Prepper’s Anxiety: How NOT to Become Paralyzed When You Feel Overwhelmed and Underprepared
by Fabian Ommar
Eventually, even some of the most prepared preppers will question themselves and their survival skills. Fortunately, if we shift the energy to skill development and self-improvement, those negative feelings will subside.
Whenever I offer guidance to someone new to prepping and survivalism, one issue seems to affect neophytes the most: anxiety. More specifically, prepper’s anxiety. The feelings of urgency, inadequacy, deficiency, insufficiency, and lagging can overwhelm even long-time preppers. This can be even more true during long-term situations like the one we’re all facing now.
Don’t let the anxiety paralyze you and stop you from prepping
Sometimes, anxiety can motivate us to advance our preparations. Questioning ourselves here and there can be positive. Living in a constant state of anxiety is not.
“Is it too late? Am I doing all I can? Are my stockpiles enough, and for how long? What if this or that is missing? Should I learn X or get another Y thingy or that extra backup giZmo? Have I got everything covered? How prepared am I, really?”
I admit to being assaulted by the barrage of questions, despite living in a slow-burning SHTF. Doubt and insecurity have crept in even though I have been prepping and practicing survivalism for some time. Working on your mindset is one of the most important parts of prepping.
The three sides of prepping and survivalism
As with many things in life, preparation and survivalism have three sides:
- Material (“stuff”: more associated with prepping)
- Psychological (mindset: more connected to survivalism)
- Practical (knowledge/skills, strategies, and fitness: also survival-related)
All three of these sides are interconnected. Each one affects the other. These sides also affect how we feel. For me, personally, there is a spiritual side, but for this article, I will focus on the above mentioned three.
It is essential to objectively look at (and understand) the mechanisms and motivations behind our thoughts, actions, and reactions. This is especially important when it comes to being prepared for disasters.
I always express the importance of focusing on what is under our control, which is ourselves. Self-awareness is crucial. Being conscious and attentive to our minds’ potential can help fight anxiety and other negative feelings that may thwart personal advancements.
Balancing those three sides is paramount to achieving an adequate level of preparation and an optimum survival mindset.
Material (or “stuff”) Anxiety
The material aspect seems to make new preppers quite anxious early on. It is a simple concept, but not easy. This reaction is typical (and expected) because stockpiling is generally the first thing people equate to prepping.
Often, in the early stages of prepping, too much is purchased, or the items are too complex and sometimes useless. Gear, tools, food, and other essential items are easily acquired, contributing to overshooting the mark. Fear-mongering and commercialism are usually the leading cause of the anxiety induced over-purchasing. Lack of financial resources can also contribute to material anxiety.
Many people tend to believe peace of mind can be bought. Indeed, buying things works as a quick fix. It is an easy way to suppress anxiety and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). However, people soon discover the “fix” did not last long, and the anxiety returns. Or worse: it makes us falsely confident and over-reliant on “stuff.” With time we learn what is truly important and what is not.
Building a stockpile and having the right gear is good. It’s important to stay alert to the marketplace and the supply chain (the system), the availability of products, etc. Those are part of prepping. But “stuff anxiety” is poisonous to our psychology (mindset) in the sense that it can:
- Self-feed into a depression
- Lead to paralysis
- Trick us into complacency.
It may wreak havoc on our finances too. We must, therefore, pay attention and learn to control it.
Grass is grass whether its green or not.
The human condition of comparing and feeling less prepared is normal. But our comparisons are rarely based in reality and are very poisonous psychologically. Stay alert to this. If we look around, we will find many people in varying stages of prepping. Comparing ourselves to others does nothing except make us feel inadequate or overly confident. And both are bad for us.
Comparison to others is counterproductive. The only criterion that matters – because it’s the only one that works in our favor – is ourselves today compared to ourselves yesterday.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Have you been adding to your preparations?
- Do you feel more prepared today than you did last week or month?
Big or small, in one way or another, doesn’t matter. If you did something to inch closer to your own goals, you advanced. So be pragmatic: focus on yourself and what you can do for yourself and your family. Take into consideration your unique situation, resources, and limitations. Researching what others do, to learn from it, is OK. But resist the temptation to compare.
New preppers tend to go overboard with all aspects of prepping.
I was guilty of going overboard. I’m not talking about just gear, knowledge, skills, fitness, or stockpiles. But also the mentality and ideology of prepping. Depending on your personality and drive, it may become a problem. (“Tenet Nosce” – know thyself). Try to be conscious and careful as this is a common and rather dangerous pitfall. Going overboard can wreak havoc on our finances, relationships, careers, health, and create anxiety.
When we enter the prepping and survivalism realm, we begin to see the world for what it is: full of beauty and wonder and a complicated, crazy, dangerous, and unforgiving place. Suddenly the possibility of SHTF, and the importance of being prepared, becomes all that matters. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. Prepping can then either be given far more attention than necessary or feel like an insurmountable challenge.
Focus on moderation.
The idea of being too late or too behind is a common source of anxiety
Heed this: prepping is a plan, not a forecast of SHTF. Many have been preparing for years or even decades and haven’t been through SHTF yet. (Thankfully – let’s hope it stays that way).
It’s also a marathon, not a sprint. There’s the saying, “the best time to prepare is last year; the second best, today; the third, tomorrow.” If you’ve already started and consistently do something daily or weekly, you’re on the right path. The rest is beyond our control. Just considering SHTF and prepping/survival puts you ahead in the game.
Could it be that SHTF is just around the corner?
Sure, anything is possible. But then what good can come from freaking out? Not everyone who survives SHTF is a Green Beret or special force agent. I’d argue it can be the opposite. So do what you can with the time at hand and stop worrying too much.
Don’t procrastinate, but don’t rush trying to cover some lost ground, real or imagined. “He who makes haste makes waste.” Take that burden from your mind and focus on what’s under your control.
Tip: Stay informed and thinking critically about what’s going on in the world and around you (without going overboard). At the same time, work on your preparations as best as your situation allows.
Getting others to join in your prepping activities is hard.
Many preppers have a hard time trying to include their significant other, family, friends, and coworkers in prepping. Sometimes, our reaction can be to isolate or exaggerate to alleviate our anxiety. Tension and conflicts can emerge from these behaviors. (Notice this is related to aspects of OPSEC and going overboard). There’s no sense in putting a job, a marriage, even a hobby or whatever, in jeopardy.
In other words, don’t be the cause of your own SHTF. Don’t push people away. Turning negative or too preachy or too involved (or too certain) can contaminate our entire lives. Prepping should be a way of bringing balance and calm to our lives. Pay constant attention to your level of enthusiasm and dedication. Restraint is essential in this.
Keeping our prepping activities (somewhat) secret can cause anxiety.
OPSEC can be a thing, especially for people in certain places and situations. Discussing preparations or exchanging ideas with others can be made difficult by our current situations.
We must learn to manage this, so we do not get carried away in one way or another, and avoid overcompensating in other areas. “Stuff” anxiety, for instance, or inadvertently risking our preparations.
Skill level can be a significant source of anxiety and feelings of inadequacy.
Feeling unsure of your skills is common among many preppers and survivalists. The best way to relieve your doubts and anxiety is by acquiring knowledge. Developing skills demands that you understand the issues at hand. Focus, hard work, and discipline, dealing with this specific side of preparedness and survival has the opposite effect in our psychology.
Learning something new requires dedication and time. In return, developing a skill builds real and long-lasting confidence. We become calmer and centered – and we are relieved of the anxiety. Taking courses, reading books and blogs, volunteering, and helping others are excellent ways to build your confidence.
Knowledge and skill are critical when GEAR is involved. Tools are useful – but only if we know how and when to use them. Unlike “stuff,” knowledge and skills can’t be left behind, taken away, stolen, or destroyed (though we can ruin it ourselves in some ways).
Reality check: developing a skill is demanding and time-consuming
Some skills are acquired quickly, and others take more time. Some take years to attain a decent level. We must also remember that even though there’s an average, people learn differently. Some learn fast, and others take longer. And there’s compatibility: some fare better in more cerebral activities (language, communication, finance, etc.) while others excel in more practical, hands-on activities (ex. woodwork, fixing things, shooting guns, etc.).
Each of us has our own context to consider: family, job, availability, where we live, and so on. None of that is either good or bad, just aspects to consider at the individual level.
I’ve seen many succeed by starting with basic prepping or survival activities, then progressing to more complex ones. Or by taking an easy, quick one along with a more demanding/difficult one going. What counts here is, each new skill acquired will bring a sense of accomplishment and help to keep momentum.
Accept the fact that prepping can be an investment with a slow return rate
People have a hard time when the results of their hard work are not immediately seen. Most people tend to postpone, drop out, or turn to secondary, more instantly gratifying tasks. It may, at times, look like a hard, meaningless slog. But if we can see the gains and believe in the process, we can persevere.
I have never in my life regretted or found it to be a waste of time taking on a journey to learn something new (it is a journey; there is never an end). Even when that something wasn’t immediately useful or applicable. Take Morse Code, for instance: since I learned it in my youth, I’ve used it only for fun. I’m not sure I’d ever need it to save my life or something (though who knows). Either way, I had a hell of a good time learning the dihs-and-dahs.
Learning something new is an excellent exercise for the brain
Learning keeps us sharp and young: two essential things for survival but also our everyday lives. Also, staying busy is the best way to attenuate the ills of the soul, especially anxiety
Focus on a new project or task takes away the sapping power of overthinking about things and puts the control back in our hands as a productive force. Less because we are advancing, more because we are moving. Even though at times it seems we’re going sideways if we persist, there are benefits of discipline.
Looking for certainty and assurance isn’t the objective of preparedness. It is OK to have questions, to have doubts. Continually evaluating our efforts and actions is healthy and positive. It is necessary to correct and improve.
It is OK to pause, step back and ponder alternatives
When taking a step back, many of us find it affects our capacity to make decisions and take action or follow the course. Professionals in sports and business call this paralysis by analysis. Consistent practice will help keep this from interfering with our psychology or get in the way of our actions.
I believe in the saying by the ancient Greek poet Archilochus: “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.”
To me, preparation is not an end. I don’t try to achieve fitness and health: I aim to stay fit and healthy. It’s the same with prepping. I may attend a class or training camp or even some classes on bodybuilding. Those are important. But hitting the gym every day is what will build the muscles. In life, consistent practice every day is what matters.
Wisdom “…the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment”
Wisdom is highly desirable in survival situations because it allows for flexibility and adjustability in different situations and scenarios. That is invaluable. No gadget can provide that. Not one that I am aware of anyway.
Wisdom comes from a vast amount of experience over a period of time. We wise up as we make and correct mistakes, learn the craft one step at a time, and incorporate it along the journey. It is acquired through direct experience, playing the game, and also from training. So learn, but never stop practicing.
We can combat anxiety and negativity while we advance our preparations and improve our quality of life by:
- Staying alert to our feelings and reactions
- Being aware of and controlling/managing our impulses
- Working on being better every day rather than worrying
- Focusing on ourselves and our actions, our unique context.
- Constantly assessing and reevaluating our strategies and actions
- Always learning something new
- Practicing with consistence
I hope you stay safe and stay prepared! ~ Fabian
What about you?
Have you ever been hit by this feeling of overwhelm? How did you get past it? If you’re there right now, tell us about your struggles. Let’s discuss this in the comments.
Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class worker living in São Paulo, Brazil. Far from being the super-tactical or highly trained military survivor type, he is the average joe who since his youth has been involved with self-reliance and outdoor activities and the practical side of balancing life between a big city and rural/wilderness settings. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, he has been training and helping others in his area to become better prepared for the “constant, slow-burning SHTF” of living in a 3rd world country.
Fabian’s ebook, Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City, is a practical training method for common city dwellers based on the lifestyle of the homeless (real-life survivors) to be more psychologically, mentally, and physically prepared to deal with the harsh reality of the streets during normal or difficult times.
You can follow Fabian on Instagram @stoicsurvivor