Survival Skills. Preppers. Compounds. These words seem scientifically designed to create a fight or flight response in the average person. In America, the prepper movement (groups of people who are preparing for natural disasters or, in extreme cases, doomsday) has gained traction in recent years through shows like Discovery Channel's Doomsday Preppers. The COVID-19 pandemic has further bolstered the ranks, and encouraged those with a preparedness mindset to feel that they are doing the right thing.
Some of these beliefs are seen as crazy and incoherent by the average American. Let's face it, the average American may be right in this. That being said, the pandemic has taught us that there are things everyone can do to be better prepared without building a cave-bunker in rural Montana. Here are five non-crazy survival skills to learn while quarantined.
ONE: GROW YOUR OWN FOOD
About half of you reading this either rolled your eyes or immediately had visions of a commune, growing soybeans in Guyana. The reality is, planting a small garden- even a potted plant garden in your urban apartment- is an easy, cost-effective, and extremely useful step to take. I enjoy gardening. It's a relaxing hobby that rewards you with fresh fruits, vegetables, or herbs. During the pandemic quarantines, many people found comfort in planting tomatoes, corn, herbs, and even just flowers. I had a neighbor in a 700 square foot apartment who grew enough corn, tomatoes, onions, and jalapeños to regularly makes his own taco bar.
In areas where extreme lock-downs occurred, vulnerable adults often had to rely on delivery for groceries. While this was a great way to get the supplies they needed, it could make it difficult to get quality produce. In addition to the positive impacts on mental health, a small garden of your favorite vegetables can provide a healthy alternative to relying on PostMates.
TWO: BASIC FIRST AID
I want to be extremely clear: Many medical procedures should be performed only by licensed medical practitioners. Know your limits, do your research, and go to the doctor as necessary.
With my disclaimer out of the way, I firmly believe that all adults should take a couple first aid classes. Learn how to properly clean, disinfect, and treat minor wounds. Have a quality first aid kit available in your home in case of accidents. Learn how to recognize and treat bug bites, minor infections, and aches and pains.
In my area, lines for the hospital would regularly stretch for two to three hours. Before COVID-19 testing sites were available, anyone with a minor cold or allergies would flood the local urgent care, hoping for a test. Those with other minor complaints, such as cuts, bruises, or unidentified bites often went untreated for too long because they were simply a lower priority. Being able to treat your own minor complaints is a useful skill at all times, particularly for outdoorsmen and women. During a pandemic, it quickly becomes invaluable.
THREE: APPROPRIATE STOCKPILING
Aha, I lost another quarter of you. Some of you are currently buried in flashbacks of empty toilet paper aisles, grizzled men with beards buying two hundred pounds of rice, and shortages of things like canned soup. I am not advocating for this in any way. The people who panicked and bought three hundred rolls of toilet paper were selfish and foolish (seriously, what symptom of the virus necessitates that much toilet paper?) That being said, everyone should learn the delicate art of the appropriate stockpile.
Stockpiling properly is little more than meal planning for a few weeks at a time. Many of us meal prep, putting aside our work lunch for the next week to save time and money. The CDC recommends that every American household have a preparedness kit with two weeks worth of food, stored water, and necessary medicine. What does this look like? That depends on your habits. You should keep what you need (and only what you need) on hand. Do you hate tuna? If so, why would you keep fifty cans of tuna in your kit? How much toilet paper do you actually use in a month? It's probably a lot less than the panic buyers thought.
An example may help get my point across. In my home, I do the cooking. My wife's favorite meal is Cajun red beans and rice. It's a simple dish, made with (you guessed it) red beans, rice, onions, Andouille sausage, and spices. It reheats well and is easy to make, even over a campfire. So I keep 10 cans of red beans, 5 pounds of rice, and 5 frozen sausages. This would make enough red beans and rice for the two of us to have one meal a day for two weeks. We also keep our favorite canned soups, flour and sugar, and two cases of bottled water. These supplies are enough to keep us going in the event of an extreme storm, civil unrest, or long term blackout.
Don't forget variety in your food. While I have enough ingredients for one dish for two weeks, I have lots of other foods too, especially canned vegetables and dry goods. Eat healthy and keep a rounded diet.
FOUR: COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
My favorite "prepper trope" is the idea of the grizzled military man, going it alone in a desperate race against an armed militia of some sort. You see this in most apocalypse movies. The Road, Mad Max, The Walking Dead and who knows how many others all have examples of the one-man-army, mowing his way through bandits, slashing her sword through zombies, and surviving as an island.
The reality is very different. Those of us who have been trapped inside for the last ten months have all realized just how difficult it is to be alone for long periods. Imagine if you didn't have a phone, your internet was down, and and you couldn't even hear your loud neighbors fighting through the walls.
Most of us would crack under the strain. The CDC reports that suicides spiked 35% from 2019 to 2020, increasing from 10.5 per 100,000 residents to 14.2 per 100,000. Mental health is important, and being around friends, neighbors, and loved ones can keep our fragile psyches from unraveling. An added benefit of time with loved ones is that they can recognize signs and symptoms in us that we may not even be consciously aware of.
Get out of the house. Find activities that you can engage in safely, while socially distanced. A church near me has a community garden that anyone can volunteer at. It's a great outdoor activity that checks two of the boxes on this list. I live in an area with ample hiking trails, and there are clubs that meet on the trail to bird watch, identify plants, or just hike with someone new. In any emergency, having a group you trust is important. In a pandemic that naturally divides us, community engagement is even more important.
FIVE: PICK A SKILL, ANY SKILL
Closely related to entry four, a hobby can help you keep your mental health while isolated. What you choose is less important than how you choose to do it. People with a passion are less likely to develop depression, more likely to seek treatment if they do, and more likely to become involved with a community of like minded people.
I picked archery, personally. I have a large yard with safe backstops, so I can fire a recurve bow into a target a few times every day without issue. My sister (like half of the internet) taught herself to bake sourdough bread. My wife is learning ASL and Spanish. These hobbies and skills give us each something to focus on, to talk about with friends, and to spend our hard earned stimulus checks on.
The skill you learn may be useful in an extreme emergency (like archery), or it may be nothing more than something fun to do in your downtime. But don't make the mistake of allowing yourself to become isolated an inert. Video games are great (I enjoy Skyrim, Spider-man, and several others that don't start with 'S') but they can become a crutch that increases your isolation. Get out. Try something new. Develop a new hobby and see where it takes you.
2020 was a rough year, and 2021 doesn't show many improvements so far. Don't let the state of the world drag you down too much, though. Survival skills aren't always about shooting guns or digging up edible roots. Baking bread or learning sign language can be survival skills too, and anything that increases your resilience is worth learning.