What is the best way to deal with managing stress in elite military training? This post will only talk about USCG Helicopter Rescue Swimmer School as it’s the school I attended, however, the methods discussed can be applied to any stressful environment. This means a little bit of imaginative thinking will allow you to apply this to your current training needs. In rescues swimmer school, there’s one test that is known to be the divisor between rescue swimmers and wannabes.
The One-Man Test
This is the first test that involves dealing with a non-compliant survivor. The goal is to get the “survivor”, or instructor through a series of safety checks and into the rescue basket or sling for a hoist into the simulated helicopter. This test is known to have a high failure rate and causes a significant amount of stress on students leading up to the test. Although there is a series of tests and grueling weeks of training that occur before the One-Man Test, successful completion of these weeks does not clear up the uncertainty of how one will deal with a non-compliant survivor during a simulated rescue. When I went through, all we had were stories from previous classes to go off and their stories were not promising. Classes have been known to lose have of their students from the One-Man. It’s fair to say that the One-Man is a major stress point for students for the first nine weeks of training.
Dealing with stress points like the One-Man will become the determinant factor in your success at rescue swimmer school. So, it’s imperative that we provide a method for you to deal with and get in front of the struggles you will face in relation to these stress points. There are four major coping mechanisms we use to deal with stress. Problem, emotion-focused and approach, avoidance-focused. For explaining and finding ways to deal with the One-Man test, we will be using the approach, avoidance-focused methods. Approach focused coping is the act of brining yourself closer to the stressful situation. For example, you could use visualization techniques to run through the test in your mind. Avoidance focused coping would be separating yourself from the upcoming test diverting the mind to some other thought. This should be thought of an escape from your current environment. Both coping mechanisms should have a place in your mindset toolkit.
Now that we know these two types of coping mechanisms, we can uncover methods to use them that will give you a higher probability chance of dealing with these high stress tests successfully. It seems the best way to use each method depends on the time frame being considered. While it is well known the One-Man tests is the make or break evaluation for rescue swimmer students. It doesn’t do much good to ponder on what the test will be like when it is still weeks if not months away. This means you still have a significant time until the test and have not been given the procedures and rules that will be used to evaluate you for the test, it does you no good to try to use approach-based coping. Avoidance coping would be effective hear as you need to be diverting your thoughts to more constructive ends.
As the test day begins approach and you start to learn the skills you’ll need to use to pass. You can start to use approach-based coping to better prepare you for the test. As highlighted in the definition, this approach-based coping requires a significant amount of active thought and utilization of other mindset techniques, meaning it should be used sparingly to avoid mental overload. We all have a stress bank that gives us the ability to deal with varying amounts of stressful inputs. Approach and Avoidance based coping are both methods of efficiently managing this stress bank in order to avoid a breakdown in clarity under these stressful situations. I’ve seen students who concern themselves with tests that are months and sometimes years away! This is detrimental to one’s mental health and can lead to the eventual derailment of a candidate’s potential career as a rescue swimmer.