Meet the Preparers – everyday people are preparing for Armageddon

Preparing means thinking about things that can go wrong, says Dr. Sarita Robinson, “and making sure you’re prepared for them. This could mean putting a fire extinguisher in the kitchen or having spare toilet paper rolls. Then at the other end of the continuum are the American survivalists, with a nuclear bunker and a weapons cache. The rest of us are somewhere in the middle.

These are heady days for those who like to imagine the worst. Preppers have been around since the advent of the atomic bomb. But now, between climate change, the pandemic, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the existential threats to our way of life haven’t been so great since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

There are plenty of reasons not to rejoice: the threat of chemical, biological or nuclear war; extreme weather conditions; natural disasters; diseases, solar flares, meteor impacts. Each new bad news justifies the state of mind of the preparers: pray for the best, by all means, but above all plan for the worst.

As Deputy Head of Psychology and Computing at the University of Central Lancashire, Robinson studies prep as part of her research and is also a prep herself. “I’m in the middle of the spectrum; I do realistic preparation,” she says. “I have a first aid kit, I count the places until the exit of the plane, I have a ‘go bag’ – containing a change of clothes, water and food – and a survival bag, plus a small stove so I can make a cup of tea.

“But I don’t know how to skin a rabbit or anything like that,” she adds.

Interestingly, Robinson’s research found preppers were more psychologically prepared to deal with the pandemic. “Those people who prepared, who were able to think about what might go wrong and predict what they might need in the future, did much better. [during the pandemic]. They had lower levels of anxiety, depression and stress.

“Preparation is good for your mental health. You are actively coping, you are putting something in place. One of the frustrations with the invasion of Ukraine is that we’re all sitting in the UK and it feels like there’s no control. We watch it on the news, and as humans, we’re not really designed for that level of trauma.

Of course, not everyone is a societal refusenik hiding in a reinforced concrete Faraday cage bent over a diesel generator. Moved by events in Ukraine, my wife came home the other day brandishing a solar-powered phone charger. If you bought an extra bag of pasta during the pandemic, that’s a form of preparation.

But “if the preparation is interfering with your daily life, you have a problem,” warns Robinson.

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