The Antarctic environment is well known for its hostility (cold, isolation, and confinement). The effects of the Antarctic experience on human health are controversial, as some studies emphasise negative (‘pathogenic’) and others positive (‘salutogenic’) effects. In the process of human adaptation to extreme environments, the cognitive and behavioural strategies — defined as coping — that individuals use are a basic component.
This study investigated the use and the changes of coping strategies in nine Antarctic wintering-over expeditioners by administering the COPE questionnaire three times during the year. The results showed a composite use of the coping strategies in the group. The ways of coping, focusing on problem solving and developing personal maturity, were judged to be those most used over the period. Some variations connected with the specific environment were noticed. There was an increase in self-distancing from problems, disengaging from the socio-operational environment, procrastinating, and emotional levelling, particularly in mid-winter. This lethargic, apathetic attitude, which is called ‘freezing,’ may represent a defence against useless energy expenditure and may reduce stress response. This ‘immobilisation’ strategy, well reflected in the symptoms of the ‘winter-over syndrome,’ appears to be adaptive in an environment where the control an individual can exert is highly limited. The results seem to support the salutogenic effects of the winter-over experience.