You may have stockpiled all of the preps your family will need to last five years, have mastered a copious amount of survival skills, and live off the grid in a remote area – but are you prepped for the emotional part of survival retreat life?
When prepping to survive a SHTF event, our primary focus is rightly upon garnering the skills necessary for self-defense and self-reliant living, securing our home or survival retreat, and filling it with the type of supplies and people needed to make it both through and beyond the long-term disaster.
Unfortunately, far too many preppers stop there, and do not consider preparing for the emotional side of the day-to-day of survival life.
If you think spending a week with extended family or a long weekend with a group of friends has sufficiently prepared you for being confined with more than your immediate family (or even just your immediate family), you have another think coming, my prepper friends.
Spending time together in a confined space before society goes pear shaped can become frustrating at times, but you will need to multiple the lack of privacy, anxiety, stress, tiredness, and noise by about 100 percent to garner a true glimpse of the what the atmosphere will be like during a bug in and on survival homesteading retreats during a long-term disaster.
Disclaimer. The author is not a doctor. The advice in this article is for information purposes only. Before employing any of the advice given here, talk to your physician.
There are 8 major aspects of emotional prepping. In this article, we’ll be talking about each in detail.
Table of Contents
This emotion may present first, and could also be the least likely to easily identify. Fatigue and feeling tired are not the same thing. Being fatigued is described a feeling of lack of energy of the whole body and mind tiredness. When a person becomes fatigued, they quite simply have zero energy and no motivation to go about the business of the day.
During a survival scenario, everyone is going to be overly exhausted from standing guard duty, doing intense manual labor that is required when living off the grid and, at least to some degree, from worry.
Understanding that you are becoming fatigued is difficult when you are exhausted and focused on doing your part to keep the group alive. It can be all too easy to dismiss the initial stages of fatigue by writing them off as just being tired, physically worn out, and stressed.
Learning the warning signs of fatigue and being prepared to see them develop in even the strongest members of your survival tribe can help diagnose and prevent a loved one (or yourself) from subcombing from this debilitating state.
Symptoms of fatigue:
- Chronic drowsiness or tiredness
- Muscle weakness
- Appetite loss
- Impaired hand to eye coordination
- Sore or aching muscles
- Slowed responses or reflexes
- Irritability or moodiness
- Poor concentration
- Impaired judgment or decision making
- Blurry vision
- Decreased immune system function
- Short term memory issues
- Low to no motivation
Fatigue is not an illness, but a condition. Knowing that you have fatigue is the first step in correcting the problem. In a survival situation, it should be pretty simple to grasp what the underlying cause for the fatigue is (unless the condition is a side effect from medication or a health problem).
When you are hunkered down at home or a bugout retreat, going to a doctor to get help with fatigue will not be an option.
Some of the most common treatments for fatigue include:
- Eating in small to medium amounts frequently to beat the tired feeling.
- Getting extra rest for a few days and then pushing through the regular routine followed by a good eight hours of rest each night.
- Talking “therapy” to discuss your concerns and feelings to work out an emotional issues that are contributing to the feelings of fatigue.
- Reducing or eliminating both caffeine and alcohol, and drinking more water may also help reduce fatigue.
Stress and Anxiety
Everyone who is living through a doomsday event (or even a short-term disaster) will likely feel stress and anxious. Understanding this now and learning how to recognize when these feelings are building up in both yourself and those sharing the prepper retreat with you can keep the issue from spiraling out of control.
Stress is an emotional or mental strain caused by an adverse set of circumstances. Anxiety is the body’s innate response to stress. An anxious person typically feels apprehension or fear about what’s going to happen next.
Just like with fatigue, catching the feelings of stress and anxiety early on, when such feelings are out of the normal range for the set of circumstances you are in, or even if the response is in the normal range but the individual is having difficulty working through these feelings is the key to preventing debilitation.
A person suffering from stress and anxiety will not likely react rationally to others in the group, and any issue or task that must be tackled during any given day.
Signs of Stress and Anxiety
- Rapid heartbeat
- Frequent minor illness
- Chronic muscle, back, or neck pain
- Lack of energy
- Decreased libido
- Digestive problems – diarrhea, constipation, or stomach ache
- Changes in appetite
Eliminating the stressors that are causing the issue will not be possible to any real degree. There will be no pill to take, or magic wand to wave to turn the world back to normal.
If you have stockpiled medications that could help reduce stress, that will be an option, but having a bugin location filled with doped up survival tribe members will not increase your chances of living through a disaster.
Some of the most common treatments for stress and anxiety are:
- Physical activity
- Reducing or eliminating caffeine and alcohol
- Drink tea made from calming herbs: Ashwagandha, chamomile, lemon balm, or valerian root.
- Inhale calming essential oils. Lavender, bergamot, chamomile, frankincense, sandalwood, orange blossom, eucalyptus, or neroli are recommended.
- Get a full eight hours or rest (or more) for several days.
- Chew gum. Sounds silly, but it distracts the mind and increases blood flow to the brain.
- Listen to calming and soothing music or to the sounds of nature.
- Laugh. Try to find a few minutes in the survival day to soak up some joy – maybe by tending to a little one in the group or the livestock.
- Start a journal to help sort through your feelings, rant, or ponder.
Survivor’s guilt is a real thing, especially if the ones who did not make it are family members or really close friends. Listening to the news or HAM radio will bring all kinds of horrific and traumatic tales into your prepper retreat living room.
While knowing as much as possible about what is going on in the outside world is essential, hearing such sad and earth shattering news day in and day out will take its toll.
When a person is struggling with survivor’s guilt he or she has gone through a traumatic event and could also have PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder.
Most folks will not want to feel they are burdening others by openly discussing these feelings of guilt or may not even recognize they are anything more than just sad about the current state of affairs.
Recognizing a person in your group is afflicted with survivor’s guilt or has PTSD will not only help them recover from this dire emotional situation, but could also help protect your group from danger.
A sufferer will not be able to fully contribute to the daily chore of just staying alive properly and could lash out at others, and have no idea why.
Signs of Survivor’s Guilt
- Change of appetite
- Feeling number both emotionally and physically
- Confusion and fear
- Stomach ache or nausea
- Stress and anxiety
- Withdrawal from the group – social isolation
- Obsessing about the tragedy and loss
- Suicidal thoughts
Coping with Survivor’s Guilt
- Allow yourself to grieve, even if those lost in the SHTF were only strangers or acquaintances.
- Accept the feelings you are experiencing, and do not be ashamed because you are having them or the depth to which they are affecting you.
- Connect with others in the group who are likely experiencing the same feelings, even if on a lesser level.
- Stay physically active
- Get a full night’s sleep – but do not spend the day in bed or in a chair.
- Force yourself to spend at least part of the day around people and engaging in shared work and conversation.
- Engage in “mindfulness techniques” that encourage you to focus on little things to help you focus, such as breathing in and out, sounds both inside and outdoors, the feel of fabrics in the home and your clothing.
- Engage in “self-care” by: taking a relaxing bath, keeping a journal, reading, doing some type of art or hobby, listening to soothing music or nature sounds, and aromatherapy with calming essential oils.
Emotional Distress – Anguish
Feeling sad or overly emotional including being angry, can be caused by an enhanced level of stress, depression, fatigue, and survivor’s guilt or be a reaction of decisions which have to be made in order to stay alive.
The ways to recognize fatigue, stress, and survivor’s guilt are noted above – many of the emotional strains that could occur during a disaster will overlap. You now know how to recognize the signs of those issues and steps to take to deal with them.
In this section we are going to look at emotional distress from more of a group and survival plan perspective.
Preventing unnecessary additional emotional turmoil and anguish when everyone in your family or survival tribe are already in a heightened state of stress should be delved into by the entire group and a plan to prevent such issues working into your prepping agenda.
To do this, you need to think about all of the exterior issues which could lead to emotional dissension and outbursts during a SHTF event. The one possible scenario I always use as an example when helping other preppers involves beggars, and not the typical marauders at the gate.
If a young family or a crying woman holding her infant show up at your doorstep begging for help, food, water, medicine, or the like, what will be the response they receive?
If your family does not have a firm rule or guidelines for addressing this issue and other ones that will cause an emotional response in even the hardest of hearts, expect emotional meltdowns inside the prepper retreat that can ultimately lead to a splintering of the group, sneaking around or outright lying to defy an order of “no charity” being given, bruised egos, challenges to leadership, anger, etc.
Discussing scenarios like this one in great detail now and sorting through all the immediate and long-term emotions and – or problems that will stem from either giving charity or not, can help defray anguish when you are least able to have patience or time to deal with it.
Every decision made during a survival situation is potentially one of life or death … for someone.
Thinking you know how you will react to an emotionally charged scenario like the one above and how you actually will when you are face to face with a hungry neighbor, injured member of your church congregation, or a player on your little league team, might be quite another.
But, if everyone is in agreement about a series of possible scenarios and decisions now, you all at least have time to come to terms with the response and reasoning behind it in an effort to avoid emotional backlash as much as possible when working as a cohesive survival team is of ultimate importance.
During a SHTF event, you cannot expect to have a full belly every day. Dealing with loved ones with hungry stomachs, especially if they are your children, will take an emotional toll.
You may become inclined to give more of your food portion to your little ones or elderly parents – leaving the strongest and most skilled member of the survival group functioning at less than optimal strength.
If the prepping adults are not physically fit and strong enough to fight off attackers or accomplish essential tasks to keep the retreat warm and food cultivation on track, everyone will eventually starve or die.
Determining now, as a part of your survival plan, how food will be proportioned if supplies run short may help with not only the emotional anguish that will happen when a parent is eating food even though their hungry child is crying for more.
It will take a plethora of mental reinforcement to be able to take those necessary bites of protein in order to keep hungry child alive.
Even if you have stockpiled tens of thousands of dollars in food or have a large garden and can hunt, hunger could still eventually become an issue.
A fire, plant disease, or a forced rapid bugout could wipe out a significant portion of your stockpiled groceries as well as meat and egg producing livestock.
When a person is hungry, they often are less focused, physically weaker, have slower mental and physical reactions, and could have reduced decision making skills.
Keeping a solid eye on the amount of nutrients each person consumes to ensure each prepping adult is being fed as well as possible and interceding when it appears hunger has somehow diminished the person’s abilities in any of the above noted ways, may help better ensure the overall survival of the group.
Anger is a natural emotional response to a bad situation. But, being unable to harness those feelings and keep them within a normal level may lead to emotional outbursts at group members, poor decision making, lack of focus on a task at hand, loss of appetite, and insomnia.
If a person in your family is consumed by anger, he or she will no longer be a valuable part of the group because they cannot be trusted to make rational decisions.
Listening to news broadcasts and HAM radio messages could inflame the temperament of a person prone to anger or who is not coping well with keeping their anger about the circumstances they are in because of the long-term disaster.
Confronting a person when they are angry does not typically have a good result. Keeping the family or survival tribe members calm, focused, and productive will require dealing with a member’s anger issue – whether they are directed at the current state of affairs, group leadership, or the perceived lack of productivity of a project or individual.
Discussing the issues that are bothering them, if they can identify them specifically, should be done when they are fresh after hopefully getting some sleep. Convincing them to engage in the treatments noted that can help sufferers of stress and fatigue could also be useful.
Physical activity can be highly useful in this situation, anything that mirrors exercise of rigorous activity may help them work out some anger issues and make them tired enough that sleep will come more easily.
If a specific person or project seems to be triggering their anger, remove them as much as possible from dealing with that scenario, and give them some other type of work to do, which also has value.
Talking about the issues that are bothering them in a therapeutic and comforting way might need to be a daily or several times a day occurrence for quite a while.
Encourage journaling or any type of stress relieving activity which will foster a more productive way of releasing tension without causing additional stress or danger for the entire group.
I also highly recommend your survival tribe agree upon some rules of behavior and consequences for that behavior if anger or other issues cause a person to become violent, destructive, or unproductive during a SHTF event.
Trying to develop rules and punishments when tempers have already flared will not generally lead to a rational and productive result.
Sadness – Depression
Feeling sad or depressed because the world has changed dramatically overnight and the domino effect of a disaster are increasingly unpleasant, should be expected. It is when the feelings of sadness and depression become all-consuming and overwhelming to such a degree the person is no longer a functioning member of the group that you will have a real problem to contend with inside the bug in or bugout location.
Helping the person suffering from the emotional turmoil before the depression reaches a clinical stage will help possibly not only them, but prevent others from falling into the same unproductive and mentally incapacitting state, as well.
Signs of Depression
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Stress and anxiety
- Emotional or physical isolation from the group
- Irritability – especially in men
- Crying (sometimes uncontrollably), especially in women
- Changes in appetite
- Suicidal thoughts
- Obsessing about death
- To help a person who is suffering from severe sadness or depression, incorporate the treatment tips from the fatigue and stress and anxiety sections into their lives.
- Help them establish a daily routine which forces them to get out of their own head and focus on a specific task.
- Set some simple goals to encourage a specific amount of interaction and engagement with other group members on a daily basis.
- Consider having the person tend to pets or livestock, because doing so can bring comfort, joy, and a sense of accomplishment.
- Encourage physical activity to help boost their energy levels, release endorphins, and tire the person out enough so they can hopefully get a good night of restful sleep.
No one will have the time (or possibly the patience) to engage in hand holding during a doomsday disaster. But simply dismissing the sadness and depression of a tribe member and not addressing the issue can allow them to sink deeper into an emotional black hole that could encourage suicidal thoughts.
Everyone will be afraid to some extent during an apocalyptic event – even if they do not want to admit it. But, intense fear, just like high levels of sadness and stress, can be debilitating.
It is likely that a person who is frozen in a state of fear may also be experiencing clinical levels of depression and anxiety, and also fatigue.
Using the calming techniques encouraged for the treatment of stress and fatigue and the activity engagement encouraged for those suffering from depression and survivor’s guilt can help reduce the paralyzing fear a person is feeling – but the emotional change should not be expected overnight.
Just like with many of the other emotional issues delved into here, learning to recognize the signs of struggle in a loved one and not dismissing or trivializing their emotional response to a SHTF, will help get them on a path to recovery and productivity.
As you have surely noticed, there is a lot of overlap in the emotional turmoil categories you our a member of your tribe may experience during a survival situation.
These similarities can make it difficult to determine exactly what the individual is combating – or how many emotional issues they are experiencing difficulty handling.
This fact, coupled with the hectic nature of being in the midst of a disaster, make it far too easy to miss the initial signs of an emotional problem. I recommend designating one person the “health officer” of the group.
I can remember my World War II veteran grandfather discussing something of this sort with a peer.
When either captured and being held by the enemy or hunkered down somewhere during a battle for an extended period of time, one person was deemed a health officer of sorts and tasked with checking on the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of his fellows.
If this person decided another man, regardless of rank, was struggling with an issue that prevented them from thinking or acting clearly, they were removed from work detail or duty rotation.
Developing a similar position and a backup individual to review the ableness of the health officer or step up if something happened to that officer, could help prevent symptoms of an emotional problem from getting missed or and ensure that a treatment regimen is followed to help them heal and become a productive member of the group again.
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, ‘Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out’, Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.