Mental health preps

A lot of prepping is focused on our physical readiness to respond in time of crisis. Much of our time, energy, and money are spent amassing gear, equipment, and supplies; monitoring stock levels and expiration dates; reviewing and practicing potential courses of action; and getting ourselves in physical shape – all so that we have some sense of readiness for dire moments that we hope will never come.

Over the years, I’ve come to think of prepping like a giant puzzle. As all the right pieces click into place, we get one step closer to realizing the bigger picture of our own readiness.

I put to you, my fellow preppers, that this puzzle isn’t complete without some form mental preparedness and having coping preps at the ready. After all, you can have years of food and water, medical supplies, ammo, and all the comforts you could possibly want and need to physically survive a crisis, but none of that is worth it if you can’t mentally cope with the challenges that arise from the chaos you’re attempting to survive.

Before I go any further: I’m not a psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, or trained counselor -not by any stretch of the imagination. I do, however, have experience in receiving mental health services and it is the entirety of that experience that I’m calling upon to share these thoughts with you.

As you read, please keep in mind that this is my subjective experience. At no point in time should you consider this mental health advice to be acted upon without the guidance of a trained and certified professional.

If at any point in time you find yourself in crisis, I urge you to reach out to crisis services in your state, city, or region to seek immediate help.

As someone with a diagnosed history of PTSD, anxiety, and depression, prepping can sometimes be a challenge for me. If I’m not careful, my prepping can easily break free from its reins and run wild. If I’m not vigilant and mindful, that is, if I’m not present and thinking about my thinking, I suddenly find that my thoughts have raced very far afield. The result, for me, manifests in feelings ranging from overwhelming anxiety and hopelessness to extreme hyper-vigilance, and catastrophism.

The experience is somewhat similar to what you might have felt as your started your own journey into prepping, perhaps before you found The Prepared (or similar communities) -and yet, for me, it’s a very different kind of anxiety. If I’m not mindful, I can find myself feeling anxious to the point of overwhelming paralysis and that is completely counterproductive to my own efforts.

Let’s be really honest with ourselves and each other for a few moments. There exists, even now in the 21st century [at the apex of the information age!] a continued stigma centered around mental health and those that suffer from a myriad issues. Sure, we’ve come a long way as a society, but not far enough -not if (for example) upon reading my “background” paragraph, you might have found yourself cringing slightly or knee-jerking in response. If that’s the case, then my point has been made and that’s part of the topic I want to address here, the stigma. -And, look, that kind of response is okay. I’m cool with it. It’s understandable and forgivable because I understand myself and, perhaps more importantly, I understand the human instinct to fear the unknown or unknowable.

That said, it should come as no surprise that myself and those who suffer and live with mental health issues are often perceived as being strange, scary, weak, damaged, flawed or in desperate need of repair. At the individual level, issues that go unaddressed (because of the stigmas we impose on each other and the topic mental health) can’t or won’t seek help, much less admit they need help. Worse still, they – I – don’t want to be perceived by others as weak, not manly enough, “crazy”, or whatever. -Even then, even if you might perceive your own mental health as a weakness, wouldn’t you want to strengthen that weakness rather than shaming it or ignoring it? Wouldn’t addressing that lead you to being more prepared to face other important challenges?

It is an undeniable fact of life that there will be injury, illness, and death. Everyone acknowledges this (to one degree or other). This is, after all, why we prep our first aid kits, familiarize ourselves with important things like field dressings, suturing, administering CPR, etc. Some of us have even had (or will seek) formal training of some kind in order to prepare for these and other situations.


What follows are the kinds of questions I often ask myself -and that I’m asking of you, right now -and they go something like this:

What are you mentally and emotionally prepared to deal with? Are you truly prepared to face blood and gore, the onset of illness and disease, fatigue, famine, or utter exhaustion? Are you mentally ready to face the possibly of an unknown or uncertain future?

Sure, it’s easy to say that you are, but dig a little deeper! How will you potentially deal with, for example, losing some portion (or all!) of your hunker down preps because you had to bug out or suddenly found your stash area(s) unreachable or off limits? How prepared are you, truly, to face death, to potentially bury a friend or loved one, if need be? How will you cope with that loss? How are you coping with the loss of life right now, during the pandemic? What about widespread destruction, you ready for that? How might you cope with hours, days, weeks, or even months of ceaseless silence, of being alone, lonely, or left with your own thoughts? On the other end of that spectrum, how prepared are you to cope the ceaselessness chaos and destruction due to civil unrest or ongoing, active armed conflict?

I’m not really trying to drill my point home or to put too find a point on this. The last thing I want is to make anyone’s day crappy by throwing out these gruesome ideas and leave your ruminating. It’s just that… it’s one thing to have some vague, blurry idea of the possible things one might face, especially if you don’t have any frame of reference or practical experience. It’s one thing to have a relatively secure faith in humanity and in the fact that the vast majority of people will work together toward a common good. And, yet, it’s another thing entirely to face down the possibility of things going horribly, horribly wrong.

There are, undoubtedly, those among us here that have never experienced these sorts of things (and my personal hope is, they never will!). Fortunate are those who’ve never experienced combat or a natural disaster firsthand. There are, without a doubt, some preppers who might not have any frame of reference for what these truly traumatic experiences are like -the sights, sounds, smells and the impact those things can have on your psyche and it is to that that I’m calling for- and advising- a few preps.

Experienced or not, these kinds of thoughts and questions are really overwhelming, I know. Nevertheless, I offer to you that these are the kinds of questions each of us should take time to stop and truly, deeply consider. I propose that we must also mentally and emotionally prepare (or, for some, prepare to re-experience) the kinds of situations we physically already prep to face.

And as we consider these things and explore some of the ways we can prep our mental health and stability for times of uncertainty and crisis, we might suddenly find that we have added yet another tool to our preps.

Nothing is going to be a suitable substitute for a trained, certified professional, counseling, or medications. Nothing. Professionals -whether psychologists, psychiatrists, or social workers of every degree and stripe- invest years of their lives learning, studying, researching, and practicing [to the extent of our most current understanding of-] how the human brain works, how our thinking informs our decisions, and how what we experience can impact us in ways that might not be obvious to ourselves or others.

In the absence of a professional -perhaps in any number of the scenarios we might imagine, or in a world gone horribly wrong- what can we do for ourselves and each other to keep cool, collected, and organized in our thinking. How can we attain and maintain our emotional stability and health? What can we do to prepare or triage these issues until mental help arrives?

Chances are, you’ve probably heard the term or seen it floating around somewhere by now. If you’ve spent a little too much time in your bunker or if you aren’t already familiar, mindfulness is a practice, an exercise to train your brain to turn your attention inward. At the heart of mindfulness is noticing and noticing that you’re noticing. Think of it as a kind of self-diagnostic mode.

Mindfulness practices (also called meditations) vary. Some variants include awareness of breathing (to find a place a clam), body scanning (noticing places of tension), or focusing your awareness on the senses. Some guided mindfulness routines dive deep into topics like emotional discomfort and building compassion (toward both yourself and others). At its heart, mindfulness is all about you and providing you a means of directing your attention to things, events, or experiences you may not have realized are impacting you and your well being.

Although the aforementioned mindfulness practices are a form of meditation, I’ve separated what I call traditional meditation from mindfulness because this form of practice is all about, well, nothing.

Contrasted with mindfulness, one of the major ways traditional meditation practice differs is that it focuses on not having thoughts at all. As one begins this practice, one must first learn that that the mind is like a wild horse. It wants to run free! As you become more experienced and more disciplined in your practice, you learn to brush aside and let go of these spontaneous and wandering thoughts. Thoughts are a forgivable intrusion into this mind space and the goal is to seek calm, quiet, unperturbed peacefulness, a place of respite.

Depending on your individual needs and your individual use- and threat models, there are no shortage of apps available to help you on the path to mindfulness and meditation. Some I’ve personally used and have found useful (on the Android platform) are as follows:


Mindfulness Coach



Binaural Beats

White Noise Pro

[Note! This app is available via F-Droid. For those not familiar, F-Droid is an alternative Android repository for Free, Libre, Open-Source Software] https://f-droid.org/app/com.github.ashutoshgngwr.noice


I welcome any feedback you might have and would welcome any constructive thoughts or personal anecdotes that might help each of us add more tools to our mental health preps.

Thank you for reading!

Be well. Be safe. Stay healthy.

Edits for spelling and grammar. Lots of edits. OMG, so many edits.


  • Best Replies

  • Comments (20)

    • 14

      As a therapist I applaud your effort here.  The mental stress of a catastrophic event can’t be minimized.  Great resources!

      • 8

        Thank you for the vote of confidence. I’m grateful for your feedback.

        I’m wondering if –I’m not trying to corner you here, so please say so if you’re not comfortable or interested in commenting further– as a therapist, you might have some additional thoughts or resources.

      • 15

        I actually can’t think of anything to add here.  You provide a great array.  Also, my work has been with children so I’m not sure how helpful that would be here.
        It is important though to speak with your children, at an age appropriate level, about your preparations why you are doing what you’re doing: so you can be ready if there was an emergency and allow them to help prepare.  Teaching skills to children gives them confidence, assists them in learning to help themselves and gives them direction in advance for what to do in an emergency.
        Again, great post.

      • 8

        Thank you for that! Seriously. As someone that doesn’t have children, I’m glad you could fill that gap. So important!

      • 7

        I know there’s probably not much you can say because of confidentiality but I wonder how the last 3 months have been processed by kids. I don’t have any but the world must seem so bizarre? Or maybe they just roll with it because they don’t have context?

    • 11

      Great post, Matt–thanks for the framing and information. We love mental health care in New York City, cause we are nuttier than shit. But seriously, I’d argue that mental preparedness is perhaps even more important than physical. I know folks in NYC who have escaped to various havens and yet are anxious wrecks despite sitting in complete safety and privilege. Meanwhile, my crew and I are doing just fine here in the city with reasonable preps but a solid understanding and some measure of foresight for what lay ahead.

      • 8

        Thank you kindly. I appreciate it. I’ve known quite a few New Yorkers in my time, many of whom were around on 9/11 that are of a similar mindset as you.

        Best to you and your crew.

      • 6

        Remembering how I coped during the 1984 earthquake in California and after 9/11 in NYC has helped me grapple with COVID anxiety.

    • 11

      in the vein of trying to add to the well thought out content you provide:

      Even if any of this seems foreign to you – think about how often times go-bag lists include something simple like a deck of cards or a book to help stave off boredom. Think of those as the equivelent of bandaids in your first aide kit.  Great to have for small issues, and something you definitely want, but not a replacement for large bandages or a tourniquet.  Just like you build up to elaborate physical preps you can also build up to more elaborate metal ones.

      So for me, music really helps calm me down – I’m thinking an extra pair of headphones and maybe an old iPod with some good play lists would be really appropriate for me personally (your individual quirks and solutions may vary).  Even just having some easy to implement mental “hacks” – “going for a walk” is a classic one for many right now.

      One thing I wonder about – how to “practice” for atypical events, some of the more extreme scenarios you describe.  Would watching shows about surgeries help with exposure to injuries/severe physical trauma in a more controlled setting (don’t know, not suggesting it, just thinking out loud)?

      I’m reminded of a few instances in life where I encountered personal “Outside Context Problems” (which is an interesting term to google!).  Like, the first time I was ever in a car crash (no fault) – I had no idea what to do, was a bit deer in headlights actually (not proud, but honest) whereas my ex-paramedic friend had seen things like that before and jumped right into action.  Some of that is having your wits about you but some of it is just exposure and practice (hard to practice car crashes if you’ve never been in one… paramedics probably see them often and are more ‘used to’ it?).

      • 8

        You make several good points, Rich. Thank you!

        Music can have a really grounding effect on us. It moves us (physically, mentally, emotionally -and perhaps even spiritually) in ways few other things can!

        To piggyback on that mention, I’d like to suggest (especially for the safety and security conscious like me -hahahaha, aren’t we all?) look into a pair of Aftershokz’s bone conductive headphones, which allow the wearer to “listen to your environment while listening to your music”. I don’t have any ties to them, but I was gifted a pair by my brother for my birthday and I’ve found them invaluable. Links at the bottom.

        In response to your how-to exposure point, I really don’t know how to answer that or what to suggest, if anything. Honestly, I don’t know if it’s simply a matter to self reflection or if exposure to shows/movies etc would even help (? if that’s even the word I want to use here) prepare for these sorts of scenarios.

        But really, my point wasn’t about becoming desensitized to these things (and I don’t think that was your point either!), I think it’s much more important to have some tool(s) for coping, soothing, adjusting, grounding ourselves, or making a safe, healthy space for yourself or others -even if the world around us has gone a little haywire or if the S truly has HTF.

    • 9

      Thanks for bringing up an important topic Matt! I just highlighted it as a featured thread, this (new) forum’s very first ‘real’ one 🙂

      • 9

        Oh! What?! C’mon! Really?!

        Wow! Thank you. Seriously. I feel really honored. I mean than sincerely! If you could have seen my face just now, I probably turned all shades of ghostly pale white to bright red. Seriously, it means a lot.

        But, really, thank you.

        Thank you for this space.
        Thank you for this community.
        I’m grateful. A little mortified, but very, very grateful.

    • 8

      5 months ago when I thought it would be a very hard 2-3 months and then some relief in the summer, I felt mentally prepared, and I was.  I felt like “I was built for this.”  I’m not a “prepper” but as an airbnb and in home dog boarding host, I had lots of supplies.  I supplemented with more in early March as I realized early on how serious it would be.  I had enough for 3 months if my home water supply was safe, which I had every reason to believe it would be.  I’m used to living alone, I was ready.  

      What I didn’t anticipate was the complete and utter failure of the government and society to do what was necessary.  I now feel completely hopeless.  Things will get anything but worse over the the next 6 months.  Sure, I won’t starve and I’m privileged to have plenty of creature comforts, but otherwise I’m in a depression that equals what I was seeing a shrink for in the early 2000’s.  

      I’m hoping cooler weather will help motivate me to start doing some serious exercising. 

      • 6

        I know what it’s like to be in the throes of a serious depression, so I won’t pretend that my comments can address your dilemma to any meaningful extent.

        I share your feelings about the failure of our government and society. Two things that help keep me on somewhat of an even keel: prepping and focusing on one day at a time.

        I’m easily prone to contemplating months if not years of worst-case scenarios, so I remind myself to focus on what I can do today and to enjoy something about the day. Nature helps.

    • 5

      Good topic

      A few thoughts to add:

      1. In the absence of medications and evidence based therapies like CBT from trained providers, alot of people are going to have to revert to the old time mental health remedy: relying on community networks for social support. Simply hearing others stories and knowing you aren’t alone in a struggle can be a huge relief, especially when dealing with irreparable problems like grief caused by the loss of loved ones. There is no fixing the loss of a family member, but if you are surrounded by others who are going through it too, at least you aren’t alone. 

      2. In terms of prepping a regular person for extreme physical situations, there is a bit of precedent for this in the general public: childbirth classes. Women are encouraged to attend childbirth classes and speak to friends and family who have been through it to familiarize themselves with what they might experience. This is because labor and delivery are often very unpredictable and unmedicated labor is extremely, unimaginably painful in most cases. No amount of classes or discussions can fully prepare you mentally or physically for such an intense physical event, but seeing and hearing about what to expect can at least decrease anxiety and help people develop realistic expectations. I also found personally that I never feared childbirth pain in large part because most of the women in my life had all experienced it and were very open about their experiences. In a way, I just accepted the pain as likely inevitable and didn’t “emotionally fight” it by worrying about it so to speak. So there could be merit to preparing yourself mentally using resources and training classes meant for aid workers, paramedics, and the like. 

      3. For me, I know there is one thing I am absolutely not mentally ready for: infant and child mortality. We know that infant and child mortality used to be sky high before modern medicine. Babies and little ones died frequently and almost everyone had lost their own baby, sibling, cousin, or neice/nephew. I’m not ready for this. At all. But I know that if we ever revert back to healthcare like we had in the early 1900s, never mind any earlier, the loss of the little ones will inevitably follow. 🙁

      • 6

        Infant and child mortality is a terrifying thing to consider, I agree. It’s even a cliche in disaster movies where someone has a baby that also has to survive the group ordeal and it’s almost too stressful to think about a real scenario. Or in the example you mentioned, not having access to real medicine. 

    • 5

      Great post ! Mental Health is very important, specially nowadays. I would like to share something I was reflecting couple days ago and see if it makes sense to you.

      I’m new to prepping and what I’m realizing is that sometimes I must remember myself to be in the present (as you said) and not let my thoughts lead me into catastrophism. This is an everyday exercise, that’s why I believe seeing prepping as a lifestyle and taking your time to fulfill your preparation is a good mental health strategy to be prepared but not paranoid. In addition to that I think we should also be alert to critical events where SHTF can happen, in that kind of situation we must rush, otherwise it is a good lifestyle.

      Disclaimer : That’s my first post here and I’m not sure this is the rigth thread to be discussing this, but please, let me know your thoughts

      Best regards everyone !


      • 3

        Welcome to the forum and prepping WM! This is the perfect place for this discussion.

        So many prepping sites and groups lead you to that catastrophism and to focus on the big flashy and scary topics first off like nuclear war or zombies. I first started there and it was overwhelming. And then I found The Prepared and it’s rational thinking. A flat tire or job loss is a much more likely of a disaster we are to encounter and we need to be prepared for those as well. It’s also not healthy to burn yourself out by spending all your time or money on prepping, do a little bit a day/week and eventually you will get to your goal in a much better mental state.

      • 2

        Exactly !

        Thank you for your feedback. It’s good to know that my reasoning made sense for you. Yes, ThePrepared is different in the sense that it’s not Gloomy Doomy stuff and I’ve found perfectly written the “Sane prepper” subsection in  the “Start Prepping” section. The whole point is what you have said, it’s more probable we face a flat tire or a job loss (and all the challenges that come with it) rather than a zombie apocalipse, and that was the perfect environment I was looking for.

      • 2

        Wellington, keep an eye on how you are doing mentally. Even those who are not prepping minded and don’t think about the future very much can get overwhelmed by everything going on. Here’s a forum thread I made where people can vent to each other about how they are doing mentally and get support from the group.

      • 1

        Of course Alisa.. Thank you !