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Sarita is a Deputy Head, leading on student experience and teaching strategies. Sarita’s research interests mainly focus on cognitive neuropsychology and psychobiology in relation to people in survival situations. Sarita is also interested in the link between dental health and Alzheimer’s disease, the health benefits of Green space and Post-Traumatic Growth after trauma. Sarita is also passionate about science communication and undertakes extensive public engagement work.


Readyr are working with a number of experts in the readiness field, including Dr Sarita Robinson. Dr Sarita is a survival psychologist and associate dean at the University of Central Lancashire. She met with Readyr Founder, Emily, to discuss survival psychology and preparedness.

Sarita, thank you for joining us today. Would you like to introduce yourself?

Certainly. My name’s Dr. Sarita Robinson. I’m a survival psychologist, and I also work as an associate dean at the University of Central Lancashire.


Give me a bit of a background as to how you ended up where you are today? 

I’m absolutely passionate about survival psychology and preparedness for the general population. My interest really was piqued by the experiences of my mum. She was in Mauritius, for her childhood, before she came over to England to work in the NHS as a nurse. In Mauritius in the 1970s there was a very bad cyclone. She always talks about how the family lost everything in that. My grandfather was a fisherman, he lost his boat. The family lost their house. They were surviving on the food that they’d managed to store away before the cyclone hit. It’s always made me reflect on how fragile life can be and how actually you can be in a situation where everything is swept away. I think we forget that in the developed world, because we’re not used to having that real close relationship with nature and, actually, it can be a really powerful force and can remove that sort of stability that we have. But we don’t see it, we don’t appreciate it. But that insight from my mum really was useful in getting me thinking about preparing.


What would you say are some of your key achievements? What are some of your key highlights of your career so far?

It’s really hard to think back that my career in survival psychology actually now lasts 25 years. I was like “A quarter of a century? What happened to my life?” But going back 25 years, I started my PhD at Lancaster University. I was very lucky to work with one of the founding fathers of survival psychology, Dr. John Leach. He was the person who really took me under his wing and mentored me through that early stage. And I’m very proud to still work with John as a collaborator today. So getting my PhD in survival psychology was the first step. And then since then, I’ve had a really lovely career working at UCLan, doing research, working with, predominantly to start with, underwater helicopter evacuation training, which is quite niche. But then we really pushed the boundaries in looking at how to improve training, and improve equipment design, by looking at how the brain and the body interact in those high pressure environments.

Then I moved on to work with fire-fighters, and looking at how we might be able to enhance fire fighting capabilities, looking at nutritional interventions, looking at personality typing for fire-fighters, I still do decision making training with Lancashire Fire Service to this day. I also lead a number of EU projects that have been disaster focused. At the moment, we have an EU collaboration with our SECRA project, and we’re looking at disaster risk reduction in the Philippines, Thailand and Sri Lanka. And on top of all that, obviously there’s COVID, which was a great time to be a survival psychologist. We did a lot of quite important work looking at wellbeing and helping the government with things like return to work and how we would manage that moving out of the pandemic. Obviously we’re still in recovery now. So a lot of work over quite an interesting career.


I think it’s really interesting, the practical applications of what it is you’re doing. Not necessarily in disaster situations, but actually working with existing bodies to help make sure that they are in themselves prepared, and psychologically prepared. I think we’ll touch on that a bit later, but making sure that the psychology is there and they’re ready for what happens.

 Absolutely. I mean, it’s about the physical preparation. Making sure you’ve got your smoke alarms in place, your fire extinguishers, maybe making sure you’ve got some food, definitely loo roll, we’ve learnt that one. Absolutely all important, but then psychologically, how do you respond when you’re taken out of your comfort zone, when things aren’t quite going right? Where’s that resilience? Where’s that ability to respond and adapt? And that’s, I would say, even more important than putting those practical things in place.


If we go in for a second to your preparedness, because I know obviously you’re a very big advocate of “practice what you preach”, so as an expert in your field, what inspired you to become involved in preparedness? 

Absolutely. I mean, obviously my mum piqued my interest talking about her experiences in Mauritius. I’d also say the film ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ had quite a marked impact on me. You try and trace things back and you think, oh yeah, actually watching that as an eight year old on the telly, that really had quite an impact because some people survive, some people don’t. What was the difference between those that did make it and those that didn’t? So that’s another way that I was drawn into this field.

I suppose it really cemented for me that preparedness and being prepared was important. When we lived over in California, I was actually writing up my PhD living on the San Andreas Fault. Which is quite interesting because all I was reading about was what had happened in the big one, and all the different earthquakes that could potentially happen, and the impact that that would have.

What I learned from doing my PhD was that those people who did the preparation, those people who were prepared, who did put a little bit of thought and money – because sometimes there is a little bit of a cost involved, not only in time but financially – when people invested that time prior to an emergency, their outcomes were better afterwards.

And this was just, in every disaster I looked at, it just became so obvious that the preparing was important. Prepping gets a really bad name because people mix it up with the survivalists in America. They think that it’s all Mad Max, it’s all people driving around in Land Rovers and having nuclear bunkers.

And what I came to realise was actually what’s important is the tiny tweaks that we make. So when we go on a long car journey, is it really that difficult if you’re going out in the snow to put a shovel and a blanket in the back of your car?

It’s not. It’s not a big time investment, but if things go wrong, it just helps you out so much. Things like having these little emergency packs that you can get that go into your mobile phone to give you a bit of a boost if your battery’s gone. They cost a few quid, you keep them in your glove compartment, but if you need it, because you’ve broken down in the remote highlands of Scotland, it’s then essential kit, isn’t it?

So it’s that little bit of preparedness earlier, having quite a big impact on positive outcomes in an emergency.


Quite a tricky one to ask really, but I guess what does preparedness mean for you? What does that look like for you in the wider scheme of things?

I think preparedness is just thinking about what might go wrong in the future and then putting in some interventions in case that happens. And they can, as I say, be very small. In my kitchen, I think, “oh, I could have a kitchen fire.” You know, it could happen. You come in from the pub, you put some chips… These things happen. But I can think about that as a possibility and then I have a fire blanket, which was less than £10. I have a fire extinguisher, just a little tiny one that was like £20 and they just sit in my kitchen and they sat in my kitchen for a number of years. I’ve never used them, but if I needed them, they’re there. Whereas if I didn’t, and then there was a kitchen fire, then I would be stuck.

I think that there’s prepping on the very extreme end, which is like the survivalists that you see. I don’t have a nuclear bunker in my back garden. I don’t have a big enough garden! But actually, I would love to have a Land Rover, but what I do have is these little micro preps, these little things, these everyday things that would just nudge me into being more likely to survive.


Have you found it imposing? The things that you’ve done? Have you found it a real challenge or a real task or time sink?

No, it is just everyday life to me. Once you get into that sort of mindset then actually the things that you’re doing are quite effortless in a way. As long as there’s someone there to tell you how to do it, someone to give you some expert knowledge on what you need to do, it isn’t very hard work. I mean, yes, occasionally I’ll have to go in and rotate because I have three months’ supply of food in the cupboard under the stairs, but it wasn’t an effort to put together. All I did was I decided that I was going to have three months supply of food under the stairs, so every time I went to the supermarket, instead of picking up two cans of beans, I picked up four cans of beans. Two went in my cupboard, two went under the stairs. And I just did that for a number of weeks and slowly built it up. Now what I do need to remember to do every now and again is a bit of a stock rotation, but I delegate that to my husband and he’s very good at it. And we just make sure that we rotate things around. But in an emergency, if we had a two year out of date can of beans, I’m sure that would not be our biggest problem. So, for example, another thing that I did was when we had our house redecorated. I just made sure that we have wired in smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms. It did cost a little bit of money. It was pretty zero effort because all I did was tell the decorators that’s what I wanted and then it’s done, and I don’t have to think about it now. And it’s just making things easy, but it’s having that little bit of expert guidance that’s really important.


Going into the pandemic, preparedness isn’t something you’d just started doing, so you had all this in place when the pandemic hit. Was it interesting for you seeing your friends and perhaps family around you who hadn’t done the kind of preparations that you’d done? And what, what were the differences that you noticed? Were they stressed? Were you able to carry on more as normal? What was that like for you?

I’ve had a pandemic kit under my sink for the last 20 years, ever since I started reading during my PhD about the Spanish flu pandemic. I thought, “oh my goodness, this is something that could happen again”. So I had a pandemic kit under the kitchen sink and it was really, really basic. I just had some face masks, I had some hand gel, I had some disinfectant and I had some gloves. It had cost less than £20 to put together and it had literally sat there being renewed every few years. Not really an effort. When the pandemic hit and everybody was looking for face masks, and everybody was looking for hand gel, that was the point at which I was like, “oh that’s interesting”. I’d just got my kit out and what I hadn’t banked on was the fact that people like my parents hadn’t actually done the same. With them being older and at slightly more risk, I just took it around to them and said, “Hey, you guys probably need this more than I do”.

It was the same with toilet roll. I’ve always bulk bought toilet roll. And I did spend the first few weeks of the pandemic driving around to my friends delivering a couple of loo rolls because they’d run out.


Why do you think it was toilet roll?

I have a theory. I think actually it was so uncertain back at that time, and people were really looking for something that they could control. And one of the things that they could control was having certain things like toilet roll stored. And so I think people probably did go out and buy a few more because it it wasn’t just a practical thing. I think it was more like a mental health intervention – that actually it was something practical that people could do. I don’t think it was all about the fact that we needed to go to the loo more often. I think it was just that actual wanting to feel like you were doing something that would be useful.

It’s interesting you say about what did my friends and family think. I do remember just as I was leaving work for the last time, it turned out, for a few months, and my boss said to me, “Oh, Sarita, we used to laugh at you with all this prepping stuff, but we’re not laughing now”. And I thought, hang on a minute, let’s rewind. You used to laugh?


That’s that stigma that you were talking about again, isn’t it? It’s not what we’re looking to tell people here. It’s not that we want people to go to the extremes. It’s not about having these extreme preparedness kits for the end of the world. It’s just these everyday scenarios.

It’s micro prepping. I’ll give you another example. I have a go bag in the back of my car, which just has change of clothes, a bit of extra cash, has some food in it. It’s just a really simple rucksack with a few bits. odds and sods that you might need on a day out. And near where we lived,  there was a chemical fire and people were advised to evacuate.

So I put the kids in the car, we drove out of the immediate vicinity and lo and behold, opened the boot and got my go bag. It’s got chocolate bars. It’s got extra clothes in it. It’s got some headache tablets, which I definitely had by that point.

Just those things that made it a little bit easier, a little bit more comfortable, a little bit more manageable. And that’s what we’re doing.

What I’m advocating is micro prepping. It’s not having to suddenly reinforce your house with stainless steel for some earthquake or something. It’s just little tiny things that help nudge you from being like a victim who isn’t able to look after themselves, into somebody who’s actually a survivor and is able to get on with life, even in those emergency situations.


If you could only have three things in your emergency go bag, what would they be?

If you think about the basics for maintaining life, the first thing that I would want is something that’s going to help me with water. There’s two things that I can think of that I might like. The first is just some sort of  disinfectant tablets. I get them from the chemist. You can put them an old coke bottle, collect some rainwater, drop it in, and it makes your water sterile. So number one, a water to go bottle or my disinfectant tablets. Number two, obviously, it’s food for energy, glucose. In my go bag in the car, I have these fantastic bags, and you can basically just press a little sort of funny button in them, and it heats the whole pack up, so you can have a hot meal. It’s in a pack of food and they do a chicken tikka masala or something, or a full English breakfast, whatever it is, and I’ve got a couple of those in the boot and it’s just so, if I’m broken down somewhere and want something warm to eat? Brilliant. That’s what I’ve got.

So now I’ve got my water, I’ve got my food. If I wanted something a bit more calorie dense, that’s going to keep me going, my favourite go to isn’t chocolate, which always gets melty and sticky. It’s Kendall Milk Cake. Pure sugar. That’s the sort of top, top prepping food for me.

And then finally, you’ve got food, you’ve got water, it’s shelter. What am I going to have for shelter? I actually have a camping hammock and a tarp and they sit in the boot as well. If I’m in a survival situation, I probably want to be outside, want to be camping. It’s an earthquake or flooding. I don’t want to be on the ground. So I carry a hammock. They’re my three top things.


Have you noticed in the UK, especially at the moment, any trends or patterns in people’s desire to become more prepared?

I think over the last few years since COVID, I’ve seen a trend appearing within the UK of people being more interested. They’re sort of a little bit more awake to the threats that could happen, the things that could go wrong, because obviously when COVID went wrong, it was a real wakeup call that actually life can be disrupted like that. It seemed like we were getting reports of a mysterious disease happening over in China, and then suddenly we’re not allowed to leave our houses, etc. An hour of exercise a day. And that seemed to happen in a matter of weeks. So I think there’s a much bigger awareness that things can go wrong and that they can go wrong quite quickly.

There’s definitely an interest in physical prepping. Making sure that people have toilet roll, have things in place, food wise, et cetera. Everyone’s got face masks now.

On the other trend I’ve noticed an interest in mental health and resilience and this real interest in the impact that being in an emergency situation or exposed to a disaster can have on mental health, and how do we help them mitigate against that with preparedness, but also recover from it after the emergency has passed?


You mentioned COVID then. I remember when COVID hit, it seemed like we couldn’t move for getting news about COVID. We see things in the news every single day, whether it’s currently the war in Ukraine, it could be the wildfires that we’re seeing in Rhodes and Cyprus. Do people have a legitimate reason to be concerned about these things? Are things actually becoming increasingly more challenging to deal with in everyday life?

I’m not sure I’d say that things are becoming more challenging. I think we’ve got greater awareness of things that might potentially go wrong. But if we look at history, we’re probably living in quite a safe time, in some ways, because we do have quite good medical care, which we didn’t have, say, a couple of hundred years ago. There are definite pluses to living in the 21st century, absolutely. However, there are things that are starting to hit my radar that are causing me concern. We’ve had a golden age, I would say, in the 80s, 90s, noughties, all those, it seemed quite stable. War in Europe is quite a concern. We’re now in, do they call it the era of global boiling? We’re out of warming and we’re into boiling, and we’re seeing these extreme weather patterns occurring, and they seem to be occurring more often, so we’re getting more floods, we’re getting more fires. Forest fires, grass fires, et cetera.

So yes, I think we’re also going to see another pandemic in the next 20, 30, 40 years as well. There are definitely things on my horizon where I think actually we’ve had this golden age and it is going to be a bit more bumpy from now on.


Do you think that the UK at the moment is a bit too passive in their desire to be preparedness? Do you think they should be taking it a bit more seriously?

I think all governments around the world have got a really good opportunity to reflect on the preparedness level that they have in their country. I think in the UK we’ve certainly seen that there were some issues with our preparedness for a pandemic and now’s a really good time to have a reflection on that and make sure that we’re ready for the next challenges.

I think it’s a sort of individual level and people are a little bit more awake now to the idea that things can go wrong and they can go wrong quite quickly. Unfortunately, one of the key ways that we deal with uncertainty and worries about death and dying and all the negative things that can happen is a very useful coping style of denial. We just pretend it isn’t going to happen. And denial is great. Denial is a really useful coping strategy, right up until the thing that you’re denying is going to happen, happens. You see this a lot in people that, for example, live in California. They’re living in the earthquake zone and actually, they don’t have an earthquake kit.

They don’t put smoke alarms into their houses because they don’t want to think about things going wrong. They go, “Oh no, that won’t happen”. So that denial coping strategy, as useful as it is in the moment, is actually not useful in the long term. So taking a more proactive, active coping style is actually better in the long run.


Fantastic. I mean, it’s interesting that you say about denial because, we’ll talk about threat and anxiety in a moment, but… Do you feel that with all these different issues, like I say, it could be increased knife crime that we hear about in London, then again, you’ve got these other issues about increased fire, global boiling, and financial instability. Can all these little things, so even if you have micro fears, can they all grow and you don’t quite understand why you’re feeling a bit more on edge?

Yeah, I think there’s definitely scope for people to start feeling on edge. Obviously one of the major reasons that people may feel more on edge now is the fact that we have instant access to what’s going wrong around the world.

If you think back a hundred years, the media took a few days to learn about, for example, the Titanic sinking. If you imagine what that would be like today, we’d be seeing people filming it on their mobile phones, it’d be sent to a satellite, it’d be in your house, almost in real time as it was happening. And that obviously has a big impact on people and their awareness of what’s going on in the world.


What do you think it is that makes some people decide to prepare and others choose not to?

I think that’s a really interesting question. Why do some people choose to do prepping and take part in prepping activities and do first aid training and some people don’t, they seem to shy away from it?  I think one of the main reasons is that denial. Some people just don’t want to think about things that might go wrong. And it’s, it’s really strange, isn’t it? Because when you say to people, have you written a will? They’re all, no, I don’t want to write a will because I don’t want to die. And it’s like, well, it doesn’t make you die. Writing a will doesn’t make you die, but there’s that perception that if you do something like writing a will, you’re sort of tempting fate. And I think that can be part of the reason that people don’t prep. The other reason is knowledge, you know, do you have the knowledge?

Do you know what is actually going to be a good way to prep? Do you know what you need to do? Did people know that you could have wired in smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms? If you don’t know they exist, you’re not going to do it. Do you know what to put in a go bag?

If you don’t know these things, then actually that can be a real barrier to doing something. Having the capabilities is the first thing. The other thing is the opportunities. Some of us do have a little bit of extra time. We’ve got a local village hall that’s running a first aid class so it’s really easy to nip along and learn a bit of first aid, or, you know, we have access to other training or other resources that make it a little bit easier for us to do things. And the last thing is  motivation. It’s having that knowledge, but then feeling empowered to use that knowledge.


So, do you think that there are currently misconceptions around the activity of becoming more prepared, about preparing yourself for these things?

I absolutely think there is a stigma around prepping and preparing for emergencies. Even the word prepping, you know? I’ve been called a prepper as if it’s some sort of derogatory term. Like I’m sort of sitting there with my sawn off shotgun on my knee, waiting for people to come and steal my Frey Bento pies or whatever it is I’ve got in my pantry. And it’s just not like that. It’s, about small nudges, micro prepping, little things that could make a huge difference. I think we definitely need to get away from the image of some sort of Mad Max style commando, who’s a prepper. Because the people in our society that actually prep the most are young parents. And they don’t call it a go bag, but the nappy bag is a go bag. It’s got food.It’s got medicine. It’s got a change of clothes. It’s a go bag, but we don’t call it a go bag. We call it a nappy bag. So I think we’ve got to get rid of the idea of a prepper being somebody who’s at this real extreme and realise that all of us have a bit of a duty to prep and make sure that we would be safe in an emergency.


To some extent quite a lot of us are actually doing these things and we might not realize that that’s what we are doing. So actually what we’re talking about now isn’t as scary or as farfetched as some of the things you’re doing. You just used the example of a nappy bag and the nappy bag in itself is a bit of a go bag. That’d be quite interesting for people to realise, that it’s not something they have to necessarily change the way they live for. It’s something that they can slot into their everyday life.

 Absolutely. You can slot these prepping behaviours into everyday life. I wouldn’t advocate spending the whole weekend on the internet buying tons of kit, because actually you’re not going to use it. It’s about getting yourself educated, having a look at the resources that are available. And maybe it is about buying a water to go bottle and sticking it in your car, or making sure that you’ve got a blanket if you break down on the motorway and it’s cold.


At Readyr we talk a lot about community and the importance of community in preparedness. I think you mentioned just then about how your mother and father weren’t quite ready for the pandemic and you had to come to their aid. So, what role do you think community plays, if any, in preparedness? Do you think there is a role for community in preparedness?

 I think without community, preparedness doesn’t really work.

You can have individual preparedness, people can do individual things, but actually, in an emergency that’s affecting a whole population, people have to join together and work together if they’re going to get the best outcome. And obviously, if you’ve got family connections, then you will want to look after your family.

But as we saw in COVID, actually people want to look after their neighbours, people who live on the street. And what we saw during COVID was that real establishment of community through WhatsApp groups or Facebook groups, people coming together and making sure that people that were elderly or disabled were having shopping delivered, etc.

I think there’s, there’s definitely a role for community in prepping. The other thing I would say regarding prepping is that if you have a good social support network, if you have people that you can rely on and People know they can rely on you. Actually, that network is a great mental health intervention during an emergency.

We know that people do better when they have other people to draw on for mental strength. An example I give is, your car’s broken down, and you can see a spooky house on the hillside. It’s the only place that’s got a phone. It’s dark, and you’re walking there on your own, that’s terrifying.

If you’re walking there with a group of three friends, suddenly it’s taken on a different sort of feeling, hasn’t it? You’ve got other people. And you might make a bit of a laugh and a joke about it because you feel more secure with those people around you offering you support.


So, in your opinion, where should people start? What are the basic steps that people can start doing to become more prepared?

I think the first thing is knowledge. Have a little bit of a think about your own personal circumstances. And as uncomfortable as it can be, think about what might go wrong.

Start in your kitchen. Go into your kitchen. What might go wrong in your kitchen? Well, you could have a gas leak. You could have a burn. You could have a kitchen fire. Okay, so how would you prep for that?

Well, maybe you need some first aid kits in there that would treat a burn. Maybe you need a fire blanket and a mini fire extinguisher just in case your microwave bursts into flame. So they’re little tiny things but just thinking about what could go wrong and then thinking about how you would prep for it is a really good start. Do you have for example the number for the emergency gas line? You don’t want to be looking it up on the internet or trying to Google it on your phone if there’s gas filling your kitchen. You just want a little piece of paper in a drawer, you pull it out, say “oh, yeah, I’ve got to phone these people”.


It’s a really interesting point you’ve just mentioned as well. Just having that number somewhere in advance, because you know the point you need it the most, you know, your Wi-Fi is going to go down

 Absolutely, yeah,

Or you might just be quite nervous and you know mistype things. So absolutely just that little bit of forward planning really helps and you just do that in every situation. So, in your car, what could happen? Well, if you’re going out and it’s snowing, maybe you need a small snow shovel. Maybe you need some food. Maybe you need a blanket and you just stick them in your boot. You don’t have to think about it again. It’s done. Now, one of my friends has a real big worry, and it’s quite extreme, but she thinks that she’s going to be stuck in her car. Uh, and if she drives into a river, the car will sink and she’ll drown,

She sees that as a potential threat, but what she has is quite specific. But they sell them on Amazon. You can get a little tool and it will break a car window and it will cut a car seatbelt. So if she’s ever in a, um, a road traffic accident or bizarrely she ends up in a river underwater, she has a small tool.

It costs a fiver off Amazon or other internet providers probably, and she can cut her seatbelt and she can crack, crack open the window.


Fantastic. So, some people are reluctant to invest in preparedness. Are there any more budget friendly tips that you would recommend to people who don’t perhaps have a disposable income?

 The question is around can we prep for cheap? Are there little things that we can do that don’t cost a lot of money, but actually could make a big difference? One of the things that I would definitely say are things like phone numbers, having phone numbers available, so that if you’re in a, for example, imagine the situation, your car breaks down, your mobile phone is out of battery.

Do you actually know the mobile phone number? Because you just press a button normally. You don’t know them. So maybe what you need in your wallet is just a physical piece of paper with some key contacts on it. And if you write key contacts, or you write next of kin, or you write “in case of emergency” on those numbers, if you’re found incapacitated, people know who to phone.

And so I always have an ICE, an “In Case of Emergency” number that I have in my phone and actually if something happened to me, they could get in contact with my husband and at least then somebody would know what had happened to me, so to speak.

So these are little tiny things. They take a little bit of knowledge. They take a little bit of time, but they don’t actually cost very much. And then as you start to step it up, as I say, if you want to build up a small supply of food at home, then don’t go out and spend a hundred quid in the supermarket all in one go, just add pounds of tins every week and funnily enough after a few months, you’ve got a good supply of emergency food available.


How would you define threat anxiety? Or how would you help someone acknowledge they have threat anxiety?

So the way I think of anxiety, and specifically threat anxiety, is it’s an uncomfortable feeling that we have in relation to something. So for example, people can have social anxiety, which is anxiety about social situations.

With threat anxiety, it’s anxiety that there may be something in your immediate vicinity that might go wrong. So for example, if you’re travelling on a plane, you might be anxious that the plane’s going to have a catastrophic failure. If you’re on a boat, you might think that the ship’s going to sink, that sort of thing.

So it’s about having a worry about something. Now, for me, when anxiety becomes problematic is when it gets in the way of your everyday life. So if you can function with a certain amount of anxiety. And we all have a certain amount of anxiety, otherwise we’d just be chill and not do anything. We all have a certain amount of anxiety about things like deadlines and, you know, am I going to get to pick the kids up from school on time? All of those things.

We do have a certain amount of anxiety, and that can be quite good for us, it gets us motivated. But when it starts interfering with our everyday life, when we start not being able to do things because we’re so worried about something going wrong, then that’s when it’s sort of crossed the line and we need to be talking to our GP, making sure that we’ve got proper support in place.

That’s at the sort of very clinical end. When we talk about just worrying and having anxiety in general about threats, that, to a certain degree, can be healthy. We can be a little bit more prepared as long as we do the right sort of coping. If we have the threat anxiety and then we go into denial and go, “Oh my gosh, I can’t even think about how I might respond to that. It’s just too horrible.” Not very helpful. If we have threat anxiety and think, “Oh actually, I live on a floodplain, maybe what I need to do is get some sandbags in, maybe what I need to do is move my precious photos upstairs”, then actually it can be useful.


Have you actually experienced stress anxiety yourself?

 I’m a bit of a worrier, generally, I’m just a bit of a worrier, and the way that I deal with it is when I worry about things I try and use my proactive coping, my active coping, to mitigate the risk and then that makes me feel better. So if, for example, I have a bit of a worry about flooding, it’s about making sure that I keep an eye on river levels and make sure that if I think that there’s going to be an issue, I know who to contact to get sandbags, etc, etc.

So yeah, I would say that. It’s healthy to have some concerns and to be, you know, wide awake and surviving the environment. And that’s what our brains are very good at. Even from an evolutionary psychology point of view, we’re out there, we’re monitoring the threat all the time. But if it becomes overwhelming and actually it’s not being very productive, then that’s when I would say, seriously, you need to chill out now.


You mentioned previously about ways that you can cope with threat anxiety, and obviously becoming prepared is one of the things, but I think when we have spoken previously, you mentioned about the COM-B method. Would you be able to say a bit about that?

We talk about why do people not do things in order to help themselves? Or for example, why is it people don’t recycle plastics? Why is it they don’t? And we have in clinical psychology, this idea of COM-B. So it’s having the capability, having the opportunity, having the motivation.

If you have all those things, then you have the behaviour. As I was mentioning before, if we have the capability, we have the knowledge. So things like the website for Readyr, it’s really great because it has all the information on it. It has ideas of what you can do to prep. Brilliant. That’s giving us the capability and opportunity.

Is it within my budget? Can I afford to do it? Do I have the time to do it? Is it easy to locate? Can I go to the village hall and do the first aid class quite easily? So opportunity. And then the motivation: Do I understand emotionally why it’s important? Do I understand? So I talk about the first two are a bit like the mind and this is like the heart and you have to have hearts and minds involved.

So do we have the motivation? And if we have the capability, if we have the opportunity, if we have the motivation, then we’ll have the behaviour. And in this case, this would be prepping.


 So if we look more generalized than it’s becoming more prepared, what do you think are the biggest challenges facing us at the moment?

We all have an understanding that we should prep for things, that we should have this certain level of preparedness. So why don’t people do that? What is the block? What’s the barrier to that? I would definitely say that the first thing is denial. We don’t want to think about bad things. If we don’t prep for them, if we don’t engage in thinking about what might go wrong and designing interventions. That’s great because it causes us no anxiety.

We just deny it’s ever going to happen. So denial behaviours. The next thing is cost. And actually that’s cost, not only in terms of financial, but also in terms of time, we’re all very time poor. We lead very busy lives. So prepping can take a little bit of time to think about, organise and activate the interventions needed.


And what about the issues that we’re seeing in the media at the moment? Is there anything that you feel we should be more concerned about? Or are we just having our emotions plucked, shall we say, by the media?

 The question that I ask is, should we be prepping? What should we be prepping for? And obviously we see on the telly, there are all these horrible things that are happening. Fires raging in, I don’t know, Italy and Greece. And we’ve got the war in Ukraine and… We’ve got Ebola that seems to keep coming up every now and again. And so there are things where I’m thinking, “Oh, actually, we do have some disasters”, but we tend to think of them as being “over there”. We just we don’t need to worry about them because here in the United Kingdom, perhaps we’re feeling a little bit safer from those other disasters. And I think the pandemic has really told us that actually we’re not. And the other thing I would say is actually prepping can be quite individual.

I would advocate prepping for smaller scale emergencies. You say, what’s a smaller scale emergency? Well, it’s, for example a fire in your house. It doesn’t happen to the whole community, but you need to have prepped for it. Or maybe a loved one has a medical emergency. Would you know how to respond?

Or, God forbid, you lost your job. Have you prepped? Do you have some finance squirreled away? If you’ve got three months supply of food in your pantry, and you get made redundant, actually, you have that reassurance that you’re not going to starve.Your shopping bill is in effect taken care of for three months until you can get yourself back into employment. So what I think is fantastic about Readyr is that it really taps into what people need. And the first thing that they need is the information. Obviously on the website, we’re going to have the information hub, which is going to have that expert advice. So if you’re really unsure about how you could make those first little steps into preparing, actually, that’s a really good place to start.

Start with the information hub, get yourself clued up, get that information, and then you’ll at least be able to start your journey into prepping. If you want to take it a little bit further, obviously we have the Readyr Live event where you’re able to come along and experience some of the things that you might want to adopt for your preparedness – Testing out equipment, maybe buying some small items that you can fit into your everyday life that just help you to be a little bit more prepared. Or in fact, testing yourself, you know, so the immersive experiences are going to be fantastic. And that will help with mental preparedness because you’ll get a little bit of a feel about what it’s like to be in an emergency and a little bit of an insight into your responses.


You’ve mentioned before how being prepared is not just about buying something, but it’s also a mental state of being, but also a physical thing as well, so can you just expand on that?

Sometimes people ask me, what does it mean to be prepared? You know, what is preparedness?And I always say it’s the practical. It’s making sure that you have the kit. So a first aid kit, a go bag, a fire extinguisher, all those things are important. But the second thing is the knowledge to use them. So there’s absolutely no point having a fire extinguisher if you wouldn’t know how to use it. There’s absolutely no point having a first aid kit if you don’t know how to administer any of the equipment in it. It’s about having the practical kit, but also having the knowledge of how to use it. And part of that ‘having the knowledge to use it’ is also having the confidence to use it. So that’s the mental guide.

That beautiful mental awareness of your abilities and confidence that you can actually have a positive outcome by, for example, administering first aid is really important as well. And I think it’s just that combination, isn’t it? It’s making sure that you have the practical skills as well as the equipment and then that should help you to feel that you can cope in the situation.

And the great thing about being able to cope in a situation and being confident that you can do things is that that then reduces your anxiety levels. It calms you down because you have that inner confidence and then that actually makes you more effective because a lot of my research has shown that if you don’t feel confident, if you feel like the situation is uncontrollable, you’re more likely to make errors, you’re more likely to forget things, and actually that can reduce your chances of survival.


I think it’s really interesting. One of our previous conversations, you mentioned to me that there was a terrible plane crash and there were some children who survived that plane crash and obviously part of the reason that they were able to survive as long as they did was that they did have the knowledge of the food – what they could eat, what they couldn’t, but you also suggested that part of their mindset, the belief, also kept them going and helped in that situation.

What we find in a lot of survival situations is that people have got the equipment and maybe they’ve got some knowledge, but they go into a very pessimistic mindset. So, we find survivors. Actually, the people who are really optimistic, they keep on going and they keep on trying things because they believe that there’s going to be a positive outcome. We do find some people that will just give up. They just think, “Oh my goodness, I’ve been in a train crash” or “I’ve been in a plane crash. And actually there is nothing, nobody could survive this”. And then they get very pessimistic and then they’re not trying to survive. So they leave the survival equipment untouched.

They don’t leave themselves any opportunities to survive because they’ve sort of already decided in their minds that it’s not survivable. So that’s very interesting from the psychology point of view. My friend John Leach, he does do a lot of work around this sort of drive to survive. And actually it’s one of the things I’m really interested in this idea that if we’re optimistic about our chances of survival, you almost make your own luck.


 That really ties in then to this victim or survivor mentality that you’ve talked about before. So what do you mean when you say victim or survivor mentality?

So one of the things I’m really interested in is what makes a survivor and what makes a victim in an emergency, because we’ve seen some emergency situations where people who should have survived didn’t. And some people who shouldn’t have survived did. And it’s really interesting to look at their psychology and try and work out what is it that makes a survivor and what is it that makes a victim. And there are all sorts of differences. So, preparing.

If people are preppers, the research is out there that clearly shows if you take these small, even micro preps, do the small changes to lifestyle, it can actually have a huge benefit if you ever find yourself in a life threatening situation. So, I think one of the things that’s kept me going for 25 years is trying to unpick what is it that made this person survive and this person not survive.

And I think I’ve basically come to the conclusion that a lot of it is the psychology. So one of the other areas that I’m really interested in is how people recover after they’ve been through a traumatic event. Now there is a common assumption that everybody who’s been through trauma is going to come out with post traumatic stress disorder. And it’s going to have a huge impact on their life and their psychological well being.

What we know is that PTSD isn’t actually something that’s guaranteed, we’d see it in generally around 10 percent of survivors of trauma. So it’s actually quite a small percentage of those people who’ve gone through a traumatic event. The majority of people, we’d say sort of 80 percent of people, will come out and they’ll do what we call a ‘bounce back’.

They’ll show resilience and they’ll return to the same level of functioning that they had prior to the emergency. What’s really interesting for me, and something that I’ve done quite a lot of research on, are people that come out of a traumatic event with what we call post traumatic growth. And there seems to be again this 10 percent of people who show an enhancement that actually going through an emergency has psychologically a very positive impact also helps them build better relationships, reflect on their life choices, gave them the motivation to quit their job and, you know, go for their life goals.

So there can absolutely be positives that come through going through a traumatic event. Not to downplay the fact that it is a trauma, but actually when we see them recover, you know, three, four, five months later, they note positive change as well as negatives.


Super interesting, super interesting, but to end on a bit of a fun note, We’re going to throw this one into the mix. So I think you’re aware of the 2009 film Zombieland. And we know that it’s very, very farfetched. So, you know, I mean, never say never, but the chances are we’re not going to be facing a zombie apocalypse. But they did have some rules that they wanted to live by and that help them in that situation. So I guess it’ll be interesting for us to explore, have a quick fire round, as to, are any of those rules actually applicable in a real life situation? So I’ve written them down, and have you got the numbers in front of you?

 I do.


I’ll ask you to pick five numbers. What’s the first number going to be?

Number seven.


Number seven: “Travel light”.

 Yeah, absolutely. You don’t want to be weighed down with a lot of heavy survival kit. But what you pick has to be useful. So you’re thinking about covering your basics. Food, water, shelter.

I mean, kitchen roll, great for starting a fire. What’s really interesting, the military used tampons in their survival kits because it’s nice compressed cotton, uh, great for fire lighting. A ziploc bag is quite useful for keeping things like kindling dry or even for carrying liquids. Dry socks. It’s just a little bit of humanity, a bit of normality, makes you feel better, and boosts your mood. The  importance of friendships and friendship groups It’s really always handy to have somebody that you rely on available to help you out in an emergency.


 Thank you so much for your time Dr. Sarita and we look forward to catching up with you soon.

Wonderful. Thanks for having me.

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