by TESS PENNINGTON
The mind is a very powerful muscle in the body. In fact, it’s the strongest muscle and has the capacity to make or break you. It can either propel you through a challenge or paralyze you into inaction. Therefore, having control over the mind gives you the wherewithal you need to withstand biological and emotional stressors during disasters or life events, as well as better adapt to the situation at hand. In fact, Navy SEALS use this technique in their training which is why they are always cool and collected when in dangerous environments.
Survival is all in the attitude
If the mind is untrained, it can easily go to a place of hopelessness and negativity where eventually a person gives up altogether.
If you’re caught in a situation in which you feel powerless, there are two scenarios that could play out: 1.) You can imagine yourself as a hero, figuring a way out, or 2.) You can imagine yourself as a victim, suffering and waiting for rescue. Which would you choose? (The answer is that you are going to figure a way out and survive!) Remember, it’s all in your attitude!
A key strategy for having the right attitude is through mental repetition. Repetition is an effective measure in preparing the mind. Repeating positive reinforcing statements such as, “I can do this”, “I will succeed”, or “I will get through this”, trains your mind and prevents it from wanting to give up. This creates resiliency.
Being resilient does not mean that a person doesn’t experience difficulty or distress. In fact, developing resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress. It is what gives people the ability to come back from disappointment and failure stronger and more determined than ever.
Resilience is not a trait or characteristic that you either have or don’t have. It is a learned ability, one that can be learned and built and developed by anyone. Resilience relies on different skills and draws on various sources of help, including rational thinking skills, physical and mental health, and your relationships with those around you.
Resilient people not only survive and bounce back after a setback, but they also come back stronger and wiser. People who are highly resilient are excellent at finding the silver lining in any situation. They excel in finding the lesson each negative experience has taught them and applying what they learned in future endeavors.
Training the mind to overcome
When playing stories out in your head, your mind does not know if the story is real or not real, it just plays the story out as it unfolds. If you imagine yourself being decisive, controlling your fears, and behaving rationally, then the mind will only know to act this way in the future. If you imagine yourself hiding, terrified and meek, then you will train your mind to act in this manner.
Maneuvering through a worst-case scenario takes mental preparation and working through emotions we would rather not deal with. Ultimately, one of the emotions you must conquer is fear. Fear and negative thinking can quickly spread like a virus infecting yourself and others around you. Having overwhelming fear can take you to a fight or flight status and literally cause the brain to be paralyzed into inactivity. One way to circumvent this is through visualization.
Visualization techniques are effective exercises that one can do to safely put themselves in a dangerous situation in order to desensitize oneself to the stress of the situation. In turn, you break through the fears and anxieties of the situation and begin finding plausible ways of dealing with it. These mental “dress rehearsals” are similar to what athletes use to give them a greater edge in performance and countless research studies back this up. In fact, as far as athletic performances go, using visualization exercises improves performance by 45%! Why not use this time tested tool in mentally preparing for emergencies?
In an article on the subject, “By repeatedly facing threatening situations under calm, controlled emotional conditions, we learn to respond in desired ways, free of threat. A good example would be someone who is paralyzed with germ-related phobias, washing hands, showering, and changing clothes dozens of times daily. By encouraging that person to rehearse cognitive reframing and relaxation methods while gradually exposing themselves to sources of germs, a therapist helps build a sense of safety and mastery. Step by step the work proceeds to tackle greater challenges, from looking at germ-laden objects in the toilet to quickly touching doorknobs to shaking people’s hands and beyond. Quite literally, desensitization reprograms our emotional responses by rewiring our brains.”
The steps below are 9 steps to help better prepare you for a disaster and revolve around the idea of visualizing an incident before you are faced with it. Doing so helps to diminish stress and your performance will increase. With time and practice, this simple meditation process can be trimmed to be done in about 5 minutes, and in this manner, you can face challenges in a few hours in the same manner that you can face them with several days or weeks to prepare.
- Sit in your chosen quiet place in the most comfortable position possible (laying down, sitting back, or sitting cross-legged, for example.
- Consciously allow your muscles to loosen up and physically relax them
- Breathe in deeply and exhale slowly: nothing forced, just try to introduce some regularity in it.
- Focus your eyes upon a stationary object that is “tranquil” and non-moving
- Clear your mind, yet think briefly about what it is that you face. What you are doing is imprinting the event and making it more harmless in your mind.
- Allow your eyes to close, focusing upon your breathing, and regulating it
- Think positive thoughts: that you will overcome the upcoming challenge
- Minimize the challenge: tell yourself that (even if it is not good) it is not so great that you cannot overcome it.
- When you feel ready, end the session and stand up slowly
After an event, do the same thing, focusing not on what happened but on what is in front of you.
I have found that it is necessary to clear your mind and focus when you are preparing for a significant event, as well as after the event occurs. There are several elements to performing this, and they can be used for just about anything you may face.Events that occur suddenly and without warning are a little harder to prepare for, and some of them not at all. Stress is something that can build up to a degree that renders you incapable of doing anything, if you do not learn how to deal with it.
Staying positive with controlled and purposed action
The enormity of training your mind to act in times of difficulty is hard especially if you do not have a starting point. But breaking that into smaller, more achievable goals makes the goal easier. These small victories are purposed actions that keep your mind moving in a positive stream. In a dire situation, where multiple people are affected, having these small victories keeps the morale of the group up so that everyone is working toward a common goal – surviving the event.
A starting point is one referenced above – visualizing the event and all that it entails. Think of the challenges, the societal or community implications the emergency will have, the supplies you will need, how long you think the emergency will last, and how your family can come together to get through. Further, you need to think of the darker side of the disaster and start coming up with controlled and actionable steps – this is the warrior mentality!
Let’s cover a few concepts that can further your preparations…thoughts to consider.
- You are going to be faced with a deliberate decision: to act or not to act when it hits the fan. This may take several forms: escape from a large city or suburb and fleeing to somewhere out of a target zone…with dangers along the way.
- In a SHTF situation, the resultant frenzy that begins 24-48 hours later (or even sooner) may force you to fight…and “Marquis of Queensbury Rules” will not be honored by those storming your house and front lawn.
- Fight or Flight: you must weigh the threats and see which are viable…that you will have to confront immediately, or that it is best to withdraw from. Discretion is the better part of valor.
- Are you “finger-drilling it,” or is it for real? Are you ready…really prepared physically, mentally, and yes, spiritually…to act? On behalf of you and your family? There: it’s the next-door neighbor trying to jimmy your back door open with a crowbar, and his two sons with rifles behind him. Are you ready for them?
Change is constant
One principle you must keep in mind when dealing with emergencies is that change is inevitable. Change is the one true constant in this universe, yet it is something we tend to stress about and avoid altogether. Many do not handle stress well because they are unprepared to deal with what has been thrown at them. They are resistant to change. This rigidity will only hinder them from finding solutions. Disasters bring change and a lot of it. An aspect of mental preparedness, therefore, is learning to be more fluid and respectful of change in your day-to-day life. This ease in movement and acceptance of change will help you adapt more quickly to all situations. The more flexible you learn to be, the more adaptable you will be in an emergency.
We have all heard that practice makes perfect. One way to be mentally prepared for situations of extreme stress, therefore, is to practice rehearsal drills. Consistent practice will turn your life-saving plans into muscle memory. This rehearse-to-be-ready concept is how many emergency personnel and even athletes train to condition their mind and body. This could make all the difference when stress is sending your neurotransmitters out of whack. Even implementing stress relief techniques when responding to daily stress helps. The daily “minor disasters” give valuable insight into your mental and physical reaction to stressors, allowing you to know how you best perform under pressure.
To summarize, how you train mentally will either make or break you. No one wants to freeze from inaction during an emergency. In order to get to the place where you are acting in a rational, controlled manner, you must learn to exercise and stretch the mind to mentally prepare for the desired outcome. Things may not go as planned. In fact, plan for that! Use daily stressful events as an exercise and learn to focus on the problem and not the emotions that are caused by it. The ugly side of not mentally preparing your mind for a disaster is confusion, distress, shock, indecision, negativity, panic or just giving up because the situation has become too difficult. When all is on the line, you want a calm, clear head that is able to take controlled and purposeful movements.
Nothing is impossible. All you need is a strategy, problem-solving skills, control over your emotions, a little patience, and practice.