How to Increase Your Mental Toughness Through a SHTF Situation

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Part 1 – What is Mental Toughness?

“It ain’t about how hard you hit; it’s about how 

hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

In this famous speech from the 2006 Movie “Rocky Balboa,” Rocky gives his son some advice that is very appropriate to the topic for this article. At some stage when an SHTF situation occurs, however well prepared you may think you are, you are going to take a knock, and it’s not what resources you have that is going to see you through.

It is your mental resilience that is going to count, and that is what this article is reviewing. Mental preparedness is something that is frequently overlooked by preppers, and I hope to go some way in rectifying that.


Survival Psychology

The University of Dallas website contains a paper by John Leach that looks at this topic, and one of the studies he undertook was how in any given survival situation, some people are going to die, yet others will survive. He concludes that there is a “freezing” response that some people exhibit in a threatening situation. Previously people had talked about “Fight or Flight” as the two options that arise in this situation, Leach has identified a third response where people freeze.

Leach interviewed a lot of survivors and read accounts of the events after a disaster, and it seems some people we observed just sitting, unable to move after a plane crash. Some just sat in their seats as they were burning to death when it had been possible to run and escape. Similarly, in some disasters at sea, there were people just sitting in corners unable to move, resisting attempts by others to help them survive.

When a disaster occurs, there will be some people who switch into a “goal-orientated mode” where they decide what the goal is and then work towards that goal (for example: jumping off a sinking ship and swimming to the shore).

These people will stand the highest chance of surviving. Others will be overwhelmed by the sheer mass of information to process and will lose focus on the goal and start to simply react to individual stimuli as they occur, losing sight of the ultimate goal. These people stand less of a chance of surviving. Goals were also mentioned in a separate study by Victor Frankl which resulted in the therapy, called “Logotherapy”.


Victor Frankl was from Vienna. He was born in 1905 and was trained as a psychiatrist and neurologist. As a Jew, he found himself in the Nazi Concentration camps, which is perhaps one of the most formidable survival situations.

As someone trained in these matters, he started to realize that of the people who survived, most of them were able to place the events around them into some form of context. They set themselves a goal. Working towards that goal, in many cases, kept them alive. He attributes his survival to a determination to rewrite a manuscript that had been confiscated by the Nazis.

Keeping your head

soldiers mental toughness
pic by soldiersmediacentre on flickr

One group of people who deal with the most stressful situations daily are the UK’s elite soldiers of the SAS (Special Air Service). Ollie Ollerton, a former member of the SAS, has written a book on how he overcame difficult situations and has some tips on how the SAS train to keep calm.

Here is what Ollie says on the matter. We are only able to hold about five and nine pieces of information in our brain before we may start to get confused, making incorrect decisions. When we are under pressure, that figure plummets down to just one or two. That makes it very important when under pressure to look at the situation and focus on a couple of things that really matter on sorting out the problem.

Ollie Ollerton

At the same time, as your breathing starts to get out of control, focus on your breath and resolve the breathing issue, and this will assist your mind in becoming less confused.

This technique is encapsulated in the following mantra.

“Breath – Recalibrate – Deliver”

Yes, you will have situations where momentarily, you are confused and indecisive. In these stressful situations, you need to stop, get your breathing under control, so that your mind regains focus. Re-assess the situation, identify the most immediate concern, and then get on with delivering the solution.

This technique is taught to special forces all over the world and is a proven method of retaining control in a stressful situation, ensuring that you make the right decisions.


When talking to members of the special forces and other professionals in stressful situations of this nature, the term breakpoint frequently comes up.

A Breakpoint is when you find yourself in a short-term difficulty as part of achieving a long-term benefit. You have to retain focus on your long-term goal and not let the short-term discomfort interfere. Simply use “Breath – Recalibrate – Deliver” and push on through that short-term discomfort. Ignore the thoughts of returning to your comfort zone. Push through it and continue with your original goal.


In a SHTF situation, you may well see and experience things that disturb you. All frontliners in the emergency services occasionally meet incidents that can play on the mind and, if not dealt with at an early stage, can cause problems later down the line. It is important to debrief after every such incident. Talking to a friend can be enough, as long as you are open about the way you feel it will help. Verbally expressing these feelings can help your mind process them.


mental toughness in survival situation

What if you are alone and have nobody to talk to about the events that have occurred? People who have been stranded alone often find themselves choosing an inanimate object to talk to about things that have happened. Even if the item you have selected for your companion is not talking back, you are still expressing your feelings, and verbalizing them helps your mind process what has happened and place it into context.

Personally, if I am confused or concerned about an issue, I write it down in a letter to someone that I will never post. I find that it puts it into perspective. It is all a matter of getting traumatic events into perspective, so the brain can accurately process them. Bottling things up is very dangerous.

Part 2 – Learning to deal with stress

stress and mental toughness
pic by aaron blanco tejedor on unsplash

Whether we like it or not, there will be times when we feel stressed. It is how we deal with that stress that is the more important aspect of this. If we just say something on the lines of “I get stressed all the time, it is probably a family trait,” then we have passed the responsibility into someone else and are saying there is nothing I can do about it. Those who can accept that it is possible to change the way we can modify and overcome stress are the ones that will fare best.

Think about it. Some of the symptoms of stress like a heart that is racing and a dry mouth mimic how we feel when we are excited. All we have to learn is the technique for switching our perception from fear to excitement. We outwardly act confident, and gradually our mind will start to believe us.

To improve our abilities, we simply need to continually challenge ourselves by undertaking tasks that would typically scare us. If we are successful in overcoming these feelings, then our ability to control stress will improve. Just as continually exercising a muscle will strengthen it.

Here is a list of things we can do to improve our ability to handles stressful situations:

  • Do not instantly react to a situation. Breath – Recalibrate – Deliver
  • Concentrate on positive emotions
  • Don’t waste your time thinking about alternative scenarios. Concentrate on now.
  • Keep physically fit
  • Reduce your caffeine levels

Analyze the situation, develop a plan, follow that plan one step at a time, and Breath – Recalibrate – Deliver between every step.

With the increasing number of disasters relating to global warming, it is not unreasonable to think that at some stage, we are going to face a significant crisis. We can prepare by buying in stocks of emergency supplies, equipment, and emergency items. Mental preparedness is a slightly more complicated issue.

Preparing the physical supplies can make us feel less stressed, knowing that we have taken precautions. We have an increased sense of control, understanding that we have made provision for the worst scenario. This preparation has reduced our stress levels because we feel more in charge, so if we were to learn more about potential disasters and how they can impact our lives, we could be even more in control, and consequently less stressed.

Physical preparation is setting up our refuge with all the supplies and equipment we need to deal with any emergency. Mental training is an extension of this, and by learning all we can about potential disasters, we can take away the fear of the unknown.

As Rocky said in the quote at the beginning of this article, “it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” If you understand how it is possible to get through disasters and build up confidence in both your physical resources and mental ability to take those “hits,” then there is far less reason to be stressed.

Preppers need to spend more time learning about historical incidents that have occurred and lessons learned from them. They need to understand as much as they can about natural and potential human-made disasters and what the implications will be for survival and ongoing lifestyle. I do not mean watching hours of disaster movies that are designed to elicit fear, but instead, read facts about what happened and how people dealt with it. They also need to extrapolate this information and understand what more severe events could do.

  • What would happen if a massive volcanic eruption left clouds of ash blocking the sun for months?
  • What would happen if the USA had no electricity supply for months or years?
  • What would happen if there was a breakdown of the central government?
  • What would happen if an even more severe pandemic than COVID-19 happened?
  • What is the best way of staying safe from such a pandemic?
  • What to do if there is a nuclear attack on the USA?
  • Exactly how do I produce enough food for my family?
  • How can I live off the land, what can be eaten, and what cannot?

I could go on forever, listing the kind of information that should be studied and understood. You may have enough arms in your cellar to start a small-sized revolution, you may have packaged food in the store, and bottled water.

These are all fine, but unless you have the knowledge to use them and to plan for the future, they are not going to save you. When the SHTF incident occurs, and you suddenly realize that you neglected to be mentally prepared or have acquired the knowledge you need, then it is going to be too late

Part 3 – Get Mentally Prepared

Learn the techniques I have mentioned in this article to control your emotions and remain calm. Practice them and learn meditation so that you can master your emotions. At the same time, read as many articles on historical disasters and potential disasters. Items that are written academically and not put together to create fears.

If you have a thorough understanding of facts pertinent to SHTF events, you will be more confident and more able to maximize your physical resources. You will have less fear and more confidence. Knowledge is truly the most potent tool in a preppers toolbox.

TIP – Remember, a healthy amount of fear is not a bad thing. Fear is designed to stop us acting recklessly. If you face a situation in which you are afraid, just pause and reflect on the long term situation and, if required, break-through that fear barrier.

Final Thought

I have tried to bring you a compendium of different techniques and facts about becoming mentally prepared for whatever is to come. Prepare now by learning to control your emotions and to develop your confidence by acquiring more knowledge about real SHTF events.


The Guide to Developing Mental Toughness

Psychology of Survival

Mental Preparedness Secrets Used by Navy Seals

Wiki How Calm Down

Top 10 Rocky Quotes

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