Posted 24/02/2021 in Category 1

How do you cope in a ski expedition across the Antarctic?

How do you cope in a ski expedition across the Antarctic?


Can you imagine skiing across the Antarctic for 68 days? Can you imagine skiing across the Antarctic for just one day? How would you cope with the challenge? We could think about the physical, mental, emotional and lifestyle challenges without too much fuss. Severely low temperatures, unpredictable terrain, predictably foul weather, trying to get on with people, follow orders and doing the same thing repeatedly. It sounds like the everyday life of most people! 


Being in the polar regions might hold all these challenges, yet some people thrive in these conditions. Being away from friends and family for two months is not a problem. Doing the same things repeatedly is not a problem. What Nathan Smith and his colleagues were trying to understand was the day-to-day specifics for the Polar explorers. The trick to survival in any circumstances is taking care of little things that appear little and unimportant but it’s the trap many people fall into because little don’t’ seem to mean a lot. The research consistently shows that success expeditions of this type depend on people maintaining good physical and mental states. The explorers need to stay fit, avoid injury, eat and drink sufficiently, and stay in good cheer. Perhaps it’s a simple thing to do, yet as human beings we see something as being ‘strong’ and something as being ‘weak’. Others lead us with an unfortunate narrative about mental toughness and warrior mentality. These amorphous concepts are about as useful as a chocolate teapot. But like thunder, we have to listen to it; but thankfully we do not have to heed it. 


So what we are saying here is that simple things, completed daily, truly are the steps to success not just in Polar expeditions but everyday life. On any one day, one might feel tired, withdrawn, fatigued from physical demands. With some rest, recovery and reflection, a person might feel energetic, excited and in good cheer the next day. What sort of person copes with an expedition for almost 70 days across the Antarctic? What might her qualities be? And can these qualities be honed? These are the questions to which we all want and need answers. 


To effectively cope in Polar contexts, you need more conscientiousness, agreeableness, emotional stability and openness than the average person. To cope with the everyday challenges under severe stress, you need to be an active problem-solver who uses comforting self-talk. High levels of good cheer protect us when entering extreme settings. How we cope with life in general helps us to live harmoniously with others and in extreme environments, we test our coping strategies continuously. 


We can cope in two ways: focus on the problem or focus on the emotion. Most of our problems in life are practical or emotional. When we use problem-focused strategies, we aim to solve the problem at hand. We use our effort and creativity to solve the problem. With emotion-focused coping, we know we can do nothing to change the situation, so we learn to manage our emotions. We might practise relaxation or share our concerns with those around us and seek support from them. We can choose to see the situation positively and with humour.


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Reference

Smith, N., Keatley, D., Sandal, G. M., Kjaegaard, A., Stoten, O., Facer-Childs, J., & Barrett, E. (2020). Relations between daily events, coping strategies and health during a British Army ski expedition across Antarctica. Environment & Behavior. 53(1), 91-116

Image by Siggy Nowak from Pixabay