Disaster Burnout – How to recognize it and what to do about it if it happens to you or the people in your group

Life in a state of global pandemic has taught us all a thing or two about stress, boredom, frustration, fear, anger, and grief.

In the early stages of the pandemic, people mounted shopping campaigns to secure as much toilet paper as possible. Frenzied shoppers scrambled to buy the last 20 pounds of flour and hoped there was still yeast left at the end of the grocery aisle.

Job hours were cut back or entire days trimmed from schedules until finally people were laid off for lack of work.

As the year wore on, people used credit to pay for expenses. Savings accounts were raided and left empty. Some countries offered financial assistance, but that assistance was finite. Those at the end of the pandemic financial programs stood on the precipice of a big, black void. What next?

When would this pandemic finally end and life would go back to normal?

Stress set in as the financial pressures mounted. Domestic relationships imploded under the weight of pandemic stress. Was it financial? Was it from spending just a little too much time together?

Or, were relationships failing because the pandemic had changed people? Partnerships are hard to maintain when the people in them turn inward and away from the other.

People had lost loved ones and were unable to even visit in the hospital as their family member lay dying. Proper funerals weren’t allowed and the associated community support for grief that comes with the ritual of a funeral.

The preppers who were better prepared at the onset of the pandemic still had to cope with many of the issues non-preppers faced, like job loss and grief.

I was prepared for pandemic and increased my preps before it was declared. It was nice to have PPE’s and a very well stocked pantry including non food items and I am grateful for that preparation. 

But, today I am as weary of the pandemic as everyone else. When the pandemic was declared, we were all given a new set of rules about how to live. Masks and social distancing became the equivalent of little bubbles around us, invisible boundaries never to be crossed. We lost the ability to connect with each other in a spontaneous and joyful way.

When was the last time you were truly, spontaneously happy and carefree?

Even a visit with a generous supply of preps doesn’t perk me up.

I feel like the kid in the back of the car: “Are we there yet?”

Burnout is present when you go to sleep knowing that the next morning will probably not be much different.

Burnout is knowing that other people feel the same way and they are as powerless to change the pandemic as you are.

If the pandemic were a bus, I want to get off now, please.

One definition of burnout is physical and mental collapse.

Whenever I peer over the edge into these dark corners of prepping that are easier to ignore, I learn something that makes me a stronger, wiser prepper.

I don’t hide from the mental and emotional aspects of disaster because if I did, then how could I recognize burnout and the need to address it? 

I feel my emotions and ride through the difficult ones so I can learn to manage them better when unpleasant situations provoke them.

So, here’s what I’ve figured out about burnout during this journey through a pandemic.

Any prolonged disaster is going to eventually provoke burnout. We are human and there is no point pretending that it won’t happen to us. Everyone will arrive at burnout sooner or later and want off the bus, too.

Remember the footage of the end of World War II from various countries? People were hugging and kissing and jumping into each other’s arms. Some were dancing in the streets. People were ecstatic because the war was over.

If all those people hadn’t been burned out, then their reactions would have been much different. “Oh, really, it’s over. *Yawn* How nice.” 

We need to plan for burn out in ourselves or in our group. Burnout looks like depression, hopelessness, and fatigue. A person who is burned out is a jaded person who has had enough of the circus and just wants to go home.

Burnout can cause us or members of our group to make mistakes and errors in judgement that can have dire consequences.

Burnout if not addressed can affect the morale of the person’s group. It adds to their stress.

Every person has a different way of coping with burnout. If it happened to me in a high stress job, I changed jobs, fields and went off in an entirely different direction in order to challenge my brain and skills. It became a way to learn new things in a new environment and shake off the heaviness of burnout.

If the burnout wasn’t from a job, I took up new hobbies and taught myself new things from college level books that I put aside in my library.

If it was a relationship, it got better or I got out. Life is too short to live in a state of burnout, disaster or no disaster.

Burnout comes from working our brains the same way day in and day out. The remedy is to do something different. Change one big thing or a bunch of little things. Get creative.

Take the negative things that happen during a disaster and turn them into opportunities for learning.

Don’t ever completely grow up. Reserve a part of yourself that is free to be a child. This will help you remember how to play and not take yourself too seriously. It is invaluable in a disaster to be able to build a fort in your living room or dissolve into hysterics over a silly joke.

Laughter displaces burnout and drives it away.

My Mom, who survived the long occupation of The Netherlands in WWII, told me how they would laugh and make silly jokes, even during the really bad times. Sometimes, they sang or played games or talked about “some day” when it was over, what would be the first thing that they would like to do. 

But mostly, they laughed because when they laughed they felt stronger, in their spirits, an intangible untouchable part of them that no one could steal from them.

Until she died at 86, my Mom was often mistaken for a woman much younger than her years. She still sang and her giggle was infectious. Her spirit was as strong as ever and no one could ever steal it from her.

When the going gets really tough in a long term disaster, I will deal with burnout by remembering her example.


  • Comments (28)

    • 7

      Good morning Ubique,

      Ref the title: ” … Burnout recognize … what to do  …”;

      My recommendation is to start  – Repeat: START – one’s preparedness program by addressing  “mental and emotional aspects of disaster”. This requires reading, attending classes (many are no-cost here), running “tests” on what one has learned.

      In one of my survival vests I carry some small pictures of famous art I like … it’s a relaxing, soothing experience for me and dissolves much stress. Also carry a couple of those mini-books, one with some favorite poems and one with some short stories read over and over.

      Yes, I remember the black and white grainy films of the end of WWII celebrated times.

      IMPORTANT: ” Burnout can cause us or member of our group to make mistakes and errors in judgement that can have dire consequences.”  Thank you !

      “Is there – is there balm in Gilead ?” – THE RAVEN, Edgar Allen Poe

      • 4

        Good morning Bob,

        Your first paragraph cannot be stressed enough and warrants quotation:

        “My recommendation is to start – Repeat: START – one’s preparedness program by addressing “mental and emotional aspects of disaster”. This requires reading, attending classes (many are no-cost here), running “tests” on what one has learned.”

        I like the idea of a portable burnout buster like the pictures of art you carry in your vest. Mini-books are another great idea for giving oneself a break.

        During the pandemic, routine errands have become stressful and portable non-electronic items could provide a mental and visual break as well as a spiritual boost.

        The Raven is a wonderful work by Poe and appropriate for this topic. He writes of grief – his burnout. His poem illustrates how a man consumed with grief works through his emotions.

        This will sound very ’60’s but “rap sessions” where people talked things out or talked about issues can be very helpful. Light a candle and just talk and listen.

        Balm of Gilead, usually associated biblically, was also a balam made out of the North American poplar. The inside bark acts much like ASA and is an anti-inflammatory.

      • 2

        Good afternoon Ubique,

        Had not known of balam and anti-inflammatory properties.  Thank you.

        Believe Gilead is now in Jordan….although I don’t know if the same place as the biblical reference. 

    • 5

      You have a natural talent for expressing yourself, this is so beautifully written. This post is accurate of what I have seen in my neck of the woods as well.

      I relate to some of your remedies to burnout. Laughter, fun, games, trying something new. It’s important to incorporate these into your plans and life. 

      • 3


        Thank you very much for the kind words and for sharing what you have observed in your area.

        I may be adding running to my list of anti-burnout strategies. We have wildfires now. Normally, I would write “when it rains, it pours,” but I can’t do that because we also have a drought! 🙂

        Now I am laughing. Sometimes you just have to laugh and then go put the bug out bags by the door.

        Thanks again Isabel, it’s nice to know you can relate to my silly musings.

      • 3

        Many bug out bag enthusiasts recommend against having a deck of cards in your bag. They say that if you are in a true disaster where you are having to bug out, then you won’t be in a position to play a game of cards. And that is true in some circumstances, but it can also be a powerful way to take your mind off of your world collapsing around you. I have a deck in my bag, and if things are bad and I really can’t afford that couple ounces, then I’ll toss them in the moment.

        Gotta have some fun in your life right!?

      • 5

        Good afternoon Conrad,

        You’ve introdiced an important point: control of load out weight for an infantry-type evacuation versus having a “tool” for mental health/relaxation with playing cards.

        I try to combine functions if realistic.  There are some playing cards that have reverse side loaded with survival information.  These survival cards can be bought with various different themes eg land navigation, how to make a snow shelter, etc. Believe I posted here at TP.com a couple of companies marketing these type of cards.

        Sometimes it’s difficult for me to combine things eg my 2 mini books and my favorite art. If there’s going to be a trade-off, mental health/relaxation gets priority.  One less large pocket size chocolate bar remains here.

        Fun ?! Definitely ! We’ll have our card game on the paddle boat sailing away from the dangers.

      • 3

        Good afternoon Bob,

        Great idea to have survival info on the reverse of the cards.

        If you combined playing cards with survival info on the back of them and they were made of chocolate, then you could save space.

      • 4

        Conrad – deck of cards is a great idea. I play free cell when I want to destress.

    • 5

      Excellent post and a topic where many preppers will recognize that even when you’re 100% prepared, there will be burnout.

      We are a family of 4 on a homestead with 170 acres of land and there has been no lack of food and money but for the kids it has been difficult to be schooled at home. My wife and I have definitely home school burnout. Luckily since 2 months the children  go to school 2 (half) days a week now.

      I think the Covid pandemic is only a very light version of shtf so I wonder what would happen if kids won’t be able to go to school for a long time if a real shtf situation occurs.

      Thanks Ubique for the insights and tips.

      • 1

        Thank you Juna.

        I can only imagine how home schooling has taken it’s toll on parental nerves. Children that have grown up with home schooling understand home is also school. But, children who used to go to school outside the home know that they are not in school, so it is hard to tell them school is in session at the dining room table 🙂 

        Good point about the impact if something more prolonged happened. Hopefully it doesn’t and no parent will ever have to step into the role of College professor.


    • 7

      I was definitely burnt out from not only the stress of the pandemic and the loss of employment, but also the relentless news coverage of not only the covid but the political situation. I’d also had some bug that in retrospect probably was covid early in 2020, and it left me plagued by insomnia and lingering respiratory problems. I just started feeling better around this past December… almost a year of dragging around feeling like crap.

      My burnout remedy for days I was particularly low was to try to learn new things. I honed my sewing and crochet skills, learned about Ayurveda and Indian cooking, tried some short story writing, made bread from scratch.

      I also took lots of naps. Sleeping a lot is a sign of depression, I know, but if you’re able to indulge in a nap once in awhile it can help. Depression can  be triggered by sleep deprivation, and where I wasn’t sleeping well I slept when I was able.

      Another problem with burnout is that a lack of concentration often goes with it. Don’t beat yourself up if you have problems with tasks that normally are easy for you. Take your time, write things down if you have to, make lists and leave yourself notes…do whatever it takes to make it easier for you to get done what needs doing. Keep the instructions handy even if you’ve done it before.

      Faith is important, too. It helped me a lot to think that everything was in the hands of God (or the higher power of your choice.) and I prayed a lot for guidance and help coping.

      • 4

        Miss Kitty,

        It is so important to take a break from media coverage. It can be so overwhelming and make it more difficult to cope.

        I am glad to hear you survived a probable run in with Covid and are beginning to feel better. I think there were more than a few people who had it early on.

        Your coping strategies sound realistic and balanced. Sometimes we just need to unplug from the world and rest. Sleeping when you need to is not a bad thing. It literally gives our brains a rest.

        I really like your paragraph on burnout and concentration. Well said and great suggestions. Thank you for writing that!

        Faith works for me too. My best guidance comes from conscious contact with the God of my understanding.

        Thank you for taking the time to share your experience and for suggesting great coping strategies.

      • 4

        Thanks Ubique, for your kind response and your excellent article!

        I actually contracted Covid a second, confirmed time earlier this year…this time it hit my family like a bad stomach bug with cramping and bloating that lasted about ten days. The vomiting and diarrhea only lasted for two or three, but it was enough to send my eighty year old mother to the hospital for dehydration and weakness. She only had to stay two days, but it left her very weak.

        For us, the vaccine risks were worth it for the benefits. I know that a lot of people don’t feel that way, but I can honestly say that we suffered no ill side effects, and I appreciate the peace of mind it has given me. However, I respect those who feel strongly about the subject, and believe it should be a personal choice.

      • 5

        I have heard that it is possible to contract Covid a second time. I am sorry to hear that you went through it again. I am glad to hear that you Mom survived. 

        I have my first vaccine done and didn’t suffer any ill effects either.

      • 3

        I have been feeling many of the same things you mention here Miss Kitty. I wish I could just have a week off of the noise, stresses, distractions, and worries of this world. I need to recharge my batteries and get feeling like myself again. I’ve lost who I am and it is scary.

        Money is the main thing holding me back from doing this however. I would love to rent an Air B&B somewhere or even do a staycation here at home but I need to keep working to put food on the table and stay afloat. 

        I’m going to think of little breaks I can have to trickle charge my batteries.

      • 5

        Essie – I hear you! When you are a caregiver, it sometimes is hard to take care of yourself, especially when money is a factor.

        Sometimes a micro break can recharge your batteries enough so you can get through your day without crying, losing your temper or falling asleep in your green beans at supper.

        Music is another great way to recharge. Block off as much time as you can manage comfortably and break out your headphones or even go sit in your car. I happen to like rock, so if I need a quick power boost I’ll reach for Foghat’s Slow Ride, T-Rex’s Bang A Gong, or ZZ Top’s I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide. AC/DC’s Long Way To The Top is a good one too… what can I say, I like bagpipes!😀

      • 5

        I love me some good rock music every now and then to pump me up!

      • 3

        Miss Kitty,

        Micro breaks are an excellent survival tool and they add up to much needed stress relief and recharge.

        I love music and use a wide variety of genres to relax, invigorate and recharge. Driving down a highway with the stereo cranked is my mini-vacation.

        AC/DC works for me, too. Bagpipes are the best 🙂

      • 3

        I have a fever, and the only cure is…more cowbell!😁

      • 4

        ROFL – Cowbell!

        “Thunderstruck” every time 🙂

      • 5

        Oooh, yeah!😁

    • 5

      Here’s a little guide I wrote up about handling prepping burnout and fatigue —

      Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the amount of things there are to prep for? Been prepping every day for months and months and are just plum exhausted? Has the constant barrage of bad news and world events have you desperately wishing for a break? I have felt prepping fatigue and as a moderator of this forum, I read your comments and have heard the desperation from a few of you too.

      I started prepping in high school, and when my parents didn’t listen to some of my pleas to get prepared I took it into my own hands the best a 17 year old could do and built a small bug out box with little trinkets that I found at the army surplus store or Walmart’s camping section. I could have lasted a day or two with the supplies in that box, but hey I’m proud of younger me for at least trying and starting off somewhere.

      Burnout tip #1 – Have joy in your current level of preparedness and how far you have come.

      When I went off to college I had school and girls on the mind. And every second was spent trying to make enough money to support both of those. I didn’t progress very much with prepping during that time period, and that’s okay. There is more to life then prepping and it isn’t wrong to take a break and enjoy the many other things life has to offer. We prep so we can live a normal life, we shouldn’t live to prep.

      Burnout tip #2 – If you are feeling prepping burnout, take a week or month off and don’t think about it at all. You then will be able to come back to it with new ideas, more energy, and a lot more excitement. Set a calendar reminder though on when to come back and don’t get stuck in the easier way of life of not prepping.

      Once I finished school and met the most amazing girl, (guess that time in college was a success!) I was motivated again to prepare so I could be resilient to job loss and be able to provide for my wife come rain or shine. I didn’t know how to proceed however so I turned to the internet for guidance and came across many survival and prepping websites with all sorts of ideas. Many were written with promoting fear and selling their ultimate product as their backing. A site would tell me that I have to go out immediately and buy fish antibiotics, have a half closet full of ammo, and at least three hazmat suits per person. I quickly felt overwhelmed with how much there was to do. That is until I found The Prepared. Now I know I’m a staff member of this site now, but before joining the team I was drawn to the level headed approach to preparedness that TP brought, and for once in my life prepping seemed attainable.

      Burnout tip #3 – Find an emergency preparedness website that connects with you and your approach. Be that The Prepared, ready.gov, or many of the other great resources out there.

      These are the articles that gave me purpose, guidance, and a rational and attainable approach to how I finally could become prepared. If you haven’t read them, I highly encourage you to do so.

      Sure there are weeks or even months when I am more gung-ho about preparing than others but by keeping a balanced approach, I have been at least more or less consistent. I also want to thank you all for the wonderful contributions and things you have taught me on the forum. Having many different perspectives and various ideas of things to work on has kept prepping fresh and new for me.

      Forum member Brownfox-ff has taught me a very valuable lesson that has not only helped me with staying grounded to prevent prepper burnout, but I’ve brought that lesson to many aspects of my life. They taught me to look at attainable solutions instead of just being a victim and overwhelmed by all the doom and gloom. By taking this approach, I have felt more empowered in the situations around me and even in those that I have no control over.

      Burnout tip #4 – You can never be 100% prepared for every circumstance. Follow the 80-20 rule to find comfort. By putting in 20% of the work, you will get 80% of the way there. And that is good enough in many ways and should be celebrated.

      Burnout tip #5 – Prepping is a marathon, not a sprint. Just ask veteran preppers like Redneck, he has an incredible setup, and is more prepared than most people I know, but he didn’t get there in a year and still has things he wants to work on. And do not panic or stress because you aren’t able to be prepared over night, enjoy the journey and the process.

      Burnout tip #6 – Get off of social media and the news. If you feel yourself angry, frustrated, worried, or scared after a session of browsing social media or watching the nightly news, you may want to reconsider your source of info or take a break from it for a while.

      Burnout tip #7 – Set goals. Having a goal you can work towards with many small milestones along the way will give you a sense of accomplishment and make it not so daunting by having an end in mind.

      • 2

        Thank you, Gideon! Great advice and timely too! I’ve been feeling a bit of by out lately and frustrated that I haven’t done more to prep for whatever the future holds. Then on Friday, I hauled out my inventory spreadsheet and realized it had been months since I had updated it. When I started looking through our supplies, I realized that I had actually made a ton of progress over the last 6 months. I had actually surpassed a couple of food storage goals! Just like your Burnout Tip #1, I felt calmer and was proud of what I’ve accomplished. 

      • 1

        Really glad to hear that you were able to look back at how far you have come and found success in that! 

        Day to day or even week to week we might not see much progress, but when we look back further, there is a lot we have accomplished. 

      • 2

        Hey Gideon – great collection of tips. This could be an article by itself.

        Thanks for the kind words. You’re teaching me a lot too.

    • 3

      I saw a meme I thought funny and apropos: on a bookstore window the sign: Note: Apocalyptic fiction has been moved to Current Events.

      I’ve heard normalcy bias called Negative Panic, which I find a great description and one amazingly evident these last years. The number of excess deaths during the pandemic could be as high as 20 million worldwide, 5 times the stated CoViD toll. By most any measure that is an actual calamity and one we should take a second to congratulate ourselves on surviving, many people succumbed due in part to negative panic—and still are. 

      I’m pretty happy about the extent to which my preps enabled my wife and I to avoid most contact the first uncertain months of the outbreak in Washington state near “ground zero”. COVID is not the “slate-wiper” pandemic some of us imagine is still out there but is is damn sure proof of concept for my 30 years of work from home / shelter at home plan.

      At the other end of the spectrum from negative panic is what I think of as Dot Blindness. Remember how the alphabet agencies were said to have not “connected the dots” before 9/11? For those of us prone to overanalysis and perhaps catastrophic thinking, we see dots everywhere. And like constellations in the stars, we connect the dots in the patterns we expect even if the pattern is imaginary. 

      For me, it is important to keep perspective to avoid my imagination. I try to moderate my intake of news and opinion, but stay informed. I canceled cable years ago because I felt increasingly siloed. The uniqueness of TPs moderate conversation is appreciated, I avoid most other social media. I try to not obsess over various potential catastrophes in progress (though some may notice I still slip into rant mode from time to time).

      Drought in the plains? Food shortage.
      Rising debt levels? Economic collapse.
      Protests? Insurrection.
      Insurrection? …well…

      Pop’s Zen of Prepping koan is, don’t obsess over armageddon, prepare to not notice. Or, as The Archdruid said: “Collapse early and avoid the rush.”

      The idea is to work toward a resilient lifestyle, not continually pack and repack a bag in anticipation of abandoning your current unsustainable life. So many posts I have read over my decades of logging on are from people who sort of know their situation is not sustainable and is on the edge of collapsing out from under them but are trying to keep the party going until the last minute. Then bug out.

      LOL, don’t be a Stanley

      • 1

        I really like that concept of dot blindness. We all see many things going on around us and try and create a picture to make sense of it. One person may see one thing, and another person another thing. Maybe they are just dots and nothing else.

        Also love that Stanley video. I see others around me who have their dream home or a fast car, but I am living within my means and do not have any debt. And that makes me happy.