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Keeping mentally fit while preparing and during a crisis

We prepare. We plan. We spend countless hours thinking about our preparations, and hours more researching and reading about how we can do it better.

We worry. Did I miss something? We compare ourselves with other people. I don’t have the gear that the other people have. Or, I can’t afford what everyone else is buying.

We get overwhelmed. There is so much to know and learn. Am I doing it right? Have I made a mistake that will cause a problem later?

We witness tragedies elsewhere and our stress levels rise. Some days it feels like we’ll never be able to go from “prepare” to “prepared”.

I would like to share a few coping strategies I have used while preparing and also during times of crisis. There are many ways to cope, so any other suggestions are much appreciated.

When overwhelmed, remember that you are putting forth your best efforts. Take some time to remember how far you have come.

Remember that sound financial management is part of being prepared. Driving yourself into debt “to keep with the (prepping) Joneses” would accrue items or supplies on one hand, but leave you vulnerable, still stressed and unsoundly prepared on the other hand. 

Mistakes will happen. We are human and not perfect beings. That is why we can take time to review our preps and plans and discuss them with our family members or others who prepare in order to check for possible errors.

Take a good, long walk. Walking is a way to do two things: calm down and find solutions. I get my best ideas on a walk or after I have taken a walk and I am relaxed.

If walking is not an option for you, then visualize yourself doing a walk through a nice area that appeals to you. It has been proven that athletes who mentally practised through visualization registered the same results on their muscles as those who did so in real time.

Our ability to breathe correctly is very important. When stressed, we shift to shallow breathing. 

The following is a method to breathe more fully. As with any breathing technique, stop if you feel light-headed or faint. 

You can learn to breathe from the belly up through to the lungs. If you place your hand on your stomach above the navel, your hand should rise as you inhale. It is the way singers are trained to breathe.

Then exhale slowly through slightly pursed lips, as if you were going to gently blow a feather away from you. Keep your hand on your belly and let your belly slowly deflate. Repeat, as able, three times. It takes a bit of practice, but is a good way to reduce stress.

If a crisis happens, remember that you have prepared. Take some time to assess the crisis.

Steady, normal breathing. Don’t hyperventilate.

Your brain is your biggest weapon and tool. Think it through before responding. Respond don’t react.

Don’t give up. Your instinct is to survive. Use that instinct. Focus on success and survival. You are stronger than you know.

Don’t let panic and fear drive the humanity out of you, especially in a protracted crisis. We want to survive, but it isn’t necessary to be cruel. When the crisis is over, you will have to live with your choices.

Remember to check on family and friends who may be struggling and watch for signs of stress in them. Help them so that they can remain a stable part of the family  or community team.

Remember that events, like people, have their season in our lives. The tough times will end, the crisis will pass. When you stand there, after it’s over, stand tall and be proud of yourself.

You survived.

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  • Comments (19)

    • 5

      EXCELLENT topic! And very good and sound advice. 

      This year of Covid with separation from others and not getting out as much as we should has caused so many to have mental health issues, stress, anxiety, and even sadly suicide. Take care of your brain. It has been taking care of you your whole life.

      Here’s a couple of more mental health thoughts from Robert:

      • Take a mental health sick day from work every now and then. You don’t need to tell your employer though that it’s for mental health, just say you are sick and leave it at that. 
      • Get outside and soak up some Vitamin D from the sun. That has been proven to help boost your mood.
      • Journaling, meditation, and prayer (if that is something you believe in) is a great way to clear your thoughts.
      • I like to have a prepping role model to look up to when times are tough. Bear Grylls is mine. When I am going through a hard time, or in the future if I go through a disaster, I think about what Bear would do. I can overcome and survive! 
      • I believe this technique is called 3-3-3 or something like that, but the general premise when dealing with a situation/argument with your spouse is will this matter in 3 minutes? In 3 days? In 3 months? So maybe in an emergency, just picture yourself in three days or in three months when you have overcome the situation. 
      • 4

        Robert, Thank you very much. I really like your suggestions!

        I used to tell my staff to take a mental health break day. Everyone needs down time outside of vacation. If the person has a good work ethic and attitude, there is no harm in extending that compassion.

        Employers sometimes forget that most people don’t relax during their vacations. Many people stay at home and work on projects.

        Other families pack everyone into the RV or car and drive like a trucker with a broken reefer and a load of thawing ice cream to get to the lake, cabin or grandparent’s for a visit. That is not a very relaxing vacation.

        One of my role model’s for when the going gets tough is Bernard. He was a fellow student and part of my study buddies group. Bernard was originally from Uganda. He was 15 and his friend 14, when Idi Amine’s troops came into their village and slaughtered everyone. They hid and saw everything.

        For the sake of everyone’s sensibilities, I won’t go into detail. Let us just say that that they fit the definition of monsters. They forced people to slaughter each other and how they did that is why I won’t go into further detail.

        Bernard and his friend, made their way out of Uganda, to England and finally to Canada. He was possibly one of the most decent and kind human beings I have ever known. After what he had experienced, and at such a young age, he carried no malice and no hatred in his heart.

        We only knew each other a short time in that school. Bernard wanted to become a professional engineer and then go back to Uganda if possible to help others. I hope he made it.

        On the really tough days, I think if Bernard can do it, so can I.

      • 2

        Bernard is my hero now too!

        There are so many people going through things I can’t even imagine. It shows me how resilient humans can be and can go through some pretty rough things. 

      • 1

        The human spirit is an amazing thing, isn’t it?

      • 0

        For some of us, our occupation is a huge benefit and very significant in staying mentally healthy.  That is true for everyone, in every job, but many of us are fortunate…

        Bear Grylls??  Seriously?  That scripted, staged, artificially arranged poseur. – complete with bad advice and counsel.  You will be in deeep trouble…

      • 3

        I do know that his show is scripted and staged and he isn’t really surviving out there how they make it seem. But I have learned a lot from him, respect him as a person, and I think he has done quite a lot of good for the prepping and survival community. 

        I like him. 

    • 4

      https://store.samhsa.gov/?f%5B0%5D=professional_and_research_topics:5362

      Above link is to one of the best public sector small agencies involved in this.  Their pubs are no cost but maybe no longer available  to non-US private addresses (budgetry constraints).

      At linked page, hopefully the Compassion Fatigue (July 2020) pamphlet is displayed.  Note the “Tips For Survivors: Coping With Grief After A Disaster Or Traumatic Event”.

      I’ve also got some boxes of related preparedness, responding and post pamhlets for senior citizens.  Don’t have the  childrens’ stuff any more – distributed it already – but it’s well developed.  The comic book formats remove the unknown from the preparednes.

      Many areas have no-cost seminars on this field.  A “big seller” here was psychological first aid.

      Most everything involved in the preparedness, the response and the recovery is about polished skills and mental preparedness. The gear is good to have but not absolutely required. 

        

      • 3

        Hi Bob, I tried the link but it came back as “url not found”.

        You make excellent points on trauma and grief and the aftercare aspect.

        Also, age specific resources are important. When I took palliative care, we had a separate section for dealing with children’s grief, categorized by age.

        Your last paragraph says it all. Gear can be lost or stolen. Polished skills and mental preparedness keep you going.

        Always wisdom from you, thanks Bob

      • 3

        Ubique, Recommend to first Google (or other) “Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services”.  It’s a sub agency of US Dept of Health and Human Services.

        Am looking at some paper pamphlets I just pulled out from behind some hurricane supplies here in this firetrap.

        One web address – 2005 – is http://www.mentalhealth.samhsa.gov

        I’m looking at one of the best – at least from my perspective – pubs in this field: “Field Manual For Mental Health And Human Service Workers In Major Disasters”.  A key concept at FM’s page 1:  “Disaster Mental Health Assistance is often more practical than psychological in nature”.

        At their website, the pubs are in section called “Store”. Seek subcategory re “Disaster”.

      • 3

        Hi Bob, I found it on Samhsa, however the url was still not found. So I tried a search on the name and I located it in downloadable pdf 35 pages:

        Here’s the link: Field Manual for Mental Health and Human Service Workers 

        I have already saved it in pdf to read later.

        Thank you so much Bob. I love reading and books. Yep, I’ll be the prepper pushing bookcases with wheels.

    • 3

      I have found having a “grateful” log to track “graditudes” is super helpful.  Breathing tips have also helped me in super stressful situations:

      https://www.forbes.com/sites/nomanazish/2019/05/30/how-to-de-stress-in-5-minutes-or-less-according-to-a-navy-seal/

      • 4

        Steve, A gratitude log or journal is a wonderful way practice stress reduction. Before sleep, I count my blessings and it helps me to enter sleep in a peaceful state of mind.

        Thank you for the link to the Forbes article. My current evening reading is a book that deals with exactly that topic. It is called “When the Body Says No – The Cost of Hidden Stress” by Dr. Gabor Mate (a Canadian physician).

    • 4

      Excellent topic and points raised by you, Ubique, Robert, and others. A few thoughts — Many people are better dealing with a short-term crisis than with a long-term chronic situation. I think it’s possible that humanity’s greatest challenges ahead will involve chronic stress rather than short-term stress, so it’s very important to develop emotional, psychological, spiritual, and mental inner resources to deal with chronic stress.

      The human brain has evolved to have a “negativity bias” — we tend to focus on the negative rather than the positive. That’s perfect for short-term crises, but not so good for long-term chronic stress. As prepping-oriented people, we are channeling our negativity bias into productive action. 

      However, I think people benefit also from taking steps to counter the negativity bias of our own brains. Gratitude journals, taking breaks from stressful situations, challenging our own ruminations, exercise, creative endeavors, connecting with friends and strangers, all this is good. I like the practical psychologists who work with positive neural plasticity to teach people to self-soothe and build inner psychological resources. Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is my favorite teacher along these lines (www.rickhanson.net — note, not .com). 

      Thank you to everyone involved in this website.

      • 2

        Hi Seasons4,

        You raise excellents points. I agree that it is exactly what we do when prepping – “we are channeling our negative bias into productive action”. I have never thought of prepping that way before and thank you for sharing that insight.

        Thank you also for the Rick Hanson info. I have bookmarked his website. It is the kind of psychological teaching I am interested in. Jon Kabat-Zinn is another favourite. 

        I use creative visualization which I self-taught from Shakti Guwain’s books. I have found that very helpful when in need of a “time-out’ from the challenges or demands of daily life.

        Thank you very much for the balance and insight you bring to this forum.

    • 3

      Thanks for the excellent suggestions! 

      I’d like to throw out a tangential idea – to help prepare for a short term crisis emotionally, put yourself in situations where you need to get by without the “luxuries” of modern life.  I specifically recommend primitive tent camping (or backpacking) – find a camp site without electricity or running water.  I’ve found this to be an unexpectedly useful form of mental/emotional prepping.

      Don’t bring a cooler – shelf stable food only (I confess that I bring one for drinks!).  Only battery powered electronics.  Try going somewhere without cell service.  Get comfortable cooking on portable stoves and collecting/drinking filtered water.  Ladies – learn to pee outside (I recommend funnels!). 

      Do this a few times a year until you are comfortable for duration of the trip.  Make this “practice” a fun trip and include things you want to do.  It shouldn’t be a weekend of deprivation.  This has several big benefits:

      – you practice using your gear and develop confidence in it. You learn it’s limitations, change it as needed, and learn what does and doesn’t work for you.
      – it increases your comfort zone in a wider range of temperatures, environments, and weather conditions. The first night I spent in a tent I couldn’t sleep. Now I have no issues because I trust the gear and the sounds don’t bother me.  I’m confident I’ll be safe, warm, and dry. 
      – you learn your personal limits and stress points – personal hygiene is a big deal for me and it took a few tries to be comfortable going without showering for a few days.  I learned alternatives to keeping clean. 
      – most importantly – the experience changes your perspective and you start to see hot showers and our “normal” indoor temperature range as luxuries rather than necessities.  During a real crisis, you will still worry about the outcome, but the conditions of the situation will be much less stressful and allow you to function and make better decisions. 

      • 2

        What a great way to create first hand experience and strengthen our mental and emotional preparedness. It is a way to condition ourselves to changed conditions during a crisis and boost our confidence.

        We can learn key points about how we respond to a change in environment. We can use that information to formulate options and then test our ideas on another trip.

        Trips such as this also afford us an opportunity to test our preps and adjust accordingly. 

        Your words are a wake up call for some of us who have done camping in the rough, but have not practiced it in a long time. We could have difficulty emotionally or mentally. Skills have to be maintained and like you said, we can make it a fun trip. 

        Your comment made me think about how fortunate we are that we have the ability to be preppers and have the resources to prepare for a crisis, unlike other communities on this Earth. That will be something to add to my gratitude list today.

        Excellent points, Christine B and thank you so much for sharing them with us.

      • 3

        Second the notion that outdoor activity in primitive conditions can prepare one for emergencies.  It is very helpful to know the limitation, and capabilities of things that will be used in emergencies.  Living in California, earthquakes are high on my list of probable events.    Basically, i will move out of my uninhabitable dwelling and camp in the  yard, using very familiar equipment.

        You can go one step further and sign up with groups that respond to actual emergencies – CERT, for example.  I volunteered for many years with a local search and rescue group that was fairly active (50 or so operations per year).  The benefits far exceeded the effort I expended – for one thing, I learned how I react to stressful conditions….

      • 2

        Fairly active ?! Hikermor, that SAR unit was busy !

        A great benefit of organizations like SAR groups, CERT, Medical Reserve Corps, for new entrants to the prepper world is real learning.

        Besides one’s area being topographic specific, geographic specific, group affiliation, at whatever level of participation, introduces the person to the additional no cost classes, conferences, seminars.  A newcomer can readily learn which stores have good stuff available, and etc.

        Much cannot be said on the web.

      • 2

        hikermor – What a great idea – a chance to serve others and gain valuable experience. 

        50 operations a year? You must have acquired such a variety of impressions and experience.

        It would make for a good book. Have you thought of writing about it? That could a good read for anyone, but particularly for preppers.

        It could illustrate how to avoid pitfalls that result in rescue, how people survived until you got there and how to manage stressful situations, among other skills and team work.

        Thank you for raising the point of volunteering for with emergency service groups, such as CERT. Excellent point!