A catastrophic event can be extremely hard on the body; mentally and physically. Since not all emergencies are the same, it is important to recognize the difference between normal and abnormal stress. Everyone’s body is made differently, so are our minds. In this article, we will go over how to identify indicators of stress that can be reduced by using certain techniques.
In the Infantry, we receive training called “MRT” (Master Resiliency Training). This training allows us to use different techniques to combat the stresses that occur in our everyday lives, as well as stresses we encounter overseas. Remember, certain techniques may not be as effective as others for different people. Pick and choose what works best for you, there will be plenty.
As a prepper, your job is to prepare for the worst possible outcomes. In order to be effective in doing so, you need to know what tools to use so you don’t break down when SHTF. There are multiple scenarios that can cause long and short-term stress that you need to prepare for. Some involving post-collapse scenarios, and some involving things that could happen without a collapse. Here are some examples of scenarios that could cause stress as a prepper:
- Having your bug out bag stolen.
- Missing children after a catastrophic event.
- Being late for work.
- The initial impact of a catastrophic event.
How Stress Affects the Brain
In this section, we won’t go too far into the neuroscience jargon (as it can be hard to remember). Instead, we will break it down, in depth, to explain how long-term stress can have long-lasting effects on your brain. Your brain is composed of “gray matter” and “white matter” – both play a vital role in how your mind functions.
The gray matter in your brain is made up of nerve cell bodies that are packed together. They oversee vital functions such as decision-making, thinking, and computing different alternatives to your choices. The white matter is made up of “axons” which make a network of fibers that connect neurons and allow the flow of communication throughout your brain. Any damage to these areas (which can come from improper coping of stress) can cause severe long-term effects to neural functions such as sleep, learning, mood-disorders, eating habits, etc. What could cause such damage to your mental functions is (you guessed it) long-term stress.
When you experience short-term stressful situations, your brain naturally reacts either one of two ways. This reaction is called “fight or flight”, meaning when you encounter extreme stress, your mind has two main reactions to choose from.
One of them is to run away, or avoid confronting the stress. This reaction is called “flight”. The other reaction you might take is called “fight”, meaning you confront the stress head-on. Think of when you get into an argument with a stranger. Do you become the aggressor, or do you walk away?
Long-term stress can lead to your brain developing a constant “fight or flight” mentality, leaving you paranoid over small things that would seem irrelevant to most people. It can also lead to a variety of mental health issues (e.g., schizoid-affective disorder, major depression with or without suicidal ideation).
PTSD is another effect that stress has on the brain. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) can be deadly, because of the high suicide rate associated with it. You can see now why combating stress and developing resiliency is so important, especially for a prepper.
How Stress Affects the Body
Physical reactions to stress are more noticeable to the outside world than emotional ones, so it’s easier to spot the symptoms before they get worse. Some symptoms are well known, like sweaty palms, “butterflies” in your stomach, blurred vision, and an increased heart rate. These symptoms aren’t lethal, or even dangerous by any means. However, prolonged stress can cause some serious issues.
Long-term effects of extreme stress on the body can cause a wide-variety of issues such as weight loss (or weight gain depending on the person), low sex-drive, low energy, even skin dryness. When your body releases hormones related to stress, your skin can become dry and less radiant (which is superficial, however can be a nuisance).
If you do not combat stress, your physical performance will suffer greatly. You will lose focus, and get tunnel-vision (narrowing of your peripheral vision). This can cause you to miss your shots if you’re in a firefight, or even lead to making a deadly decision. Recognizing your symptoms is the first step in combating them. If you know what your body is doing, you can ease your mind by telling yourself that it is just a natural reaction.
This type of stress can be categorized many ways. To simplify it, we’ll give you some examples such as a fight (verbal or physical), car accident (non-fatal), or small natural disasters like a minor wildfire, tornado, earthquake, or flood. Most symptoms you’ll notice from short-term stresses are physical, most of which are superficial.
To combat these symptoms, you need to first familiarize yourself with them. The saying “knowledge is power” is very true, as the more you learn about what stress does to your body, the more control you’ll have over it. Make sure you do not obsess over controlling these symptoms, however, because you cannot control everything.
This type of stress is where things can get really complicated, as exposure to long-term stress without proper coping mechanisms can have serious side-effects. Some examples of long-term stress are the aftermath of major weather emergencies, a catastrophic global event such as an economic collapse, seeing or being a victim of a violent crime, or a war in your country.
Here’s the good news; you’re a prepper (or at least starting), so you’ve already won half the battle. Being prepared for life-changing events can mitigate the stress that affects you in a big way. Most people like to be in control of an outcome. When that control is taken from them, they have a difficult time reacting to it in a healthy manner.
If you don’t develop resiliency, or at least use techniques to help combat stress felt over a long period of time, you can develop serious psychological and physical issues. That’s why it’s important to learn techniques that you can use to your advantage. Another great thing about learning these techniques is they give you a certain amount of control back in your life.
Master Resiliency Training
As I said in the beginning of this article, every Infantryman is taught MRT at some point in their career. The purpose of MRT is to help us recognize things that trigger stress and use techniques we learn to help us cope with it. I am not a certified MRT instructor. However, I can provide what I’ve learned to help you.
Tip – there are many courses on the internet that may help you combat stress. Be careful though, because some are just opinions, and aren’t based off factual research. Using the wrong methods to cope with stress can hurt you more than help you.
Be the Tennis Ball, Not the Egg
This term is used often in MRT – and for a good reason. It means being able to bounce back when thrown at a hard obstacle in life like the tennis ball; don’t break upon impact like egg. Whenever something stressful happens in life, you need to be able to withstand the initial blow. Most of the time, the first “impact” of stress can be the worst, so be able to bounce back.
Sometimes, you may not feel the effects of a traumatic event until more time has passed. Everybody is different, so don’t think just because you handle situations differently, your mind is a mess. Know that once you feel the initial effects of stress, emotions can go crazy. It’s perfectly normal and it’s important that you understand that.
The 5 Stages of Grief
Not everyone goes through these steps in order. You might even skip some of these steps one time, and experience them in another. However, these steps are a common occurrence, so it’s important to recognize them so you can take control over what you’re feeling. If you know that what your feeling is normal, it helps you generalize what you’re going through and use methods to help you cope with those feelings.
- Denial and Isolation
Whenever a major event happens (or sometimes even minor) that causes stress in your life, you will go through the stages of grief without even realizing it. Think of it this way, if you’ve ever gotten a call saying that somebody close to you has died, your initial reaction was probably denial. It’s how you handle these stages that determine how they will affect you mentally and physically.
When you’re going through denial, it is best to remind yourself to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. In doing so, you’re telling yourself that “yes, this happened”, and you don’t have to spend too long in this stage so you can move on. Staying in denial can cause your mind to accidentally train itself to reject bad news, making it hard to use decision-making necessary for a post-collapse environment.
Anger can lead you down a destructive path that will ultimately end in your undoing. It’s okay to feel angry about something, what’s important is how you project this anger. If you feel like you’re going to “explode”, try using some of the methods in this article to calm yourself down. Projecting anger physically is a very unhealthy way to cope with it, and will cause others to avoid you. As a prepper, you need people on your side to increase your chances of survival.
Bargaining will make you look weak, so avoid projecting this emotion. When SHTF and you end up going through these stages, bargaining can cost you valuable time that you’ll need to plan for the next step. It’s best to tell yourself “what’s done is done, there’s no going back” or something along those lines, so you can push yourself closer to acceptance.
Depression comes in many forms, but the most common form of depression is how we all view it; simply being sad. No matter what anyone’s told you, it’s okay to cry. Don’t spend too long in this stage, otherwise you may cost yourself time and energy. You need to move forward from what has happened. If you find that when you’re in this stage you spend too much time in it, let yourself cry and be comforted. Once it’s done, get back up on your horse, and move on.
Acceptance is the best stage of grief (obviously), because you’re finally over the long (or short) road you’ve been going down to overcome what’s happened. You need to realize, however, that the stages of grief can repeat without any warning. If this happens, take control of what’s to come. Remember, you know the stages now, so recognize them when they happen and take control.
Hunt the “Good Stuff”
Hunting the good stuff means that in any negative situation, there are multiple positives that can be observed (no matter how hard they are to find).
When you find yourself in the self-loathing mindset, make yourself find at least three positive things that revolve around your given situation. Don’t focus on the negative aspects of a situation, it’s extremely counter-productive and time consuming.
Here’s an extremely difficult situation, for example:
Your house got destroyed by a fire, you and your family have lost everything, even the items you’ve stocked up on for when SHTF. This situation seems like there can be no positive things that could be found, right? Wrong. As I said, there are positive things you can pull out of even the darkest of situations. Here are three positives that could come from this scenario.
- This gives you and your family a chance to start over, and spend time together to strengthen your bond, making you much closer as a family.
- It gives you an excuse to buy more guns (what’s not to love about that).
- It teaches you to appreciate the little things as you rebuild your life.
Hunting the good stuff isn’t making up things that aren’t true to help you imagine a better situation. It’s meant to make you do what it means… hunt the good stuff. No matter how bleak your situation looks, remember that there’s always a silver lining at the end of the path that you’re on. MRT isn’t about the cliché “stress ball” that you squeeze repeatedly, it’s about using legitimate mental techniques to combat the effects of stress on your body and mind.
You’ve already heard other well-known techniques like squeezing a ball, taking deep breaths, or lifting weights. My articles are not meant to reiterate what you already know and make you read more just to say at the end “I already knew that”. Some of you might have already known about these techniques, but the ones I listed are talked about less in common conversations.
The worst thing you can do when you encounter stress (long or short-term), is pretend that it doesn’t exist. This method only delays the inevitable and usually makes the effects worse when you do feel them. You need to face what causes you stress head-on and recognize your symptoms. Otherwise, you’ll be living in a world of fantasy that will one day crash down on you.
Depression is one of the more serious side-effects of stress (both short and long-term). It is one of the world’s leading causes of suicide, so you should focus on digging yourself out of that hole if you’re in it, no matter how deep it is. Know that there are people who care about you, even if your mind tells you that there’s not. Talk to them, and if they don’t tell you what you want to hear, it’s probably because it’s what you need to hear.
I’m an active-duty infantryman with the U.S. Army, and I’ve served a combined-service of over 5 years. Throughout my career, I’ve learned various survival techniques, as well as self-defense techniques. I specialize in weapons, long-range reconnaissance, distance shooting, and long-term isolation survival. I’m a very conservative, very “to the point” kind of person.