9 Ways to Train Your Brain to Respond in a Crisis

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When I first began researching survival and preparedness, I can’t tell you how many hours were spent in shock and panic.  I read about the “golden hordes” who would soon, very soon, descend upon my suburban home shooting, stealing, and raping, although not in that particular order. According to some survivalists, we’re approaching a tipping point at which our world will begin to run out of oil, and we’ll be thankful to have two rocks to rub together to create heat. Then there were tales of a hidden planet, Planet X, on its way to destroy Earth.

In my early prepping years, there were days I wasn’t so sure I even wanted to survive such scenarios. Anyone who has only known security is in for a shock when their normalcy bias begins to struggle with information about these possible scenarios and many others, far more realistic.

Recently I came across these interesting statistics. In a crisis:

10% of people will panic.

80% will do nothing.

Only 10% will act quickly and appropriately.

As a mom, I realize that my kids can’t afford for me to be part of the 10% that panic or the 80% who do nothing. Parents do not have the luxury of panicking or breaking down in tears when a situation desperately calls for logic and purposeful action.

Picture this situation.  You and your children or grandchildren are in the middle of an intense emergency. The young ones are already scared, perhaps even hysterical.  They last thing they need is a parent, grandparent, or other loved one who has lost all sense of reason. At that moment, in spite of your own fears, you must be the adult in charge.  The options otherwise are not pretty.

So how do you cultivate a mindset capable of handling a major crisis without experiencing it first hand or living in a war zone?


First, decide that you WILL be in that 10% who takes appropriate action when faced with an emergency or drastic change.

1.  Do your thinking and planning now. Make it a habit to ask yourself “What if?” questions. Make situational awareness an everyday habit to be observant of the people and activity around you. If there’s one book I believe every woman, from around age 15 or so, should read, it’s CIA Street Smarts for Women by B.D. Foley. About a third of the way through the book, I realized the book has vital information for my son, too. The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker is another must-read. Both books are life-changing and potentially life-saving.

2.  Go beyond just looking around and being aware. Begin inventing stories in your head about the people you see around you. Invent a name for them. What do they do for a living, why are they here right now? Believe it or not, this mental exercise will begin to force you to pay even closer attention to details — what are they wearing, who is with them, what clues do you see to enhance this imaginary story? Sounds strange but give it a try.

3.  Communicate with your spouse and family about the plans you’re putting into place. First, should anything ever happen to you, they’ll need to know where the stored food is, how to prepare it, how to purify water, how to take care of illnesses and injuries, and so much more. What you learn and the skills you acquire must be shared with your loved ones. Otherwise, in a crisis, it will be you and you alone trying to manage the whole scene. Why do that to yourself when you can easily teach and train those closest to you?

As you’re practicing situational awareness, teach it to your kids and grandkids. It will heighten their awareness to the goings on around them and, should a dangerous situation arise, they will already be alert and ready.

4.  For specific crises, such as a house fire or job loss, put your plan in writing and, if possible, actually practice the actions that will keep everyone safe. In the case of a financial crisis, this article is a gold mine of suggestions, but writing out a step-by-step plan is also very helpful. What bills must be paid first? What expenses can be eliminated or drastically cut? If cell phones are on the chopping block, where can you get a super-cheap alternative for emergency calls only? What super-frugal recipes can you begin to learn in advance?

Putting your ideas in writing will help you focus on solutions to a problem and not just the problem itself. Then, if the crisis really does happen, you will have already processed the solutions and, if panic sets in, the written plans will help you move forward and not become frozen with fear.

5. What other plans might you want to put in writing? How about one or all of these:

  • Severe winter weather
  • Long term power outage of a day or more (22-page pdf resource here)
  • Personal health crisis that affects family dynamics and income
  • A likely natural disaster in your area
  • Terrorist attack in a setting you often find yourself
  • A crisis that happens while you’re far from home
  • If you live near a highway or railway, a toxic spill
  • Epidemic or pandemic that forces you to remain home
  • Communication lines and the internet are down for an extended period of time
  • Evacuating your home for any reason. This handbook has a complete plan for this.

6. Get training. Several years ago I was in a public restroom when I saw an elderly woman standing at the sink with blood streaming from her nose. While I stood there for a second, another woman rushed to her side, holding handfuls of paper towels. She quickly gave the woman instructions for stopping the nose bleed. I was so frustrated with myself for pausing and not doing the same thing. I knew the basics of dealing with nose bleeds but didn’t have much practical experience.

Looking back, I realize that the second woman was probably a nurse and had more medical training than I did. She reacted so fast with a certainty that can only come with training and experience. While processing emergency scenarios and putting your plans and solutions in writing is a great first step, getting practical, hands-on training will ensure those plans happen. You’ll have a much greater level of self-confidence that will communicate itself to everyone around you.

This is the time to take a First Aid/CPR class. If it’s been a while since you took one, take a refresher course. Wilderness First Aid is another excellent class. Teens and adults alike can join Civil Air Patrol and get training of all kinds. My son is a CAP member and has taken a week-long Search and Rescue course and more recently, a week of medical training. This comes at a very, very low cost and there is no commitment to the military whatsoever! Community colleges offer classes related to emergency services and you can even take FEMA classes online.

7.  A very small, but highly practical skill is something I call “survival breathing”. This article explains it in detail, but I’ve taught it to my kids and practice it with them, especially when they are facing a highly stressful event, like taking the SAT test for college or getting ready to go up to bat in a competitive baseball game.

This breathing technique does something amazing to your brain, which, after all, is where all your reactions begin.

8. Be smart about where you go. When it comes to survival, nothing beats not being at the wrong place at the wrong time. If you’re hearing about mob riots in the local shopping mall, doesn’t it make sense to avoid that mall or even all malls in the area? If a flu virus is making the rounds in a big way, it makes sense to wash your hands frequently and stay away from big crowds. If that means keeping your kids home for a few days while the virus runs its course, so be it.

This step requires you to really TAKE CHARGE of your life and stand your ground if your actions are questioned. It’s better to round up the kids and leave a park where a group of questionable people has congregated and be on the safe side than to ignore the possibility of danger and end up in a situation you cannot get out of. Don’t ever put your safety or that of your kids in danger to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or looking a little foolish.

9. Get control of the electronics in your life. I can’t imagine anything that will put your life in danger more quickly than having your face buried in a cell phone or other electronic. And, if that doesn’t describe you, it probably describes someone in your family!

Situational awareness is 100% impossible when your mental focus and all 5 senses are focused on a tiny electronic screen. Take steps to limit the amount of time you spend in front of screens: TV, computer, cellphone, tablets, etc. for survival reasons alone.

When you think about the 10% who respond correctly and quickly to a crisis, it’s important to not become overly critical of yourself. After all, even seasoned law enforcement officers often make mistakes in judgment when both adrenaline and emotions are high. However, in those moments, it may also be impossible to sit down, take a minute or two for some deep breathing, and then taking action. That may not be an option if lives are in danger.

Put these 9 steps into place now and begin practicing them on a daily basis. You really can train your mind and body to react when a crisis hits.


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I'm the original Survival Mom, and have been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more for 9 years.

4 thoughts on “9 Ways to Train Your Brain to Respond in a Crisis”

  1. James Robert Clark

    Obviously, your theory based on “running out of oil” has been around for ages. I first endorsed it in 1970 and probably held it till 1990 or thereabouts when I read Gold’s book, “Deep Hot Biosphere.”
    His book held water and I realized that I have been duped by the petroleum scientists. In fact, there is much more oil today in reserve than anyone knew about in 1970. Is it that the science of getting oil has improved? Sure, we have new methods of getting it out, but as Gold observed, old depleted fields refill. Do your homework. Many dispute his work, but there are no other explanations. We are more likely to run out of water than oil.

    1. Water recycles. Oil does not. Water covers 70% of the Earth, mostly to a substantial depth. Oil is apparently the product of millennia of decomposition. When it’s reduced in availability (it doesn’t have to be gone to cause extreme chaos throughout the world), it will not rapidly replenish itself. Of course it’s quite possible that us clever humans will have killed off most of Earth’s life before we get there, but I still have to dispute your notion that we’ll run out of water before oil.

  2. Pingback: Train Your Brain to React in Any Survival Situation - Freedom Prepper

  3. Lisa two book’s I would recommend are SAFE by Chris Ryan and 100 deadly skills and 100 deadly skills survival edition both by Clint Emerson.

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