How to Develop Mental Fortitude for Survival Situations

Currently, all over the world, people’s mental fortitude is being tested as we face a bottleneck of historically tumultuous events. A pandemic surges while political contentions, economic strife, and natural disasters all gain strength as the year marches on. To top it all off, most of us spent at least a few weeks cooped up in our homes cutting us off from our regular routines and recreation.

by Logan Misseldine, contributing writer

While things look so bleak and hopeless to so many, preppers know that things can get so much worse and have been taking measures to provide for themselves if they do. Yet it doesn’t matter if your pantry is full, or your bug out location is ready to go if all your efforts waste away from a lack of mental strength.

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Can your mind handle the pressure and stress?

Like many preppers, you may have spent hours of your time, devoted enormous efforts, and spent thousands of dollars developing your SHTF strategy. But have you included improving your mental fortitude to your plan?

What is Mental Fortitude?

Mental fortitude, also known as mental strength or grit, is a person’s ability to focus on and execute solutions to problems while under intense stress. 

While there are people born with more tolerance to suffering, mental fortitude isn’t something that comes naturally to many. Mental fortitude is a skill that has to be built and strengthened. This means it doesn’t matter how old you are, how fit your body is, or what your background is. Everyone can build their mental strength at any time. 

Seeing the silver lining in stressful circumstances is a distinguishing trademark of mental fortitude. Those that have developed their mental strength not only accept that hardships will happen, but can adapt to overcome the stress they endure. This is a critical skill to have as a survivalist, as stress and hardship can build up even long before society collapses. 

Types of Stress

The main benefit a prepper will gain from improving their mental fortitude is managing the massive amounts of stress that they will face in a survival situation.

Strange as it may sound, stress is one of life’s greatest motivators, sometimes being the only reason we accomplish certain tasks. Without the stress to provide for ourselves and our families would we work the jobs we do?

Some forms of stress can be exhilarating and help us function day to day, yet in a blink of an eye stress can become too much for us to handle and begin to negatively affect us. 

Almost all the stresses we endure can be broken down into three categories: 

Acute Stress

The most common and short lived type of stress. Pertains to most of the short term pressures and demands we face, either from recent past events or events that are planned for the near future. Acute stressors can be things like an upcoming deadline, a recent altercation with a coworker, even a swift run down a ski slope. 

Episodic Acute Stress

These are “episodes” of acute stress, brought on by poor time management and organizational skills. Small moments of stress begin to accumulate and can eventually lead to negative impacts on both your mind and body. 

Chronic Stress

Where acute stress lasts only short periods of time, chronic stress slowly eats away at the body and mind. The most sinister kind of stress, those that suffer from chronic stress get used to it, even forgetting that it’s there. This leads to severe mental and physical ailments that can take a long time to heal from. Some of these are caused from internalized childhood traumas, abject poverty, and dysfunctional family relations. 

No matter how short term a prepper’s stress is, if it remains untreated, even the smallest events can lead to severe and long-lasting effects. Preppers with strong mental fortitude can prevent them from experiencing many of these chronic issues. 

How Chronic Stress Affects The Brain

When our brain detects stress it causes the amygdala to release several hormones, mainly adrenaline and cortisol. These trigger your body’s fight or flight response which includes heightened awareness to your surroundings. The prolonged build up of these chemicals and reactions that lead to the negative effects of chronic stress. 

Over time this will cause the prefrontal cortex to shrink which will affect your memory, behavior, and decision making. All of which are vital functions that help ensure your safety and survival. Chronic stress can also increase the size of the amygdala making it more receptive to stress, creating a vicious cycle that can slowly eat away at the brain’s ability to function.

Chronic stress will be a common problem to  those caught in a likely SHTF scenario, especially those not properly prepared. The pressures of finding food alone will be more than the average person can endure. 

Knowing the way that stress affects both the physical brain and the thinking process will help preppers identify when they are experiencing chronic stress, helping them from becoming overwhelmed. 

How Chronic Stress Affects the Body

Stress doesn’t only affect your mental health, it manifests in your body as well. As your brain sends out the signal for cortisol and adrenaline to be released, your body normally responds by increasing your heart rate, tightening muscles, and quickening your breathing.

In a normal situation, these reactions will pass, letting your body relax and recuperate from the strain. But as your body is thrown into situations where this response is triggered over and over, your body adds on more reactions to stress and begins to wear down on your body as a whole including your organs and immune system.

Prolonged effects of chronic stress include:

  • Heightened risk of heart attacks: Because stress increases your heart rate, the pressure and strain from the constant increased beating damages the arteries, increasing the potential for a heart attack
  • Fertility issues: Even just trying to get pregnant can be a challenge, our bodies know that periods of high stress aren’t good times for pregnancy. Stress can affect the fertility of both men and women. 
  • High blood pressure: The stress hormones tend to tighten blood vessels, which tends to heighten blood pressure as normal amounts are forced through a smaller area.
  • Weakened immune system: Parts of the immune system are sensitive to stress hormones. When there are large amounts of cortisol and adrenaline it can directly get in the way of the immune system’s function and limit the body’s ability to fight off disease. 
  • Headaches: The release of the stress hormones in the brain can cause changes to the blood vessels which can lead to irregular pressures within your skull, leading to pain that could potentially last an entire week or more. 
  • High blood sugar: Stress causes the liver to produce more sugar, or glucose, straight into the bloodstream to help replace energy lost from the fight or flight response. Over time this can overload those that can’t process sugar well. 

Developing mental fortitude will help control the amounts of stress the body endures, successfully preventing many of the negative effects that attack the body. 

Why Should Mental Fortitude Matter to Preppers?

Even if a prepper’s body can handle a long period of stress, if their mind isn’t strong enough to reduce the amount of felt stress they can be left at a serious disadvantage. It isn’t enough to be able to be able to withstand stress, you have to be able to adapt to it as well.

For those that can’t overcome the pressures, it may take more resources than normal to keep their health up. If the chronic stress keeps attacking the immune system, there will be a constant need for large amounts of medicine, which will be hard to come by and add to the stress endured. 

It’s widely accepted that in a SHTF situation, especially at the beginning of one, survivors will endure gigantic amounts of stress. It will probably take decades of excruciating work and improvising to get a grip on those stresses, spanning over generations of survivors. 

During that time there will be crucial moments that if a prepper’s mind isn’t firing on all cylinders, a simple misjudgement can be the difference between long term survival, and swift death. 

3 Ways to Develop Mental Fortitude

There are many ways to develop mental fortitude. Here are some of the simplest ways to go about strengthening yours:

  1. Intense physical exercise: One of the most accepted and popular ways to build mental strength is to challenge the limits of your body. Often it’s our own mind that gets in our way of us pushing our bodies to its full potential. The more often we push our bodies in activities like long distance running or martial arts, we can discover the true extent we can push our bodies, as well as learning how to overcome our own limitations. 
  2. Practice positive thinking: Our brains are designed to analyse everything around us. This is what let our ancestors determine what was a threat or what was harmless. This was not designed for our modern day of safety and convenience, yet we still go through these moments of crisis. Small things that stress us out, such as momentarily losing our keys, someone cutting us off, or even being in an argument all add to our overall stress. Having a positive mindset goes a long way to keep these small, mostly insignificant, negative moments from building to a period of damaging chronic stress. 
  3. Make a habit of setting small goals: It’s easy to become overwhelmed and stressed about our lives when the goals we’ve set take too long to accomplish. In a SHTF scenario, this can be something like harvesting enough food for six months or traveling across a mountain pass. The frustration and discouragement only makes matters worse. To combat this from setting in, a series of small, easily attainable goals will give you a great sense of accomplishment and keep you moving at a steady pace towards the larger goal.

These are just a few ways that are recommended to improve on whatever level of mental strength that you have, you can find more ways to build up your mental fortitude here

Final Thoughts on Mental Fortitude

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No one is gifted with invincible mental strength. Grit will always have to be worked for, no matter your background. But while the process towards strong mental fortitude is long and difficult, it is a fulfilling and invigorating path. Mental strength not only goes a long way to your personal health, but any people you may have to lead. Your grit will help you lead those around you through all sorts of hardships and tribulations. 

Let us know some of the ways that mental fortitude has helped you overcome stresses in your life in the comments below. What was the most challenging time you have had to struggle through?

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