Practical Preparedness: Sanity Savers

Sanity is important. Really. It’s easy to think that in a disaster we’ll just make do because we won’t have any choice. That’s adding a lot of stress to our bodies and minds in an already stressful situation.

People die and are brutalized as a result of today’s stresses, and various reactions to them. We are not all going to be immune should something occur – income loss, natural disaster, or nation-altering event. However, we can make some sanity-saving preparations to ease those stresses rather than increase them.


We’re used to a great deal of privacy in most Western cultures. It’s no longer the norm to have 3+ generations in a single household. It’s no longer the norm to have even a nuclear family live without separate bedrooms and usually at least one family room to choose from and “get away”.

People make it through boomerang children and sudden house sharing. Flip side: Consider how many conflicts (and separations) occur when folks retire. Sometimes, two people are “suddenly” exposed to each other 24/7/365 and discover they actually only liked each other in small doses.

When we share tighter spaces, or share with more people than usual, conflicts tend to arise. Being able to retain even a minor visual escape from fidgets and from annoyances can be huge.

Cubbies can be arranged for tiny reading nooks, as well as to create smaller rooms or block off a bunk to provide some escape space. All we need to maintain some privacy and individual space are some sheets or fabric, and some screws, screw-in hooks, or some heavy-duty staples. You might also want to snag something like garden mesh or tulle that can be doubled up to provide a visual barrier but not block as much airflow.

Ear Plugs

As with getting out of sight, getting away from sounds can be enormously sanity saving. I prefer the Rite Aid-brand of soft orange foamies ($5-$8/50). They fit a variety of canals, fluff out fast, aren’t scratchy, and you can sleep on your side. They can also be used in conjunction with over-the-ear and around-the-ear headsets, which can further reduce the intrusion of outside noises.

Music & Headsets

Many of us like music, but don’t want to hear somebody learning to play the harmonica and singing may require those earplugs. Within my family, various infidels think Skillet is a pan, Pitbull is a breed, Celtic Woman is plural, FFDP=5FDP, and it’s normal to howl to country music. There’s audio torture in there for pretty much everybody.

Happily, we have options that will allow us to all dance to the beat of our own drummers.

There are umpteen music and video download services for smart phone or tablet. MP3 players have become wicked inexpensive. Phones are media storage devices, giving those old electronics we replace frequently new life. Terabyte external hard drives not much bigger than a wallet run $10-$20. They all fit compactly in Ziploc and EMP boxes and shields

Even more happily, there are these handy things called “headsets”. This is different from earbuds. Headsets go over your ears or fit all the way around the ear, sealing off even more of the outside world. Plus, you can wear earplugs with a headset.

You’ll want to make sure you’re also stocking multiple power options. There are rocket stoves that can produce electricity. Small solar chargers are inexpensive. Some are barely bigger than an old flip phone, some are the size of smart phones and tablets, and some that are still in the $20-$50 range take up the space of a laptop – some of which expand to 2-3x times that for collection. Most will handle cell phones and mp3 players easily.

Cough Drops & Syrup

It may seem ridiculous, but somebody repeatedly hacking really will get on others’ nerves. It can also be disruptive to sleep – theirs and others’. Sleep deprivation is one of those things that generates emotional outbursts and bad decisions. It’s an easy fix.

Books, Games & Entertainment

Don’t ignore entertainments just because you think you’ll be working and then sleeping, and won’t need light or distractions. We watched and listened to stories and played sports and games even during pretty tough, lean periods of history.

There are compact card versions of a lot of board games, quickie fun like Man Bites Dog, and games like Qwixx that can cross purpose into Farkle, Yahtzee, and other dice games with some pre-printed instructions. We can create holiday, seasonal, and educational versions of Pictionary, Last Word, BINGO, and Scattergories. (Budget extender: home-print prompts and draw for letters instead of buying the game/alphabet die.) Notebook-sized dry erase boards provide reusable playing and scorekeeping.

Books run the gamut from the usual suspects (crosswords, Sudoku, search-a-word, “Brain Busters”) to fiction in line with family’s TV or gaming interests. Large-print versions will be easier to read in dim light. Some of the free papers in front of supermarkets have a puzzle page (don’t forget to snag the next addition for answers, and pencils).

There’s nothing wrong with adding books to our electronic media, but have some hardcopies.

Places like Oriental Trading Co. can be great for nabbing tiny jigsaw puzzles, finger-fidgets, all kinds of crafts, brain teasers, small activities, dominos, and bead mazes, for less than $5-$10 per lot of 4-24. Watch for their free shipping with no purchase limit specials ahead of holidays.

You can have jigsaw puzzles made out of favorite photos, or print your own. A dozen with their pictures fit in a shirt box. Some Nerf or airsoft guns and home-printed targets can make for an all-ages pirate or zombie party. Indoor bowling sets, non-pokey dartboards, mini indoor basketball goals, homemade bean-bag tosses, and similar are all ways to keep boredom and stress from boiling over even if we’re not trapped by weather or in a bunker/compound situation.

If there are adults and adolescents, don’t forget the condoms. Especially if you don’t plan for other entertainments.


For some, books, games, movies, music, and the internet are vices. For others, it’s nicotine or booze, chocolate or caffeine, popcorn or chips. Some people are pretty well addicted to their sports, watching or playing. Socializing and shopping will be a hard loss for others.

Loss leads to stress, and we’re already looking at stressful situations. We can either add to losses, or mitigate some. People “Jonesing is only going to further stress them and those around them.

Vices can absolutely be poor choices, especially in contained spaces. Still, weigh them out. Some aren’t so bad. Many addiction vices can be stocked for an initial transition period. Other types can be stocked to be a once-in-a-while treat or easily, inexpensively indulged.


Heat can be the straw that breaks a camel’s back. Heat can also cause actual medical stress, so combating it checks extra boxes.

One easy, fairly inexpensive helper are battery-operated fans. Some of them are tiny little AA and AAA mini’s we clip to strollers and dashboards. Box fans come in 6”-10” and 12”-20” ranges, running off 4-8 AA or 1-4 C or D batteries. Many can now be charged directly via USB.

Some of them generate a fair bit of breeze, which can help tremendously with perceived temperature. Even the less-effective ones can help a little. You can increase effectiveness by sticking something cool or cold in front of them, like a frozen water bottle, wet sponge, or one of those crack-cool ice packs (especially wrapped in a damp cloth).

Dunk-snap bandanas and soak-activated neck coolers (those start to get slimy after multiple uses) can also help significantly.


The loss of friends and family, the loss of purpose after losing a job or retiring, loss of social outlets, and injuries already cause people to spiral into depression. It’s a common problem as-is, and is fairly guaranteed to increase if our worlds are ripped away. Anything that can fight it will be a big help – exercise is one of those things.

Exercise also helps with stress. It’s going to be a necessary outlet for active folks who are suddenly “trapped”. It allows some to release some of their frustrations – some, not everyone. It can also ease anxiety.

Physical therapy and senior citizen exercises can be helpful even for young, healthy bodies. We can leave mat space for calisthenics and Pilates, have chairs sturdy enough for exercise props, and stock resistance bands. There’s also the option of sticking a bike on a rack – which has the advantages of potentially being connected to a grinder, a laundry machine, or a generator. Hand bikes, rowers, or reclining bikes have their own advantages.

I personally wouldn’t install a boxing bag or treadmill somewhere everybody has to hear it getting pounded, since that’s only going to create more conflict and frustration.

Dealing with Conflicts

Anytime you increase stress, problems are going to start showing up. It’s not like preexisting issues go away, either. Especially in situations where you’re doubling-up in homes, living in RV or camping conditions, or in a bunker-barracks scenario, conflicts are going to arise.

Study, train, and stock material related to anger management, stress, grief processing, PTSD, forgiveness, passive-aggressive tendencies, abuse/assault, compromise, divorce, loss specifically related to parents and kids and miscarriages, for-real conflict resolution, and both assertiveness and sensitivity training. Get training on listening – specifically listening to family members – for as many as can attend.

We see divorces, PTSD, business partnership dissolutions, and family meltdowns every day. Thinking that high-stress will only bring our people closer, not crack some and create fissures, is delusional.



Sensory Processing/ Perception Disorder can manifest in a range of ways. Some “feel” and “see” certain sounds – sometimes like corduroy rubbing in the ear, or that awful sensation of a pencil eraser’s metal scraping paper and desk. I don’t actually recognize background noises – clocks ticking, ceiling fans whirring, dogs panting, conversations behind a door, and rubbing of a callous are as prominent to me as face-to-face words. It has advantages and frustrations.

Other common and regularly undiagnosed sensitivities include misophonia (triggered by picking at nails, whistling breath, chewing, sucking on teeth, flicking and tapping pencils, thumbing pages of books) and misokenisia (many of the same, plus twiddling thumbs, jerking feet, bouncing knees, etc., especially when the repetitive motion is at the verge of peripheral vision).

It’s not just “get over it” territory or being appalled by bad table manners and fidgets. The mis-wired brain triggers extreme flight-fight reactions. It can make sufferers want to cry, scream, or stab someone. People have grit their teeth so hard they crack fillings, and dug nails so hard into their own thighs and earlobes that they draw blood.

Providing escapes and being cognizant of bad habits, sensitivities to bad habits, and finding resolutions is going to be important. Especially since being trapped for a long winter already causes people to go postal (hello, cabin fever) and so many people have weapons handy.

Other sensitivities to note now, especially for tight, closed quarters, are things like somebody wheezing from Vick’s or Aspercreme, somebody sneezing and sniffling until aerosol deodorizers dissipate (and that person not covering their mouth/nose properly), regular detergents making somebody itch, improper hand washing (“Gross!” & “Don’t touch food/dishes!” tiffs), and the smell of certain cleaners turning somebody’s stomach. There’s usually a work-around.

Anytime there’s nowhere to flee – trapped together by a hurricane or frigid weather, or in a bunker-type situation – the reaction to stressors is going to be to fight.

Pay attention, learn sensitivities ahead of time, and figure out ways to prevent and mitigate them. Distractions and mini-escapes will help tremendously.

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  1. One of the best posts I’ve read in years. Excellent consideration of ways to eliminate annoyances without eliminating family members.

  2. Great post! Overall, I think that mind-set is very important, as well as being able to surpress one’s ego when needed. We, as a society, have become very self-centered over the past couple decades. What was normal when I was growing up – like the whole family sitting in the same room to watch TV, “visit”, or play games is nearly unknown to most folks.

    We’ve been fulltiming in an RV for about 6 years now. It did take some getting used to. We experienced (and still do sometimes) many of the issues you mentioned – noise, feeling of being on top of each other (and not in the good way), etc.

    If you add the stress of an emergency situation, I’m sure that plenty of folks would be, uh, unpleasant to be around.

    Games – we play Yahtzee every now and again, along with some card games. I love Cribbage – the wife does not. So even with games you’ll see the need to sometimes go along to get along.

    Our RV is big enough that we can be in separate rooms if we want. Which is great when the wife wants to watch “The View” and I’d rather have my eyes gouged out that watch “The View”. LOL

    1. We’re one of those crazy ones from my generation, the few whose kids weren’t scheduled to within an inch of their lives, so we actually ate at a table together and would tell buddies (back when you could rattle off 15-20 phone numbers, no problem) we were playing a game and would call them back.
      We used to do a lot of cards (switching back and forth from J-J-D-Ace to vanilla, good times…), but gravitate more to the peg-dice games now and quicker ones like mancala stones.
      I watched The View half regularly when it first came out, but dropped it when Meredith Viera left. Shortly thereafter, the replacements put it firmly in that eye-gouging category for me, too.
      It’s funny, my mother and I had coffee and breakfast this morning, and were chatting during clean-up and laundry about how marriage has changed over the years, the good and bad aspects of retirement and all and its stressors on marriages. Pretty sure it’s that fantastic “my friend, too” thing that makes it work – and accepting that it IS work, and needs to be dealt with and tended to. Glad you guys are some of the ones who work it out. I’m glad you’re having fun with it!

  3. Around Christmas you can find 10 in 1 game boxes, we keep one in our trailer for rainy days. It doesn’t take up much room and it gives you a variety of games to play.

    1. Excellent add! Thank you!
      We like those puzzle multi-sets, too. Okay, we like them when it’s clear which is which (I accidentally got my parents one with 3 different English cottage garden images one year, not labelled well – that was kind of funny ha-ha). : )

  4. *Edition
    I’ll normally let my typos slide, but my job history makes that one so hugely painful I just can’t. 🙂 My eye may never un-twitch over that one.
    Cheers, Rebecca Ann

  5. Excellent post. Another good idea is to talk to any soldiers you know who were deployed-that will give folks a good idea of stress busters. There were always lots of folks playing cards (spades in particular for some reason) and dominoes. Books and movies. Any food treats that weren’t the mess hall food or MREs. Letters from home. Working out. We even played a bit of old school Dungeons & Dragons back when I was in Bosnia in the mid 90’s (a great analog alternative for folks who grew up with role playing video games)

    1. Good suggestion!
      Were you still in when the boxing craze hit some of the FOBs and bigger outposts? Early 2000s – not sure if it lasted. Definitely added to the corpsmen’s headaches. Between our jarhead ability to add the phrase “combat” and turn kickball and frisbee into full-contact sports, MCMAP, and our off-duty “fun”, it’s a wonder they’ve never done any brain trauma studies on veterans. 🙂

  6. A refreshing new outlook beyond advice to stock water, beans & rice. You make some very good points – there are days even now I can barely stand my family! Haha

    1. Thank you!
      Yeah, even nuclear family had and still has its days when I’m very grateful for my own four walls and to have sheds and a yard to escape to, and being snowed in here and there has proven that even best of friends who live together for 3+ years can grate now and again. Add in the ones that we already prefer in short doses…oh yeah, I feel you!
      : )

  7. All you say sounds so…. nice. But the reality will be quite different. If it truly becomes a SHTF situation taking stock of the current situation is of primary importance. Do you have power? No? Then those batteries, candles, anything electrically operated will either not function or the sources of power will have to be rationed to priority/emergency use only. There will have to be a general recognition of the true state of affairs beyond your walls – and if those walls are actually substantial enough to protect you. The time spent with those you care for will have to be almost always of a practical nature. Defense, resources gathering, information gathering and work for even the most basic of needs. Sanitation, non-sense-able food preparation, darkness rules, communication rules…. I hate to rain on this nicely written and obviously sweet concept of life; but, it will be time to grow up and fast or perish.

    1. I actually have very little faith in humanity (we seem determined to always have somebody to hate, sometimes for centuries at a whack), and movies/TV and books would be far less interesting if I wrote them, because without constraints of physics and law enforcement, I’d have way fewer troublemakers to be creating havoc. 🙂
      One of the early points remains: Even in eras and periods when attack was common and food was short and hard work to obtain, we have had time for recreation.

      There are also degrees of disaster. I have no problem with planning for A-Z, Z=”it’s as bad as anybody could possibly ever imagine”, but I also plan for the middle stages, too, things in between “just” a short-term or personal crisis and the nation altering and world re-shaping issues.

      There’s also the period fairly early on in a super-massive disaster when you could be expected to be leaning heavily on stored foods, hunkering in, and the periods when you won’t have a garden to tend.

      And I will point out that in numerous pre-modern wars when troops were commonly collecting firewood, collecting/hunting and scavenging for their foods, mending their clothing and taking boots off dead men, on top of holding their patrol and guard duties in between battles and movements, they also had porn, played cards and checkers and dominos, and some read.
      So did homeless hobos in the worst years of the Great Depression here and the lingering decade(s) of the depressions in the UK and Europe.
      Some of our games come from native americans/amerindians and desert-dwelling nomads in pretty brutal climates and the Celts and Vikings that managed to eke out an existence in pretty harsh weather and on pretty lousy soils, while also raiding and repelling raids, training for combat, educating family, and dealing with in-fighting and disagreements.

      You’re certainly not the only one to ONLY focus on worst-worst cases, but most of what you list can be overcome with some planning even in the 2-5 year reset level crises.
      Depending on how many of the small chargers or a larger system you have, electrical power isn’t terribly difficult to maintain. Light discipline is as easy as extra sets of curtains/blankets. Even so, don’t get too wrapped around the axle on some of the noise/light discipline aspects unless you have a non-firewood, non-charcoal cooking method (wood smoke carries, although the number of house fires and wildfires that can be expected will help mask those scents) that will outlast your food supply and work when there’s no sun.

      I hope you’ll also spend some time researching some of the non-“fun” things that were pointed out here and there and in the last third or quarter of the article. They apply even if you think the survivors will be only working nonstop and sleeping in the gulfs – or especially if so, in some cases.

    2. A key part of prepper planning is to be sure you DO have at least a minimal amount of power. A box of each type of batteries, fresh and with the “expiration date” recorded, sets of equivalent rechargeables and solar or crank charger. Perhaps a small solar system with a few panels and large capacity batteries, maybe even enough for an inverter.

      1. Hydro can be done super small scale even off a slow-moving creek, by creating a pressure pond, or building a cistern off a well. Wind can be an asset for small, slow “mini” systems. There are pressure boilers and firewood/propane systems that can be used to generate power, too.

        I’m not super anti-solar, I’m just pointing out that depending on who/where you are, it’s not a be-all and it’s not the only option. Some of the others can be done at home with less initial outlay and provide redundancy to plans and extended sustainability with direct-labor applications as well as electrical applications. In some cases, it’s adding a few things to a system we’re already aiming for (water, cooking, heating) or hardening our ability to move water around or create warm water. Lots of options. : )
        Cheers – Rebecca Ann

  8. The cough syrup suggestion is a two edged sword. On the one hand, a dry hacking cough is annoying and not of value to the cougher. On the other hand, if a person has goop in their lungs, it needs to come out.

    If I or someone I cared about had the feeling that there was something in the lungs, I would never try to suppress coughing unless we were hiding and the noise would reveal us. I would try an “expectorant” to help get the stuff out. Now if there was no indication of lung congestion, then a cough suppressor would be considered. There are combination suppressor and expectorant, which confuses me; it seems they would be working at cross purposes.

    1. Fair points.
      I’m likely to treat it much as I/we do in normal lives. Suppress the coughing (or sneezing/runny nose) at night and when we’re handling food or dish towels/cloths to limit sneezing and coughing disrupting sleep or making aggravating re-wash issues, or the non-drowsy for any equivalent for school/work, and use the expectorants for the 6-8 hour period(s) when it’s not a big deal.
      Tickle coughs are just aggravating when you’re sleeping and hunting or teaching.

      Somewhat unrelated, but you and I regularly get close to the same page on issues, so…
      I actually switched over from using and stocking straight cold/flu stuff for sneezy-sniffly issues to Claratin D (and the Walmart generic of it works just fine for us).
      It controls symptoms better and the non-drowsy really is non-drowsy (FOR US) and can be taken driving, shooting, working yard and tree tools.
      Might be worth a test run for you guys to see if it offers the same. Does nothing for coughs, but it’s nice to not have a sudden 5-sneeze explosion with a chainsaw or crossbow in hand. 🙂
      I still have and will keep in the Zinc-C and Thermaflu hot drinks, Nyquil, Mucinex and cough stuff, but I have pretty much stopped buying the cold stuff that barely/never works, never works long, and has to be switched for different after 1-3 days.

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