There have been countless articles and books written about every physical aspect of survival you can think of. People talk extensively about items that can be used for survival and create lists of ways that some of those items can be used. Others tell you what you need to stockpile, each one trying to outdo the next. You can learn woodcraft skills and urban survival skills all over the place, but there is one area that is seldom touched; yet it is an important area to consider.
That area is the mental and emotional part of survival. While not as exciting as knowing how to skin a squirrel with your teeth or wrestle a grizzly bear with one hand tied behind your back, ignoring the mental and emotional part of survival is a sure recipe for disaster.
Survival requires mental toughness. You're going to have to do things you've never done before. For many, that alone will be their undoing. They will be faced with an unfamiliar task, and either because it is gross or scary, they'll freeze, not doing what they should. Freezing at the wrong time or over the wrong thing could be disastrous.
Yet proper mental preparation can overcome most of these obstacles. So, just as we stockpile supplies, buy survival gear and learn survival skills, we need to train our minds and emotions. In reality, that will probably end up being more important than any number of skills people fixate upon. Because, you see, that attitude will help you overcome every obstacle, while a skill can only help you overcome one specific obstacle.
Before we begin, I want to mention something. It is interesting to note that every military manual on the subject of survival begins with a chapter talking about mental attitude. Our military, which has spent millions studying survival, understands the importance of the correct mental attitude. If they do, why don't we?
The Shock of Being Thrust into a Survival Situation
Most survival situations are thrust upon us suddenly, often taking us by surprise. Had we known that the most serious of them were coming, we would have taken action to avoid the situation. But that's not always possible, as some types of survival situations are bigger than we are, even bigger than the distance from our homes to our bug out shelters.
Dealing with a sudden shock is always difficult and an unexpected one is even worse. Being notified in advance can help us to prepare for it, both mentally and physically. But many things are kept hidden from us, up until the moment that they strike.
That's not to say that every disaster is hidden from us. Many give at least some notification. To those in the know, that advance warning can make a huge difference. Not only does it allow for final physical preparation, but like a child expecting a bully's blow, it can help us steel ourselves before feeling the pain of their fits.
Yet many people walk around with blinders on, not seeing what is going on around them. You and I talk to these people on a daily basis. Oh, they probably watch the nightly news and they complain about what one politician or another is doing, but they rarely bother to think about what's happening and what sort of effect it will have on their lives.
Part of that is that these people actually expect the government to take care of them. Even some who claim to stand on their own two feet, still expect the government to be there when they have need. Yet the government, specifically FEMA, has shown itself very poor at managing a disaster. The biggest thing they manage to do for most people, is add a whole bunch of red tape to the recovery process. Since they never arrive until after the disaster, they certainly don't help survive, emotionally or physically.
But even those who are not depending on the government are subject to the shock of an emergency situation being thrust upon them. The secret then, since we can't prevent the disaster itself from happening, is to prevent the surprise from happening.
When I was teaching my children to drive, the one thing I kept hammering into their heads the whole time was "Always expect the other driver to do something stupid." You see, driving is more than controlling a vehicle, so that it goes down the road correctly and stops when it should. Driving requires judgment; judgment that comes from analyzing what's going on around you and making the right decisions in how to deal with it. By assuming the other driver is going to do something stupid, then when they do, you aren't surprised by their actions. You are able to react.
That's the key, anticipating the problem, so that you'll be able to react. Of course, that means anticipating a whole lot of problems which will never occur. But that's a worthwhile price to pay, so that you can avoid an accident. It's also a worthwhile price to pay, so that you are not surprised by a disaster.
Considering that prepping is all about being ready for disasters, it only makes sense to be mentally ready as well. That means looking at what is going on in the world around us and analyzing it with the specific intent of seeing potential disasters. In doing so, you and I can foresee what is coming and be ready when it actually happens. That in turn eliminates the shock of the event.
Where's Your Faith?
There's an old joke you see expressed on T-shirts once in a while, especially on Saint Patty's day. It says, "Everyone has to believe in something. I believe I'll have another drink." While good for a laugh, that's about as deep as many people's faith goes. They don't really have anything they believe in, so they depend on cigarettes, drugs or alcohol to get them through a crisis.
Statistically, sales of tobacco products and alcohol rise dramatically after a disaster or during a time of financial crisis. That's interesting, in a couple of ways. On one hand, we could call it irresponsible, because during those times people need to be using their money to recover. Yet they prioritize on what are normally considered "vices." I guess Maslow didn't have it right after all.
The second thing that those statistics show us is that people tend to turn to their vices to help them through tough times. Perhaps that's because a lot of the reason that people drink and use drugs is to escape their problems; and a lot of the reason that people smoke is that it helps reduce their stress. If that's the case, then we can see that they are depending on their cigarettes, booze and drugs to get them through. That's where their faith is.
But studies have shown that people of faith, specifically meaning religious faith, and even more specifically Christian faith, deal with crisis situations better. Why is that? Because they are not depending just on themselves. They are depending on something greater than themselves.
Historically, most people in the world have been people of faith. That doesn't necessarily mean Christian faith, but rather faith in some god; usually a creator god. Every primitive tribe in the world believed in some god or gods, often deifying nature to some extent. Atheists were actually the minority throughout world history. It hasn't been until recent times, when life has become more comfortable and people have learned to depend on the government, that they stopped depending on their gods.
I'll leave the theological discussions out of this for now, even though I have my own firmly held beliefs. Let's just look at it on a psychological level. Faith gives people hope, which in turn motivates them to do whatever is necessary to overcome their current problem. So, even if every religion in the world is wrong, it is still providing a valuable service to mankind.
Those who are not religious would say that only the weak need religion. Karl Marx is quoted as saying, "Religion is the opiate of the masses." Not surprisingly, many who speak badly about religion are followers of Marx, at least to some extent. But they all forget one thing, that is, that people who do not have faith use other opiates, such as the tobacco, alcohol and drugs I mentioned just a moment ago.
It seems that at least emotionally, humankind is weak. We need something to prop us up and keep us believing. Whether that is the next glass of beer or a god that the person prays to, the emotional result for the individual is the same, they feel strengthened to go on. But those who claim faith in their god have the potential added benefit of receiving help from that deity, regardless of what the scoffers might say.
During the early days of our involvement in World War II, U.S. forces in the Philippines were basically abandoned. Part of that was due to the huge blow that the Pacific Fleet took in Pearl Harbor and part was due to the decision made by Roosevelt to attack the Germans first.
To the soldiers abandoned in the Philippines, reasons didn't matter. Regardless of the cause, they had been abandoned by their country. But many refused to accept that. They talked regularly about "the aid" that was coming to help them fight on. Others didn't think that aid was coming and accepted the fact that they were abandoned.
These two diametrically opposed viewpoints showed in how the people faced the enemy. Those who didn't have faith in the aid still fought, but it was with grim determination. But those who were waiting for it, brought more energy and hope into the battle, fighting on in the hope that they would soon be relieved and that they would win their battle.
Some would say that their attitude was unrealistic, but on a purely emotional level, it helped them. It was their faith that made it possible for them to fight on, more than anything else.
Likewise, faith helps people through any other crisis situation. It doesn't matter if you're talking about a bout with cancer, the loss of a job, being lost in the wilderness, or a hurricane destroying their city. People of faith have something they can look to for hope; and hope increases chances that they'll do what they need to, in order to survive.
Dealing with Loss
Another thing that religious faith does for us is help in dealing with loss, specifically the loss of loved ones. One thing that all religions attempt to do is answer the great questions of life, especially the question of, "What happens after death?" To people of faith, this offers some comfort, both when looking at their own ultimate death and when dealing with the death of those around them.
Disasters and crises are pretty much always attended by death, often sudden, unexpected death. It's harder to accept these sudden deaths than it is to accept the death of someone who has been terminally ill for some time. In those cases, the time the person is ill offers us a chance to become accustomed to the idea of them leaving us. But in the case of a rapid loss, whether from a tornado or a car accident, the first part of the grieving process is coming to grips with accepting what has just happened to us.
Either way, loss is loss, and it can be hard to accept. But in a survival situation, there isn't time for grief. You have to do what you have to do, regardless of what else is going on around you. That often means suborning your feelings to the needs of the moment; which, while cruel, helps ensure your survival.
I remember reading a story out of the pioneering days, when wagon trains were going westward. A man in that wagon train was killed, at the same time as a woman in a town they were passing through. This left two families without one parent, so the surviving man went to the widow and proposed to her, on the very day of her husband's funeral. That may sound cruel to us, but his reasoning was sound under the circumstances. He said something like: "My children need a mother and yours need a father. This is the only time the parson will be through here for six months. If we don't get married now, we can't later."
That wasn't romantic, but it was practical. In those days, a couple worked together as a team, for their mutual survival and the survival of their children. One alone didn't have the capability of doing everything necessary. So both families were in need. Had they not gotten married that day, there was a very good chance that one or the other (probably the woman) would not have survived the six months until the preacher returned to marry them.
Truly dealing with loss means getting beyond it to the point where you can continue your life. While I'm sure both that man and that woman grieved the loss of their first spouses for many months or even years to come, they made an important first step in securing their future and their ability to continue their lives. It wasn't pretty; it wasn't romantic; but it was necessary for survival.
Then there's the loss of things we are attached to; another common occurrence during disasters. Some disasters, like tornadoes and flooding, can totally destroy a home, scattering the family's possessions over acres. While not as emotionally devastating as the loss of a family member, overcoming the shock of losing those items can be hard too.
Some of the things lost have strong emotional value, such as family heirlooms or remembrances of things that you have personally gone through. A wedding album or baby book can't be replaced, as they are one of a kind. Even grandma's antique clock is irreplaceable, even if another clock of the same model is found. It's still not grandma's.
Overcoming the loss of these items is bad enough; but then there's the loss of things you need for survival. Each and every item of survival gear is important, and losing it can have a tremendous emotional impact on our lives. That impact may only be overcome by finding another way of accomplishing the same task or another piece of gear to replace it.
Emotionally, the loss of those things steals hope, making us wonder if we will survive. That is not to say that we automatically won't survive; just that we will doubt. But that doubt is dangerous in and of itself. Doubt and hope don't co-exist, so the doubt needs to be eliminated, allowing hope to flourish.
Ultimately, we have to expect that a disaster is going to include some sort of loss and need to be ready for it. While that knowledge isn't enough to overcome the loss, in and of itself, accepting the fact of it will work the same as the foreknowledge of death, that attends a terminal illness in a loved one.
Loss of family members will often lead to another emotional problem for survival; that of loneliness. We become accustomed to interacting with loved ones on a daily basis and when that person is gone, we tend to fell lost. That feeling can be severe enough to prevent us from working effectively.
The fastest way to get anyone to go insane is through sensory deprivation. This has long been known by interrogators, who use it to get their suspects to admit to their crimes. Of all sensory deprivation, the hardest for the human mind to overcome is lack of human contact. We are social creatures, and while some have managed to become true loners, the vast majority of us need social contact as much as we need air to breathe.
Yet many preppers are thinking in terms of hiding out in a bunker, should the SHTF and they decide it's time to bug out. That may be a good idea for a few days; but I seriously doubt that many of them will make it for the long-term, without some ability to speak with others. Even a small group, like a family, will struggle with seeing the same faces all the time and hearing the same voices; especially if it is a family that is not all that close-knit.
Yet in a crisis situation, many of the people we are accustomed to interacting with may be gone. They might die in the disaster or simply bug out to a different location than we do. Either way, we will lose that support circle that we are accustomed to. That alone is enough to weaken us.
The obvious solution is to have a circle of people you interact with, such as a survival team. One of the valuable purposes of a survival team, which is rarely talked about, is the fact that the members of the team can help to keep each other emotionally in balance, especially motivating those who get down and encouraging those who are having a hard time. Together, we truly are stronger.
I've saved fear for last, because it is probably the biggest and most dangerous emotion we'll face in a crisis situation. Fear is a natural reaction to danger, such as the danger caused by natural disasters and other problems in our lives. Fear causes our bodies to release adrenalin, which is helpful for the fight or flight reaction. However, adrenalin is not without its drawbacks, such as causing us to lose the ability to think clearly and losing our fine motor skills.
Fear, and its accompanying adrenalin rush, can be a useful tool, when we learn to control it. But the rest of the time, it can be more trouble than it's worth. It is especially a problem when it causes us to react in ways that can be outright dangerous to our own safety and health.
One part of the fear we feel in these situations comes from the fact that we are dealing with forces that are bigger than we are and which we have no control over. An earthquake causes immense fear in the people experiencing it, mostly because of losing control of their own lives. Even the best advice from experts gives us little control over our own lives during an earthquake. We are literally at the mercy of nature... and nature, as we all know, has no mercy.
But there's another part of fear that we can conquer. That's the fear of the unknown. Generally speaking, the fear I just mentioned is brief, lasting a matter of minutes, or at the worst, hours. But the fear of the unknown can last for days, weeks or even months. It comes from the feeling of helplessness associated with not knowing how to react to a given situation.
That's actually good; because in the root of the problem, we find the solution. Fear of the unknown can be eliminated by turning the unknown into the known. In other words, learning what to do in that situation.
The only real difference between an ordinary civilian and a soldier, cop or fireman is training. These people don't have any supernatural abilities, just a lot of training. Yet they go regularly into situations which would give the rest of us great pause, and they often do so without fear. Why? Because their training tells them what to do in those situations. They need not fear, because it really isn't unknown waters to them.
This is one of the forgotten reasons why survival training is so important. By including training in our preparations, we not only learn valuable skills to survive, but also prepare ourselves mentally to face those situations. Then, when they come, we are hopefully not going to be overcome with fear, but rather with confidence. While everyone else is reacting in fear, we'll be able to look at the situation and start planning out our moves.
The one thing I would have to say about this is to apply that concept of training to everything having to do with survival, especially the more dangerous and more scary parts. Take home defense for example. If all you ever do with a gun is go to the range and shoot at a silhouette target, you're really not training yourself mentally for the firefight of your life. You need that mental training as well.
So, how do you get it? There are two ways. The first is to get some tactical training. The difference between tactical shooting and normal target shooting is huge. Participating in tactical shooting workshops and events gives you a much better feel for what it will be like, when things turn real.
The second thing you can do is to plan out your actions in a shooting scenario. This is a good idea to do anyway, as part of your planning, especially if you have a concealed carry license. The idea is to develop a realistic scenario from your everyday life, then think through the solution, how you could react to it, to overcome the danger. Make it realistic though; you're not Rambo. You're a real person and you can get hit and bleed too.
Make a habit of doing this in every place you frequent. That way, if you ever are in one of those situations, you'll already have an idea what to do. Maybe it won't match your imaginary scenario exactly, but there will hopefully be enough elements in common to form the backbone of a plan.
This same idea can be applied to anything having to do with survival. What do you do if a flash flood hits your home? What are the first things you should do if you're lost in the woods? How will you protect your family from a tornado or hurricane? What will you do to survive, if an EMP hits the country, taking down the electrical grid?Each and every one of these scenarios, along with countless others, is worth your consideration and planning, especially those you deem more likely to occur. Then, because you've thought them through, when and if they happen, you'll be ready for them. Your training and planning will largely mitigate the fear, allowing you to operate, when other people are paralyzed with fear.