TEOTWAWKI and the Life Events Stress Scale

I have recently been pondering the far-reaching implications of a grid-down economic collapse situation–commonly called The End of the World as We Know It (TEOTWAWKI) in survivalist circles. One of the under-emphasized implications of TEOTWAWKI will be the psychological stress of the situation–both upon you and upon your neighbors. For many years, psychologists have used the Holmes-Rahe Social Adjustment Scale (also commonly called the “Life Events Stress Scale”) to gauge the level of stress that their patients are experiencing. I can foresee that a TEOTWAWKI situation will be off the scale for any of your neighbors that are not prepared. In short, a lot of them are going to come unglued. If you live in a city or suburb, expect to see a lot of your neighbors become so profoundly stressed that they will develop manias, phobias,and compulsions. You can also expect a good portion if them to commit irrational and criminal acts. With both the land line and cellular phone systems down, even if the police are still on duty, they will not know where to respond. I anticipate that the stress level will be lower in rural areas, but still profound. Just the loss of access to the mass media will cause stress in a lots of individuals. Think back to the emotional trauma that the survivors of  Hurricane Katrina went through. Now imagine a nationwide crisis, with no relief in sight. It will be “YOYO” (You’re on Your Own) time, and it won’t be pretty.

The Life Events Stress Scale is a useful tool for characterizing the stress that an individual is experiencing. You’ve probably seen this scale presented in a high school or college course. Looking at this scale, can you imagine the cumulative level of stress that you will feel when the power grid goes down and the 18-wheelers stop rolling? Now picture yourself as one of your “Joe Sixpack” neighbors. Typically, he has: no food storage plan, no alternative home heating plan, no alternative power system, no stored fuel for his vehicles, no method for treating pond water (when water stops miraculously pouring from the faucet.)  Talk about stress!

Life Events – Scale of Impact Score
Death of spouse 100
Divorce 73
Marital separation from mate 65
Detention in jail, other institution 63
Death of a close family member 63
Major personal injury or illness 53
Marriage 50
Fired from work 47
Marital reconciliation 45
Retirement 45
Major change in the health or behavior of a family member 44
Pregnancy 40
Sexual difficulties 39
Gaining a new family member  (e.g., through birth, adoption, oldster moving, etc.) 39
Major business re-adjustment  (e.g., merger, reorganization, bankruptcy) 39
Major change in financial status 38
Death of close friend 37
Change to different line of work 36
Major change in the number of arguments with spouse 35
Taking out a mortgage or loan  for a major purchase 31
Foreclosure on a mortgage or loan 30
Major change in responsibilities at work 29
Son or daughter leaving home  (e.g., marriage, attending college) 29
Trouble with In-laws 29
Outstanding personal achievement 28
Spouse beginning or ceasing to  work outside the home 26
Beginning or ceasing formal schooling 26
Major change in living conditions 25
Revision of personal habits  (dress, manners, associations, etc.) 24
Trouble with boss 23
Major change in working hours or conditions 20
Change in residence 20
Change to a new school 20
Major change in usual type and/or amount of recreation 19
Major change in church activities  (a lot more or less than usual) 19
Major change in social activities  (clubs, dancing, movies, visiting) 18
Taking out a mortgage or loan for a lesser purchase (e.g., for a car, TV, freezer, etc.) 17
Major change in sleeping habits 16
Major change in the number of family get-togethers 15
Major change in eating habits 15
Vacation 13
Christmas season 12
Minor violations of the law (e.g. traffic tickets, etc. ) 11
This scale was first developed in the mid-1960s. In my estimation it is not useful as a tool for gauging cumulative stress levels, so don’t attempt to “add up” your stress level. Just consider it a tool in generalities. Also, parts of this scale are most likely out-dated.  For example, consider the category: “Taking out a mortgage or loan for a lesser purchase“. Our society has become so debt-addicted that additional debt is no longer considered stressful.  (Perhaps it will be when mass unemployment makes paying those debts impossible.) The scale also does not reflect the modern-day reliance on communications systems such as cell phones, e-mail, and instant messaging/text messaging. These days, “server crash “hard disk drive failure”, and “unexpected deletion of e-mail archives” should be added to the list.  More importantly, the scale does it address the potential psychological impact of the loss of infrastructure that would be concomitant with TEOTWAWKI. For some, life without electricity and indoor plumbing might rate as high as the death of spouse.

Looking at this scale and comparing it with the potential psychological effects of a grid-down economic collapse situation, you can see why I often emphasize:

1.) The importance of living at your intended retreat before times get bad.  Moving by itself is quite stressful.  Can you imagine the stress of moving under duress? How about the stress of having to leave the majority of your possessions behind?  Make the move now and you will obviate that stress.

2.) Communications– consider the stress of being out of contact with loved ones in the event of TEOTWAWKI. Invest in a HF ham radio transceiver. Someday you may be glad that you did.

3.) Food storage. If you have lots of food stored, you won’t have to worry about whether or not you can eat, or the stress of seeing your children go hungry.

4.) Storing extra for charity. Obviously you cannot store enough food to feed all of your neighbors. This is why moving to a rural agricultural area makes sense. Odds are that you will be living in an area where the majority of your neighbors already have a vegetable garden and do home canning. Many will already have livestock. So it will just be a minority that will have no stored food at all. If you have extra wheat, rice, beans, and gardening seed to distribute, then you will be doing your Christian duty, and you will probably be building valuable friendships in the process.

5.) Addictions. What will life for your family be like without cigarettes, alcohol, junk food, and television? The more addictions that you can eliminate now, will equate to less stress after the onset of TEOTWAWKI. The side benefits will be that your family will be healthier and able to withstand the other stresses without succumbing to disease.

6.)  Alternative power and heat. Having no power will be a huge stress.  You can judge how stressful it will be to your family by their present-day reactions to local short-term power failures. How will you cook without power for the stove, oven, or microwave? How will you keep warm? Lights?  What about recreation?  Our kids are book worms but vast majority of children and teenagers that we know de-stress by watching DVDs, playing electronic games, and listening to their music.  Can you supply alternative power for electronic de-stressing devices?

7.)  Long term “house guests.” Odds are that you will have relatives arrive on your doorstep on TEOTWAWKI+1.  (You are the member of the family that they tease for being “over-prepared.”  But guess where they will go when the Schumer hits the fan? Your house. Think in terms of storing extra gardening tools, gloves, bedding, linens–and even more blankets or tarps to improvise privacy screens, et cetera.  Think this through, folks.

8.)  Life without television. We only owned a  TV for two years of our 18 years of marriage. We sold it before our last move because we concluded that it was a huge waste of time. There is an old saying: “Its easy to get along with what you’ve never had.”

In addition to the major sources of stress that I mentioned, ponder the umpteen minor stressers that will come with TEOTWAWKI. Do your best to eliminate as many sources of stress as possible, in advance.

Reference: “Social Readjustment Rating Scale” – Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe. Published in Journal of Psychosomatic Research,1967, Vol. II, p. 214.