I wrote a post five years ago for this blog entitled “Wabi Sabi: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” The basic idea is that it’s important to accept less-than-perfect as being good-enough for most things. I’ve written nearly 100 posts now, and it’s still my favorite because I love that philosophy inspired by this book.
It’s too easy to get wrapped up in small details and day-to-day worries. We end up stressed, exhausted bundles of anger, worried about all the wrong things. Maybe your minivan will suck if you ever have to get out of dodge, but, honestly, doesn’t it matter more that it works for you in your day to day life right now? Aren’t food and water higher priorities for an emergency? You can figure out a bug out route that sticks to paved roads and stock up on extra fuel in case you’re stuck in traffic, and when your trusty old mini-van finally dies, then you can replace it with a better bug out vehicle.
Fretting over not having the ideal vehicle is a waste of emotional and mental energy as well as time. This classic by Dale Carnegie is a good starting point to protect your mental health, if you are a worrier.
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No matter what you are stressing over — your inability to do or have something — there probably are other steps you can take to move along the path to preparedness. That’s the ultimate goal. Your mental health is one of the most valuable survival tools you have.
Staying sane to protect your mental health
There are lots of resources that address mental health in day-to-day life, but not as many that mention dealing with mental and emotional issues in an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario. The basics are the same, but the specifics may take more effort than in normal life. Many of us reduce stress by venting to a friend, but in an SHTF situation, there may not be a friend to talk to and there may not be any free time. Simply staying safe, fed, and somewhat rested could take all your time and energy — mental, physical, and emotional.
If it’s a more personal SHTF situation (job loss, health issues, etc.), you may also simply not be comfortable talking to anyone else about it. Worse, you could talk to others only to find they don’t care. They’re too overwhelmed with their own struggles to survive. This is one reason to make an extra effort now to form friendships and build trust.
The importance of socializing with others
My perspective may be skewed on this, but I think having friends and socializing is a huge part of good mental health. People need people (leaving aside the odd hermit). More specifically, they need friends and people they can trust. Without it, we really don’t tend to do well. People also need time to themselves, to rest mentally and emotionally. How much of each varies tremendously from person to person. The amount of human interaction my mother in law needs on a monthly basis would be insufficient for a single day for most of my friends and family, yet it suits her perfectly.
In an emergency, even a relatively small-scale personal SHTF situation, your normal social patterns will be disrupted until life returns to normal, or assumes a new normal. Being prepared for these changes and adopting habits to help in advance will go a long way in keeping you happier when they occur.
Humans are not solitary creatures by nature. Even most introverts need a certain amount of interaction with other people, but there is a good chance that many disasters will result in some degree of social isolation. Are you prepared for that?
For example, in the disaster of a job loss, someone who loses their job will end up at home with little or no interaction with other adults. Weather-related emergencies often result in not going to work for days, weeks, or even permanently if the business is destroyed. Work is, well, work, not social time, but most people still communicate with others as part of their job and often, there’s a sense of teamwork.
Becoming suddenly much more isolated can be difficult, even for most introverts. If you are an extrovert, even a short period of social isolation is no fun, particularly if you aren’t prepared for it.
If you find yourself spending too much time alone, try journaling your thoughts, writing stories, making lists, or anything else to help your brain stay busy. Another option is to create recordings of yourself, as a sort of audio/video journal. This might be a good time to record stories about growing up or whatever else your family might be interested in hearing or as a historical record.
Having supplies that will keep your hands and mind busy will help a great deal with boredom, which will be exacerbated by isolation. Knitting, crochet, hand-sewing, and other, similar hobbies are ideal ways to stay focused and protect your mental health.
On the flip side, many disasters can force you to live in close quarters with people you don’t even know. Evacuations, refugee centers, and providing shelter to others (even friends and neighbors) will give you no choice but to spend entire days surrounded by people. Introvert or extrovert, this can be difficult, uncomfortable, and irritating. It’s all too easy to get angry, and equally easy to take out the frustration on your own family or strangers.
Pay attention, right now in normal times, and figure out how much interaction you can take before you start feeling edgy and frustrated. You can almost always find a quiet spot nearly everywhere, a figurative eye of the hurricane. It may not be as quiet and calm as you prefer, but take a few minutes to find a place like that wherever you are. Before you get too angry or frustrated, stop and go to this spot to calm down and regain your emotional and mental balance.
Susanna Wesley, mother of 10 children, including John Wesley, a prolific British poet, would put her apron over her head whenever she wanted to pray. Her kids knew to leave her alone and she got her quiet time, one way or another!
Don’t neglect finding quiet time for yourself! It really is okay to excuse yourself and walk away from other people, SHTF or no.
Routines for mental health
Even the calmest person can become a ball of anxious stress in an emergency, but routine and stability can help to counter some of that. If you have kids, then you know how important routines and habits make in their lives, both day-to-day and in an emergency. Familiarity is calming.
One type of routine you can establish right now are emergency drills for different types of emergencies. Start with a house fire drill. Make sure everyone knows what to do, how to get out, and where to meet. Then plan and practice a drill for other scary scenarios, such as a wildfire, flood, or even a home invasion or active shooter. This article gives specific instructions for family drills.
This will help make the emergency processes a familiar routine in and of themselves, just as school fire emergency drills become a familiar routine for school children. It will also show you any weaknesses in your plans. The post Special Needs Preppers: Dealing with Mental Health Challenges has more information on practicing so that your emergency plans are familiar and routine for family members.
Evacuations, for whatever reason, can be terrifying to adults and kids alike, and this short book is a complete guide for getting out fast when it matters most.
And the last shall be first. – Matthew 20:16
It is the last point in this post, but it should be the first thing you work on to remain calm, no matter what happens: keep the faith. Keeping your faith and being active in it, including praying or meditating daily, is both one of the simplest and best ways to improve and maintain your mental health in anything from daily to life to a world-altering catastrophe.
Faith, above and beyond all else, can help you keep your mental health intact. Even in the worst circumstances, believing that someone greater than you is looking out for you can be a source of great comfort. Arguably the best thing you can do for your mental health is to pray and/or meditate at least once a day, every day, starting now. In an emergency, this habit will stand you in good stead.
If your beliefs do not include a higher power, spend time practicing meditation or breathing techniques that will help you remain centered, calm, and able to maintain your mental focus, no matter what is going on around you. Quotes like the ones on this list can also help you do this.
Hopefully if the worst happens, now you will be prepared to keep your mental health in good shape along with the rest of you.
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