.
    Walk ;
    Get out of the house, if you can , and walk out in the fresh air . If you can’t open a window close your eyes and imagine . Imagination can take you anywhere .
    Poetry ;
    Write it , if not poetry a journal of day to day events . Take no notice of the content , every entry is unique to you .
    Colour ;
    Surround yourself with colour .
    Wear it don’t be afraid
    Eat it …fruits and vegetables are beautiful colours
    And finally breathe .
    When a bad thought comes breathe it in and breathe it out . .till it leaves you .
    Sorry it’s so long Judy I just hope one person out there will read this and it will make a difference.

  6. Ditto on everything Marian said, Judy. You are amazing.
    The first time I taught LORD OF THE FLIES to a group of lower readers, three of them were on probation from detention, and their interpretations of the book leaned toward the themes of gang survival, dominance, and cruelty. Only one of the boys bought his own copy of the book and read it over and over. For his essay, he chose four of the characters and analyzed how life on the island would be either better or worse, depending on how each of the boys could have changed only one response and altered things significantly. It was a poignant essay.

    1. Marylin … Thank you for the compliment.

      I’d say, based on that boy’s essay for your class, that he learned an excellent lesson from the book and you. His response is the goal that elders hoped to teach a young thug in “Touching Spirit Bear” by Ben Mikaelsen. 😉

  7. Judy I think as adults we forget how hard it is to express our feelings when we are young. My daughter is navigating her way through the teenage years next year at high school and lately kids have turned a little catty and I have told her to let them know how she is feeling but did not realise how hard that is for a 13 year old. I try not to forget what it felt like to be young but somethings it just fades I guess.

    1. Kath … I’ve had to talk to one of my students who was in a ‘mean girl’ stage that was very hurtful to another student. It appears our talk – and her chat with the Dean – did some good. I hope so. Those days are but a faded memory for me – thank heavens! 😉

      1. Thats great Judy I guess they get caught up in that faze, thinking its the only way to be if they want to be cool. Thankfully my daughter has a huge heart and can see the silliness of it all. Hoping as she goes into high school it stays that way.

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