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Posted 02/26/2021 in Category 1

How do ski explorers cope day by day in a Polar expedition?

How do ski explorers cope day by day in a Polar expedition?

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 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. 

Let us now explore how these polar explorers coped with a ski expedition across Antarctica. On a day to day level, the group reported enjoying the environment, feeling able to cope and satisfaction from making progress. These emotions are critical to understanding motivation and progression. When we feel enjoyment, feelings of competence, and satisfaction, we drive forward towards greater growth and development. The chronic stress of such events – 68 days in an extreme environment – demands of us physically and mentally. The woven nuances of our lives are more simple that it often seems. For instance, human beings thrive when they are meeting (to a good degree) their basic psychological needs of competence, autonomy and relatedness. What these three terms mean is that we feel capable of doing the job in front of us, we feel we have a choice in how we do the job and we are connected to others doing the job. In the Polar expedition, coping with the challenges skiing, seeing the progress and working collectively join to generate the feelings of autonomy, competence and relatedness. 

Like all of life’s events, it is usually the negative events that disturb most. The loneliness and separation from loved ones influences current well-being. Let’s go back to competence, autonomy and relatedness. With loneliness, the sense of relatedness is disturbed. Add some joint pain which slows progress and one’s competence and autonomy suffer. It is the interconnectedness of these events that can rupture one’s psychological well-being but we do not see these connections so readily. An injury, for example, might have physical pain and psychological effects because we can help ourselves or we might need to rely upon others to help us progress. Our inability to progress might bring a feeling of guilt that we feel we may wish to quash but helping others (or being seen as helpful in other ways) to atone for guilt about being injured and slowing the team down.

It takes an observant and intuitive psychologist to see these events and help teams and expedition teams to know themselves and others as a way to help and see how our help does not help. There are always valuable lessons to learn from teams performing under stress over extended periods. 


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

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