The Survivalist’s Guide to Occupying Your Time

Time can be your greatest friend or your biggest enemy in a survival situation. Consider the best way to survive an emergencyphenomenon of cabin fever, which turns people in close proximity against each other, or having to pass time as a group through the night; how about when you have no choice but to wait for rescue? Here are a couple tips on how you can keep your mind occupied and avoid the passing of time getting to you…

A key ingredient in any survival situation is the mental attitude of the individual(s) involved.” FM21-76 US Army Survival Manual

Social Interaction

Social interaction is an essential part of human nature. Movies like I Am Legend and Cast Away portray this well – Robert Neville takes to placing mannequins over town, and Chuck Noland eventually starts speaking to Wilson, a Wilson-branded volleyball.  Many, recounting time served in the military, recall the social interaction between people the most; never discount its value.

Developing a Quiet Mind

Knowing how to meditate and quiet the mind is a vital skill; after a while, one becomes unaware of the amount of time that has passed and one is able to focus on the total absence of thought or, if needed, solving a particularly complex problem by focusing on the details. Practice meditation for at least ten minutes per day to start. Allow for thoughts to drift – this is completely normal. You can light a candle to aid in focus.

Scheduling Time

Schedule your time whether you are alone or in a group. Knowing what to do and more or less when will help take the edge off. Have a routine, even if it’s a simple one that starts with a walk, a swim or a morning coffee. Having a schedule will also help to avoid general chaos if and when in a group and divide the responsibilities equally.

Also Read: The Prepper Learning Curve

Playing Cards and Other Games

Don’t underestimate what you can do with a deck of playing cards. Part of staving off boredom is keeping your hands and mind occupied and even when you are alone, cards can do just that. Groups of people can pass hours away by playing Poker, Blackjack, Rummy, Bridge, Snap or a range of other card games. The same is true for other games and puzzles – anything goes, as long as you’re keeping busy.


Practice or learn a new skill. This is something which will undoubtedly come in handy in whichever situation you find yourself in, and if you have a large amount of time to kill you might as well put it to good use. Skills can include anything from getting to know the area to learning how to carve objects from wood.

Music and Art

Ancient tribes of the world are known for their music and art; both can be used as ways to relaxation, and you would be surprised how many art supplies can be made from what’s around you if you have nothing else. Simple pants and pigments can be made by grounding up natural substances – ochre is just one of many examples; charcoal can be made by charring wood. It goes without saying that it can be a more than sufficient distraction in times of need.

Related: Fortifying Your Home

The same is true for music – yes, it is also able to aid in meditation for people to attain a sort of trance state, and it serves the goal of keeping the mind and body occupied.

The Use of Stimulants

When a great deal of time has to be passed for reasons of safety, for example when keeping a look-out throughout the night, the use of (legal) stimulants such as caffeine is worth mentioning. Caffeine has been shown to increase alertness and wakefulness, which could be exactly what you need to get you through a dark, cold and dangerous night in the wilderness. Always take care with the use of stimulants: Check with a medical professional and avoid stimulants entirely should you have any type of heart condition.

How have you had to pass the time? We’d like to hear more about your stories in the comments.

Alex Coyne
Written by Alex Coyne

Alex J. Coyne is a journalist, writer, and bridge player with a knack for surviving the unusual. His writing clips include the BBO Prime Bridge Column, CollegeHumor, SurvivalCache, Great Bridge Links, People Magazine and other features. Read more of Alex's articles.

5 thoughts on “The Survivalist’s Guide to Occupying Your Time”

  1. Books should also be considered as a pass time activity. If simply bugging out everyone can carry one of their favorite paperback books. As each person finishes theirs they can be traded and passed around.

    If preparing for a long shelter in place, consider building a home library of literary classics. Personally I would start with the" Bible", "The Complete Works of Shakespeare", "The Hobbit", "Lord of the Rings" and then build from there. Books like "Tom Sawyer" and "Huck Finn." The nice thing about many of the classics is that many of them are no longer copyright protected and be purchased at discount prices. If you have children be sure to include age appropriate books for them now, and for them to grow into.

  2. I have a travel size magnetic chess board a mini set of dominoes a deck of cards and the book I would choose is a Hoyle's encyclopedia of card games I also have a laminated Yahtzee card (so I do not have to remember all the combinations in my head) and a pocket new & old testament. a couple of survival decks of cards to id flora ……

    A book on knots and net making maybe a book on macramé or making traps and snares a great spotting cope high powered so you can watch the noobs zombies and the walking dead bust their azz and make ever numnut mistake in the book — I love people watching .

    A good set of steel tip darts and a case w/ extra fins a sling shot is fun to practice with.

    for keeping agile a hackey sack.

  3. Very interesting article.If there will be a moment in your life wherein you will be in the situation that you need someone help or rescue, the above tips will be best used in times of need. Panic should not be part of the option. You need to be positive as long as possible and think some ways on how to make yourself survive.

  4. Years ago I would spend months at a time alone on my boat anchored out in small secluded coves and bays in Southeast Alaska. I kept my mind active with daily maintenance, if it was only changing a lightbulb. Every Sunday morning I ran the diesel engine for a minimum of 30 minutes to top off the batteries and exercise the refrigeration unit. I gathered radio facsimile weather charts via shortwave radio and produced my own daily and long range weather forecasts and compared them with the forecasts on the weather radio. Heating and cooking were done on the diesel fired flattop stove, that turned out the best cakes and breads ever! High calorie meals where an absolute necessity to combat the cold. I maintained a huge library of cookbooks, medical and technical manuals, and monitored shortwave radio news day and night. On occasion I checked into stateside ham radio nets. I usually had a good stock of frozen meats and soup bones such as pigs feet, or fresh grouse. On these I would practice meatball surgery and my suturing techniques using a small curved carpet needle and dental floss. I don't remember ever feeling lonely or bored, now and again, I occasionally miss the solitude and the challenges.


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