Coping with Depression and Stress When the SHTF
by Jeremiah Johnson, Ready Nutrition
How are my readers in Ready Nutrition land? I hope all is well, and in the hopes that it stays that way in good times and bad? I present to you this article with some ways to cope in a grid down/societal collapse period when there will be plenty of stressors to adversely affect you. Your mental and emotional well-being is just as important as your physical preparations; therefore, please keep this information handy with the rest of your preps. If society doesn’t collapse, you can still use this information to help you cope with rigors you face in the course of your day.
The information provided is not an attempt to diagnose, treat, prescribe, or recommend any action or condition. Emotional breakdowns and stress (depending upon the level of severity) can lead to a very serious condition. Only a licensed, certified physician or mental health professional is qualified or authorized to diagnose and treat such disorders. Consult your licensed, certified, family physician or mental health professional if you are experiencing feelings of depression, anxiety, or emotional turmoil. They will advise you on what course of action to take.
Most Likely Mental Health Issues Following a Disaster
Depression is defined as “a state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person’s thoughts, behavior, feelings, and sense of well-being.” Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, hereafter referred to in this article by its acronym PTSD, is defined as an intense psychological distress, marked by horrifying memories, recurring fears, and feelings of helplessness that develop after a psychologically traumatic event. Such would include (but not be limited to) the experiences of combat, criminal assault, life threatening accidents, natural disasters, or rape. PTSD is the most severe emotional problem to be faced in a “Mad Max” period of atavistic lawlessness or societal chaos.
Mood disorders are defined as any mental disorder that has a disturbance of mood as the prominent feature. These disorders break down into several categories, and they are as follows: 1. Depressive disorders (a.k.a. unipolar depression), 2. Bipolar disorders, and the next two based on etiology: 3. A general medical condition, and 4. Substance-induced mood disorder.
We have listed these in order not in terms of severity, but likelihood of occurrence. Mood disorders are listed last, because they are usually chronic in nature and not usually caused by any one severe thing. They can be exacerbated by the period of high anxiety; nevertheless, they were probably (in the context of this article) there prior to the end-times event. They are mentioned because there will be many people already working with such conditions for themselves.
Instead of envisioning “perfect happy people in a pre-collapse, perfect world,” we must follow a realistic guideline: When things collapse, existing conditions will be worsened and new conditions will arise (regarding mental health and stress).
So let us start by placing another guideline in your laps that is critical to keep in mind and act upon before things go wrong:
You must assess yourself and your loved ones realistically and objectively before everything falls apart, in order to prepare for if things do fall apart.
Ensuring a Healthy Mental State After the SHTF
Exercise and diet are very important factors in combating depression and mental fatigue. Part of your preparation is to make sure you are in good shape and eating right before a major event. When I went through SERE school with Special Forces, one of the hardest parts was dealing with stress in a severely debilitated and depleted physical state. In the final phase (lasting a week), I dropped 20 lbs (and didn’t have it to drop!); the mental challenge was great, requiring constant focus to pass a “hard knocks/brass tacks” course that would prepare me if I should have ever been captured as a POW.
Meditation and simple deep-breathing exercises can be combined with your workouts and improved diet. I usually sit and do deep breathing exercises for 5 – 10 minutes after my workout to relax my mind and muscles. By disciplining yourself into such a routine, your resolve and endurance are strengthened; this translates into an ability to deal with stress when it arises by focusing on control and relaxation. Simple depression is the state that will arise first. Sights and sounds outside of the norm combined with feelings of helplessness and hopelessness are factors contributing to depression.
PTSD is more severe and involved. Signs and symptoms of PTSD are as follows: Flashback-when the patient re-experiences the traumatic event (mentally); Avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma; Memory disturbances; Psychological/social withdrawal, increased aggressiveness, irritability, insomnia, startle responses, vigilance
Of preexisting mood disorders prior to a SHTF event, Bipolar illnesses are the severest ones most frequently experienced by people. Bipolar disorders are classified as Bipolar I (the lesser of severity), determined by only 1 manic episode with no past major depressive episodes, or Bipolar II, with at least 1 hypomanic episode and 1 or more major depressive episodes. A hypomanic episode is a mood disorder of persistently elevated expansive or irritable mood lasting for at least 4 days. A manic episode is the same, except the duration is at least 1 week. Manic is defined as a mood state with excessive energy, poor impulse control, psychosis, agitation, flight of ideas, frenzied movement, and decreased amounts of sleep.
State of agitation can arise due to the sights and sounds around a person, as well as the loss of family members, injuries, and scenarios too numerous to list in the scope of this article. One of the things we learned in the Army was that you could condition your mind to a certain degree by watching different situations with films or reading books that help acclimate you to things beforehand. It is not a perfect method; however, it conditions the mind to deal with things better when they actually occur. There are many survival/disaster series on DVD and video that present things in an apocalyptic setting.
Some examples are series such as “Jericho,” or “The Walking Dead,” with scenarios of nuclear war/terrorism, and a zombie pandemic, respectively. The latter may not interest you in terms of the zombies, but I wish to bring up a point for you to consider. Forget about the zombies: anything could be substituted for them. In the series, the characters (very earthy and realistic) are in situations that parallel everything you could imagine in an end-of-the-world disaster. These films can be used as training tools that help you to envision a situation. Discuss the situation after the scene/episode ends with your family to mentally prepare as a group.
Natural Aids For Depression, PTSD and Mood Disorders
Another excellent series is “The Colony,” a reality series (I have two seasons of it) that takes a diverse group of people with varied professions/skills and places them in a situation (with minimal controls) of the end of the world after a viral pandemic. Season 1 is in Los Angeles; season 2 is set in the bayou of Louisiana. The “colonists” must use whatever is available to find food, make shelter, deal with marauders, and build “special projects and equipment,” such as a wood-gassifier to run a car engine from wood methane, and slow sand filtration setups to purify water.
There are several naturopathic aids that you may be able to stock up on to aid you with depression, PTSD, or mood disorders. They are as follows:
- Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a Nervine, an herb that has an effect on the nervous system when consumed. In stark contrast to the excitability it causes in 75% of cats, catnip has the reverse effect on the human nervous system. It relaxes you while not producing a soporific state and thereby enables a person to function without falling asleep in the middle of whatever they are doing. It can be obtained in tea, tincture, or capsule form. The tea is the most effective. One cup in the morning and one before bed can have excellent results with absolutely no side effects.
- Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), a root-based supplement is found in capsules. You can find it at your local Wal-Mart on the shelf in the vitamin section. Valerian is an extremely effective natural sleep aid. The herb is a centrally depressive mild sedative that also has muscle-relaxing qualities. Valerian reduces sleep induction time. A study with 121 patients was administered 600 mg per patient with tinctures of 70% ethanol extracts of the root for 28 days. At the end, 66% reported good or very good ratings of the results. Valerian is contraindicated in those with liver problems due to potential hepatotoxic reactions. Cautions include those on regimens of anticoagulants and curcumin, those using barbiturates, benzodiazepenes, ethanol, or those on an Iron regimen (the tannin effects in Valerian are increased), and with Loperamide. Those suffering restlessness can use 220 mg extract three times per day. For sleep, use 400-900 mg, approximately 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) has many different beneficial effects. The herb is useful in helping psychoneuroses, neurasthenia, depression, hypochondria, general irritability, restlessness, insomnia, and anxiety. Use of the herb holds no side effects; however, it is contraindicated for use by pregnant women. A tea is prepared by using 1 tsp herb in 150-200 ml of boiling water and steeping for 10 minutes; consume 1 cup 2-3 times per day. Using a 1:1 ratio in 25% ethanol can make extract.
- St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is approved by medical doctors for depression, and it is taken in 300 mg capsules 3 times per day, with a 0.3% hypericum content. This is a very well acknowledged herbal supplement that helps with feelings of anxiety and depression. It is taken from the aerial parts of the herb (flowers, buds, and leaves). It has no side effects and will not make you sleepy. The herb can be found in your local Wal-Mart in the vitamin section. It may interest you to know that it is considered a noxious weed in Montana and is illegal to cultivate, even with all of the aforementioned benefits it offers.
These four herbs can augment your supplies for preparation. All of these herbs have been used to help people with relaxation and mood for many thousands of years. These food supplements are both safe and effective for mild forms of anxiety not severe enough to warrant a doctor’s attention, and as mentioned before, may possibly even serve as an adjunct to therapy prescribed by a doctor or psychiatrist. They will be useful in your supplies to help you prepare for a grid-down scenario. There are many prescription drugs to deal with such afflictions; however, those may be researched individually or by consult with your family health care professional, as they are beyond the scope and training found within this information provided.
Once again, consult with your family health care provider before undertaking the use of any herbal supplements and before pursuing any actions with the information provided in this article. The most important part of your preparations will involve assessing yourself, your family, and your realistic needs as individuals and as a group. Read as much as possible on the subjects of depression, PTSD, and mood disorders, and make lists of things that may be necessary to prepare for regarding your family and situations that may arise. Have a great day, Ready Nutrition readers!
Jeremiah Johnson is the Nom de plume of a retired Green Beret of the United States Army Special Forces (Airborne). Mr. Johnson was a Special Forces Medic, EMT and ACLS-certified, with comprehensive training in wilderness survival, rescue, and patient-extraction. He is a Certified Master Herbalist and a graduate of the Global College of Natural Medicine of Santa Ana, CA. A graduate of the U.S. Army’s survival course of SERE school (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape), Mr. Johnson also successfully completed the Montana Master Food Preserver Course for home-canning, smoking, and dehydrating foods.
Mr. Johnson dries and tinctures a wide variety of medicinal herbs taken by wild crafting and cultivation, in addition to preserving and canning his own food. An expert in land navigation, survival, mountaineering, and parachuting as trained by the United States Army, Mr. Johnson is an ardent advocate for preparedness, self-sufficiency, and long-term disaster sustainability for families. He and his wife survived Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Cross-trained as a Special Forces Engineer, he is an expert in supply, logistics, transport, and long-term storage of perishable materials, having incorporated many of these techniques plus some unique innovations in his own homestead.
Mr. Johnson brings practical, tested experience firmly rooted in formal education to his writings and to our team. He and his wife live in a cabin in the mountains of Western Montana with their three cats.