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Do you read the news and start to worry? Do you lie awake at night gripped with fears of the future? Do you bolt awake at midnight and stave off the panic by making lists of preps to buy?
Have you talked to your doctor about this?
Don’t get me wrong; I think survivalism is a good thing. However, I think that there is an under-addressed subject that survivalists would do well to contemplate: the emotional stress brought on by worry about the future can be as deadly as the things you’re worrying about. It can work the other way, too: anxiety and panic could be early warning signs of a serious health problem.
I know this might be a controversial article. I am not writing this to stir up trouble but to add another item to your list of lists: good mental health. I didn’t put it on my list, and it cost me dearly.
Let me give you a brief history of myself. I got into survivalism when the large bank I worked for succumbed to the 2008 crisis. I spent hours and hours reading articles about the shaky framework of our economy. Soon I was terrified about the future. I remember waking my husband up at 12 AM one morning and panic-buying a very large order of dried food. At other times I would dream about home invaders and wake up shouting. We tried everything from riflery to canning, grain grinding, gardening, and raising chickens, and it seems like we bought every survival gadget there was to be had.
uI remember a conversation I had with my brother about my paranoid mindset. “I feel like I’m waaaay up at the top of the crazy tree, holding onto the skinny branches and creaking back and forth in the wind.” I thought it was funny at the time.
But I got worn out. I began to believe that prepping was bad for my mind and my budget. I began to assiduously avoid the news and went in the other direction whenever survivalism was mentioned. That doesn’t mean that I stopped prepping, exactly, but I relaxed about it, and I worked hard to ignore the worst aspects of the future. As I told my brother, “I climbed a few branches down the crazy tree.”
Unfortunately, I was still working at a stressful job as a paralegal. There were also many other things that were contributing to my stress level. Last October, my stress came to a peak when my boss, who had become a dear friend as well, passed away unexpectedly. I lost my job as a result. My husband wasn’t employed at the time (he was building our homestead), so we had no income. Luckily we had been prepping, so we had some savings to see us through until my husband could start working, and the worst that happened was that we wore out our larder and paid a few bills late.
But then I got sick, very sick. In fact, I am still sick.
I have hyperthyroidism. The symptoms are not pleasant, and they prevent me from doing any kind of hard work. Doing the dishes, tidying up, cooking meals, and sweeping the floor are just about the limit of what I accomplish on a good day. I am so weak that I take the motorized cart when I go grocery shopping, even though I am not yet 40 years old. (Don’t feel sorry for me; as I will explain, I have a very happy life. I am just giving you context.)
When I found out that I had this disease, I immediately began to research it to see how I could “fight” it. I soon discovered that symptoms of hyperthyroidism can manifest slowly over the course of several years, and it can affect your mental health.
Early symptoms of thyroiditis can include:
Difficulty falling asleep
Waking up in the middle of the night
Feelings of doom about the future
Hyperthyroidism is often brought on by stress, and for me it had been building up for years and years. I don’t know whether my incipient thyroid problems made me a survivalist by nudging me to focus on a doom-filled future, or whether the stress of survivalism (and life in general) gave me thyroid problems. I suspect it was something of a vicious cycle.
I also wouldn’t change a single thing about what I’ve done with my life. I have learned so much from both survivalism and thyroiditis that I would not undo either of them. Over the past few years, I have deliberately made changes which improved my outlook on life dramatically. More recently, I have consulted a good herbalist and started taking medicinal supplements to help improve my health and my moods. I’ve also addressed my diet and started eating nutrient-dense meals to correct my auto-immune functions. (You can get details about this in the book “The Paleo Approach.” I have no ties to the author and am not getting paid to endorse the book.)
Right now I am cheerful most of the time. I have a home, enough to eat, and a loving husband. I don’t have good health right now, but I’m slowly getting better, and as the old-timers say, “at least I’m on the right side of the grass.” As a matter of fact, I had these blessings all along, but now I strive to appreciate them more. Despite my limitations, I feel happy and ready to face the future.
I would like to share a few suggestions with you so that you can increase your happiness, too. Some of them may seem trite or sentimental, but they were important lessons for me. Here they are, in no particular order.
Tips for Surviving Happily
Don’t read the news every day. If you live in a dangerous place and need immediate notification in case of catastrophe, find a friend who likes to read the news, and get him to call you if something happens. Or, you can subscribe to one of your local emergency alert services. I try to read the news just a few times a week, and I limit myself to SurvivalBlog, solari.com, and a few other serious, high-quality sites. No tabloids and as little ranting and fear-porn is read as possible.
Pay attention to what comes into your life. What are you reading or watching on TV? For example, I don’t watch Rated “R” movies anymore, because I don’t need to add a bunch of fictional death and fear to the end of my day. I focus on things that improve my life, including positive movies, instructive or spiritual books, and friends who make me happy.
Choose your profession wisely. Work-life balance is real, and it’s important. Consider starting a small business so that you are in control of your career. I helped my husband start a business; I do the marketing and paperwork, and he does the actual work. We’re both much happier knowing we’re in control of the source of our income.
If you want to spend money on survivalism, buy the things that would help you through a bout of unemployment.
You can’t prepare for everything. Put yourself in God’s hands. Remember how He sent ravens to feed the prophet Elijah. Although God does not promise that we will not suffer, He does promise that He will always be with us when we need Him.
If someone is resisting your urges to prep, it may be because they already have enough stress in their life. “Life as it is” is hard enough, and not everyone has the mental resources to focus on the negative. Or as Jesus said, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Let it go and trust in God to care for this person.
Your spouse is your greatest treasure whether he or she is onboard or not. When I got sick and wondered if I could ever work again, my husband said, “Don’t worry. I will take care of you.” No prep could replace his love. I’m not saying our marriage is perfect and we never fuss or fight. I am saying I’m glad we stuck together through thick and thin, because we are best friends.
Speaking of which, make lots of friends! They don’t all have to be preppers. Just have friends. They will be a valuable support when you are sick or otherwise down, and they will give you perspective on your life. Humans are social creatures. Don’t barricade yourself from the world.
Go to church, if you can. If you can’t, then set aside some time on Sunday to listen to a radio sermon. If you prefer to sleep in on the Sabbath morning (which I don’t recommend but totally understand!) then consider going to church in the evening. As for atheists… well, I started going to church because I believe a connection to God is a key element to happiness. But please don’t take offense; perhaps you could try group meditation.
During times of stress in your life, detach yourself from politics. I really don’t think we have much control over national politics at this time in our history. Once you get over this fact, it can actually free you to make a difference at the local level. You can make a lot more difference by volunteering at a shelter or prison ministry than you will ever make by voting.
Minimize your time on Facebook and such. I use it, because it helps me make new friends (see above), but I limit my time there because it can lead to envy and unhappiness. (Nobody puts their bad days on Facebook.) I also make sure to “unfollow” any friends who spout too much political drivel, and I don’t “follow” political pages.
Remember that survivalist authors make money by talking about the worst outcome; and as they might argue, it is their job to talk about the worst outcome. But you also need to think about the best possible outcome, and you need to count your blessings. I can’t afford luxuries, but I dearly love a lot of people. Due to my health I can’t eat (or afford) a stockpile of typical “survivalist” food, but there’s a nice patch of knotweed a few blocks from here… and so on. If the worse happens and I die, well, it’s no worse than what Jesus had to bear, and at least I’ll go to Heaven.
At first when I was setting priorities, I tried to decide what needed to be done first “before everything collapses”!!! That might be appropriate in the beginning, but now I have new priorities. Can I afford it? Do I have the time and energy to try it? Most of all, I consider what will make me happier and more resilient.
Action Items for Great Happiness
My favorite kind of news article is the kind I can use right away, so here are a few specific positive things you can do right now to be healthy, happy, and resilient.
Light exercise. (Did you know you can do yoga while sitting down? Hey, don’t judge. It’s a good start.)
Walking in the woods. (It gives you familiarity with local terrain and plants, exercise, sunshine, and time with family.)
Learning to cook healthy food. (Keeps grocery budget low. Good food tastes better. Can be done as a family. Makes your body and mind healthy.)
Hosting a neighborhood barbecue. (Look, you’re already making friends and improving neighborhood security and community resilience.)
Making a small low-maintenance garden in flower pots. (Gardening leads to economic resilience; getting dirty is literally good for your health; and it is spiritually uplifting. Just start small, so that it’s less stressful.)
Learning about herbal medicine. (In my opinion, herbal medicine is spiritually uplifting compared to sterile conventional medicine, and it improves your health and gives you a new skill. I have treated many of my symptoms successfully with herbs, but that’s for another article.)
Going to the farmer’s market and meeting some local farmers. (You’re making more friends! If you can’t grow your own food, know the people who grow it for you.)
Starting or joining a home school co-op. (Friends!)
Forgiving people. Praying for people. (Spiritually uplifting. Also relaxing and, therefore, good for you.)
Starting a small business based on your hobby. (Economic resilience. Fun. Possibly even a few more friends.)
Calling your mom or other family members who may live far away, and drawing them more closely into your life.
(Friends. Economic resilience. Spiritually uplifting. A haven if you must relocate.)
I think you see a pattern here. You don’t have to be freaked out and unhappy in order to survive in this world. In fact, those feelings of doom may actually be the harbingers of poor health. If you’re constantly clenched in the grip of fear, please turn off the computer, go for a walk, and consider making an appointment with your local physician or herbalist.
I firmly believe that the long-term survivors of our national crisis will not be the ones who (as my husband likes to joke) “are in a foxhole with a machine gun killing their neighbors over the last can of tuna fish.” The long-term survivors will be people in resilient communities where people look after one another. The survivors will be people who love their neighbors and trust in God. Where have we heard that before…?