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Philosophies for good mental health

Prepping can really take a mental toll on preppers. I find myself paralysed by thoughts of the worst, and am interested in learning about philosophies that can combat this.

What philosophies have you lived by or come across that you’d recommend to other preppers? Are there books or resources you think make a good starting point?

I notice that there are plenty of medical books in the prepper book list, but none on mental health or the philosophies needed to get through disaster.

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  • Comments (22)

    • 5

      Hi Anthony,

      Awesome topic!! I have a few tricks that work for me but no comprehensive philosophy of mentally healthy prepping, haha. 

      Prepping is a healthy expression of anxiety to me. An awareness of how everything can fall apart doesn’t need to be emotionally negative, but it does take awhile to learn how to not be bothered by it. I just can’t lie to myself about things being safer than they really are, so not being aware isn’t an option for me regardless of prepping. I like to think of it as a game or puzzle. 

      I’m also careful not to let prepping make my life worse now. I’m not going to spend tons of time or money on it at the expense of the present, and I focus my prepping more on areas I enjoy (like first aid) and less on areas that I don’t (like hunting). Integrating prepping into everyday life helps with this too. Instead of the Zombie Survival Bag, it’s having a snack on hand or playing around with the tools that were (wisely) confiscated from me as a child. 

      Focusing like this is also an excuse to form community with people who have different interests and skills, which is both a great prep and a great mental health boost. And anyway, it’s more effective to really learn a few skills than kinda sorta know a lot of skills if you’ve got a prepping group. 

      At the end of the day, regardless of how we phrase it, prepping does cause you to think about death and destruction (to avoid it). Making peace with death is outside the parameters of the forum, but the only way I can really prep and not panic is by genuinely being at peace with eventually dying and losing people. 

      Some people are able to just not think about things, and if you’re one of them, that might be a happier/easier if less prepared path to go down. If you’re like me and can’t get there, though, hopefully this helps a little. 

      • 4

        I really like your response, Kira! (And agree that it is a great topic.) This line resonated with me in particular:

        I’m also careful not to let prepping make my life worse now. I’m not going to spend tons of time or money on it at the expense of the present, and I focus my prepping more on areas I enjoy (like first aid) and less on areas that I don’t (like hunting).

        … maybe because I wrote something similar in a different thread the other day. 😀 I was admitting that there are some skills I’m just not going to invest in learning because (1) I’m not likely to need them, and (2) I don’t enjoy them. There are plenty of prepping-related activities that I genuinely enjoy— for example, I think I get a dopamine hit just from organizing something that was previously disorganized, so even document prep is fun for me.

        I also identify with what you said about prepping as a healthy expression of anxiety. I would say that I have an unhealthy degree of anxiety, generally speaking, but that I don’t experience a lot of fear of earthquakes (the main thing I prep for) in my day-to-day life. I think that’s because I’m really confident that I’ve done everything I really can to prepare. When it’s really clear what one can control and what one can’t, and the former is taken care of, it’s easier to not be bothered by the latter.

        I also find prepping kind of soothing because it leads me to focus on the basics of survival and community, as opposed to complicated, abstract work crap that feels like life and death, but actually isn’t, and for which I will never be prepared enough (because unless I work a hundred hours a week, I’ll always be dropping the ball on something). There’s a back-to-basics-ness about it that is a little comforting (even though I am also totally capable of spooking myself).

    • 4

      Great questions, Anthony. I found “The Consolations of Philosophy” by Alain de Botton to be an excellent overview of philosophical positions. The book came out 20 years ago, but it’s still useful. I found my spirit rising with each chapter. Each chapter had wisdom that I could apply to my life. 

      I have also found the Buddhist emphasis on impermanence and constructive thought, speech, and action to be helpful. I am also reflecting these days on the merits of letting our quirky lights shine, every one of us.

      I think it’s possible that we’re in an extinction time for humans on earth over the medium to long term (hopefully not, but maybe). To want to keep going, I find it helpful to nurture the desire to be my quirky self and to do the same for others. Why? Life finds a way (or dies, trying).

      Thanks again for raising the topic.

    • 5

      Well in the featured section of this forum there is a book review by another member named brownfox on the Emotional First Aid book. It sounds like the type of book you are looking for. 

      In the comments of his book review I talk about another book that I am going through now called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life. This book has been helpful in many ways to me from having a more positive outlook on life by picking and choosing the things that I give my energy and time to. 

    • 5

      I like to consider the following when I feel something is taking a mental toll:

      Is worrying useful?

      It’s useful if it’s the first time I’m worrying/considering what my contingency plans are, like how I can store water and what my hurricane evacuation plan is if I’m in a coastal area. However if it’s me ruminating to the umpteenth time, contemplating the worst case scenario, which I can’t prepare for or mitigate more than I already have as I stare at my bedroom ceiling unable to fall asleep-that worrying is no longer useful- it’s detrimental to my mental health. I find asking myself this question is a great way for me to recognize the pattern I’m falling into so I can do something else (healthy distraction, other work). It’s a useful tool for me to realize that worrying is only useful if I can do something to shift the situation that I haven’t already done.

      Am I resisting the reality of what is?

      This may seem less down to earth of a question, but I view this as an important way to assess how much of my mental state (and emotions) I’m mapping onto what’s actually happening in reality. This question lets me get under the story I’m telling myself about a situation and see more clearly and calmly what’s going on. The more I resist the reality of what is (by for example, getting frustrated that things aren’t a certain way or aren’t coming together how I want in order to feel secure/prepared) the worse I feel mental health wise. It’s very freeing to realize that a situation “just is what it is” and then move forward choosing not to feed into the anger, resentment, anxiety grief etc that arise over a situation. For example: My electricity may be out due to a tropical storm and that is the reality of the situation, but I don’t have to buy into getting angry/frustrated about it, that is a choice. Anger or frustration is likely going to come up (and that’s ok, I’m not arguing for repression here) if I don’t have a generator and can’t cook using my stove or lose food I have stored in a freezer that thaws but I can see the emotion for what it is and choose to not make myself more miserable by feeding into it. Feeding into it being the mental game of convincing myself I have every right to feel this way as if I’m the only one suffering in a situation which makes me more angry and may mentally look like this: why does the worst always happen to me, if insert-some-entity/individual/organization-to-blame-here would just get their act together I wouldn’t be in this mess, I’m so mad I live somewhere I can’t have my own generator etc. Going back to the first question-this kind of emotional rumination isn’t useful to me in the situation and if I fed into it I could end up getting myself so worked up I’m careless and end up in an even worse situation. It doesn’t mean negative emotions never come up for me-just that I don’t cling to them and treat them as if they are the actual truth of the situation which would be resisting the reality of the situation. I see them, I note them, I try not to buy/feed into them and make myself suffer more. Basically asking this question lets me not get dragged around so much by my emotions and helps me be less reactive and keep a cooler head.

      • 2

        Two very thought provoking questions. Sometimes worrying is useful and drives us forward with a determination to do better and achieve our goals, but it can easily be distracting, stressful, and debilitating. 

        Being aware of your emotions and not letting them negatively affect your decisions is a valuable skill.

      • 2

        Thanks @Camille! I really like these questions, and your explanations really helped drive it home for me. I find worrying and dwelling especially challenging, so I’ll try give these a try!

      • 3

        Great questions and framing, Camille. I agree with you about worrying in a way that is ‘useful’ and working to channel that energy into doing something constructive. I have often seen this phrased as “focus on what you can control”. As you say – some things you just can’t change, so it’s useful to be able to not get upset by them.

    • 3

      Read Josh Centers’ outstanding blog post “Cultivating a Survival Mindset […]” https://theprepared.com/blog/cultivating-a-survival-mindset-the-stockdale-paradox-stoicism-and-the-importance-of-partying-on/

    • 4

      Prepping does not causes anxiety for me, quite the opposite. It is my therapy.

      When I had a small farm I took great comfort in hay in the barn and grain in the little silo. Now I feel the same about wheat in buckets and chooks in the coop.

      If one’s notion of prepping is preparing to bug out to fight running gun battles and rough camp in the forest I can see where the idea could be scary. But I find those fantasies to be less than realistic. We’re just (hopefully) emerging from a global pandemic and though it came up short as a slate-wiper at least so far, initially my food preps were quite handy to avoid exposure— weapons and camp gear not so much.

      Ditto the income effects, being self-employed I experienced a rapid drop to squat in cash flow. Here again no amount of blood-stop powder or Israeli bandages could help. Only cash on hand and a stocked pantry could do the trick.

      I developed type one diabetes at 50-ish, so a sugar sweet death is about a week or two away at any particular moment. The thing that keeps me from depression and/or morbid fascination is my 2-year plus hoard of insulin and accoutrements including storage provisions, lately my solar set-up. I can’t plan on living forever but I’m hopeful I can outlast a short-term diabetic-zombie outbreak.

      Good comments all around. I’d suggest not dwelling so much on the possible horrors, but rather acknowledge them and then concentrate on the possible solutions. I guarantee that offers plenty of topics to while away the hours.

      :^)

      • 1

        May I ask how you got such a large insulin stock?  I had gestational diabetes which means I am at higher risk for diabetes later on  (along with family history and a condition I have) and I have thought about how to get stocked up on medication like that if/when it comes to that.

    • 6

      I also notice some comments mixing prepping for contingencies with coping with events. The 2 are very different in that enjoying the here and now without fear and anxiety should be the priority here and now. If a person is wrapped up in fear of the future to the point of trashing their lives in the now, I’d suggest they need to take a step back, smell a couple of roses, talk to a kid, watch a funny movie. The point is to preserve a good life, not ruin it.

      • 4

        Pops, I just want to say that I find your posts consistently inspiring, articulate, well informed, level headed, sometimes amusing, always interesting.

        Always enjoyable reading!

      • 1

        Thanks Dog!

      • 2

        Amen to that! He has a great perspective on things and knows how to tell about it.

    • 5

      After reading the responses to my questions (thanks everyone!) I’ve been struck by the fact that it isn’t really the prepping that’s taking its toll on me – but the lack thereof, and the worrying I’m doing instead.

      I think I’ll stop dithering and get started. I’ll check out some of your suggestions while I’m at it.

      • 2

        Hey Anthony – kudos for raising such an important topic. Good mental health is important, and is often the foundation for being able to do most everything else that we do.

        Without trying to “preach my own religion” too much, I will say that I am a practicing Stoic, as in the Stoic philosophy from Josh’s blog post on building a survival mindset. I have only been reading and working to practice these mental exercises for a few years, but I find they have made a huge difference in my own mental resilience, and my internal self-talk is much more positive. I would love to have discovered this or had a course on it back in high school.

        For me it mainly centers around:

        • Focus on what you can control
        • Don’t “hang my happiness” on anything outside of my control. Especially – events in the past, large-scale politics, etc. I try to make my default behaviour just not having an opinion on many things, including events outside of my control.
        • Work to do the right moral thing, and be a good person.
        • Help your neighbours and your community, which can include encouraging them to prepare and building community resources that make the community better off too.

        I have found this to be quite freeing. I have both a greater responsibility to take control of my own thoughts and actions, but I am also more free to *not* spend mental energy worrying or stressing about things outside of my control.

        Kudos on recognizing that worrying can be unproductive, and on taking steps to do some productive actions instead. All the best in figuring out what works for you.

    • 2
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      • 2

        That’s a shame! But I think philosophies can be a deeply personal thing, so it makes sense if most or all of these don’t work for you.

        Are there things you think or do that help you personally? Or do you not consider these things important? Would love to hear your thoughts.

    • 4

      Just finished reading through this thread. There is SERIOUSLY EXCELLENT stuff here. Thank you one and all. Everyone is different, and thus I think “what works” will manifest itself a bit differently for each person. Let me toss out two ideas I picked up from a psychologist I worked with for a while. First, let feelings be indicators, not dictators. And last, taking care of your own wellbeing will often seem less urgent than taking care of those around us. But taking care of ourselves is no less important than taking care of those around us.

      Like lots of other folks here, I’m convinced community is vital, particularly in times like these. And if preparing “adequately” seems overwhelming, let me encourage you to try just doing one small thing to be more prepared every day, or even just four days a week. It has kept me from being “snowed under” and frozen in discouragement more than a few times over the years.

      • 1

        Happy Soul – You touch on some good points that apply to me. First off is that I do have that problem of taking care of others more often than I take care of myself. It is something I am working on more and as I do it (which is very hard), I realize how important self care is first.

        The second thing is community. Since being married my social circle has diminished from hundreds of friends to just close family. I don’t have any friends that I would go hang out with and those who I know are more of just acquaintances. It got even worse when I started working from home and don’t see anyone days or weeks at a time. It’s been affecting my mental health and is something I want to work on, but don’t know where to start.

    • 1

      I found a good website that can help you identify and address various issues that might be making you feel poorly. Next time I am struggling I am going to go through this site and take the hour or so to go through the steps and fix things that are going wrong in my life.

      Excuse the name of the website, but it is helpful. Link to site.