Jason Charles is a prepper and proud of it.
The New York City firefighter has always been concerned about the worst-case scenario. When he was a child, his mother told him she would grab their photo albums in case of an emergency. In turn, he built his own in-case-of-emergency bag, full of toys and other supplies.
"It wasn't a real bug-out bag," he explained. "It was just a kid's [bag]. And that was the first time I started diving into prepping."
His planning has evolved since then. Now he runs the Angry Prepper YouTube channel, which has more than 44,000 subscribers. There he details his escape routes, reviews gear, and teaches people how to make supplies, including fire-starting inferno bricks and homemade detergent. He was also featured on National Geographic's "Doomsday Preppers" television show, training in hand-to-hand combat as well as how to seal off his apartment in case he had to shelter-in-place.
Charles has also invested thousands of dollars into his own stockpiles of food and supplies, although he stopped tracking his budget after $5,000 of goods. Charles estimates he has enough goods for his family to survive about six months in his apartment, and an additional six to nine months in a nearby storage unit if the need arises.
"Now is time to do more before the hammer drops," he said. "But I don't think the hammer's dropped yet. I don't think we've seen anything yet."
While some may consider his methods extreme, he believes 2020's pandemic, civil unrest, hurricanes, and other disasters have helped justify his actions.
"I don't mind telling people, 'I told you so,' but I don't laugh at the situation," Charles said.
He's not alone. During the pandemic, many more people took steps toward prepping. According to the review site Finder, about half of the population owns some kind of survival material. Over the last year, 52 million Americans purchased additional goods for disaster scenarios. Many socked away extra money, while others also invested in home preparation, escape plans, or added medical expenses like additional visits to the doctor or extra medication.
"When we think about it, preparation — whether it's for something good or for something bad — is a goal-oriented behavior that in many situations is incredibly helpful and positive and results in achievements," said Lenox Hill Hospital senior neuropsychologist Brittany LeMonda. "If we think about preparing for a work presentation or a school assignment, you're going to see a positive outcome if you prepare for that."
The need to prepare for the unknown stems from our instincts. Primal parts of our brain, like the amygdala, control our emotions and fear responses, LeMonda explained. They are often activated before other higher cortical areas, like gray matter, which help appraise situations and assess the appropriate course of action. As a result, we often act with our feelings before thought-out responses.
People with a history of trauma or anxiety, as well as people who feel helpless or distrust authority, are more likely to act his way, she added. Add in a situation like the coronavirus pandemic, and it can make individuals more antsy than usual. Buying supplies and planning emergency protocols allows individuals to control a part of the situation.
There's nothing wrong with a little extra prep. LeMonda admits she stockpiled toilet paper. But, there is such a thing as too much.
"It can become unhealthy, too, if the thoughts or behaviors start to interfere with your daily life or your ability to get work done or your relationships with people," she pointed out. "That could be a sign of a problem for sure. Or if someone is spending all of their money hoarding items, that's not good either."
If the feelings of dread are overwhelming, LeMonda said meditation and mindfulness works, as well as a balanced diet. A good night's sleep and spending time outdoors can also relax people. Watching too much news can be a bad thing as well. She advises her patients not to watch before bedtime.
"Take some time to not look at the news and media throughout the day because you just get bombarded with information," LeMonda said.