Survive Basically Anything: 20 Fixes for Life-Threatening Problems and Daily Hassles
Stay calm. Gather your wits. We’re going to get through this together. Here, our experts’ guide for navigating life’s scariest perils and everyday frustrations.
1. How to Survive a Terrorist Attack
Following the Paris attacks of November 2015, the BBC surveyed survival experts and came away with confidence-building advice.
- Get in the habit of casing the room: In the attack on the Bataclan concert hall, a security guard led a group of people to safety through a fire exit left of the stage. But there won’t always be a guard to help. Make a point of identifying emergency exits for yourself.
- Make yourself smaller: “Where there’s cover from sight, there’s cover from gunfire,” advises Ian Reed, a British military instructor and chief executive of the Formative Group security firm. Hard cover such as a concrete wall is the best option. If there’s no cover available, play dead.
- “Run, hide, tell”: In its report on “dynamic lockdowns,” the U.K. government’s advice is to run if there is a safe route out. If you can’t run, hide. If you escape, immediately tell an official what’s happening. Separate from gathering crowds; always assume there’s going to be a secondary action.
- Be a team player: It’s the most efficient way for a group to evacuate and avoid jams. Social psychologist Chris Cocking says most people are likely to try to help one another even in extreme situations—like the group of people who cooperated to escape the Bataclan via skylight.
2. How to Survive a Layoff
The best thing you can do with your time (besides look for a new job, of course): Play ball! According to a happiness study from the University of Alberta, participating in physical activity increases life satisfaction three times as much as being unemployed reduces it.
3. How to Survive Being Stranded in the Wilderness
As the longtime editor of many of the Reader’s Digest survival stories, Beth Dreher learned a lot about how to stay alive in dire circumstances. Here, she gives us her most important how-to’s:
- Find water: As the subjects of my stories know too well, you can last only about four days without water. To ward off dehydration, search for animals, birds (especially songbirds), insects (especially honeybees), and green vegetation, all of which can indicate that water is nearby. Rock crevices may also hold small caches of rainwater.
- Find food: You can survive up to three weeks without food, but a growling stomach will set in much sooner. These four items are always edible: grass, cattails, acorns, and pine needles. A simple rhyme can help you identify safe-to-eat berries: “White and yellow, kill a fellow. Purple and blue, good for you.”
- Brave an animal ambush: We’ve all read about bear and shark attacks. But what about an aggressive wolf or deer? Regardless of species, stand your ground. Running will trigger the animal’s chase mentality, and unless you’re trying to avoid a snake, you won’t be able to run fast enough.
4. How to Survive an Ice Cream Headache
A “brain freeze” occurs when nerves in the roof of your mouth tell your brain that it’s too cold; the brain, drama queen that it is, overcompensates by rushing warm blood into your head. How can you tell your big mouth to shut up?
- Thaw the freeze. Replace the cold stimulus with a warm one by filling your mouth with room-temperature water or pressing your tongue against the afflicted area.
- The key to prevention? Eat slower. As one McMaster University physician found in a study of 145 students from his daughter’s middle school, kids who scarfed a bowl of ice cream in five seconds or fewer were twice as likely to feel brain freeze as those who took their time.
5. How to Survive a Plane Crash
The smallest bump feels like an earthquake at 35,000 feet. But plane crash fatalities are at an all-time low—and with a few simple precautions, you can make them a little lower.
- Forget first class. A Popular Mechanics study of 20 commercial jet crashes with both fatalities and survivors found that passengers seated in the rear cabin (behind the wings) had a 69 per cent chance of survival, compared with just 49 per cent for those in first class. If you truly fear flying, it’s worth giving up the legroom for some peace of mind in the rear.
- Brace yourself. In a 2015 crash simulation, Boeing found that passengers who both wore their seat belts and assumed a brace position (feet flat, head cradled against their knees or the seat in front of them if possible) were likeliest to survive. Seat-belted fliers who did not brace suffered serious head injuries, and those with no seat belts or bracing died on impact.
- Don’t dally with the mask. During a loss of cabin pressure, the drop in oxygen can knock you unconscious in as little as 20 seconds. Listen to your flight attendants: Always secure your oxygen mask before helping others. You can’t help if you can’t breathe.
6. How to Survive an Awkward Conversation
Somehow you’re sitting next to the only person at the party you’ve never met, and the mood is definitely uneasy. How do you draw him out?
- Open with a compliment. The other person will feel a wave of positive feelings, and you will be more likely to remember him or her later as the person with the “nice hat.” Win-win.
- Listen like a hostage negotiator. The motto of NYPD’s Hostage Negotiation Team is “Talk to Me”—that’s because team members are taught to spend 80 per cent of their time listening and only 20 percent speaking. Draw your subject out by talking about what he or she wants to talk about, nodding, and asking follow-up questions along the way. The more you make your subject feel understood, the more he or she will enjoy the conversation.
- Have an escape plan. The phrases “I won’t keep you” and “Give my regards to [mutual acquaintance]” are your allies. When the conversation reaches a dead end, employ them.
Try these tips to make small talk from expert minglers.
7. How to Survive a National Epidemic (Zombie Apocalypse Included)
Aping the popularity of TV’s zombie drama The Walking Dead, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released an educational comic book about zombie preparedness. Doubling as a legitimate guide to surviving a pandemic, the comic offers these to-die-for tips:
- Hunker down. Seriously, lock your doors and stay home unless absolutely necessary or instructed otherwise.
- Watch your squad. When the virus hits, be ready to use your brains. If someone you’re with is showing signs of infection, quarantine the person. Tune in. Should you stay where you are or bug out for a government-set safe zone? Keep a battery or crank-powered radio nearby for safety updates in the event of a power outage.
- Don’t be a hero. Lower the crossbow TV zombie fighters favour; the infected are still your neighbours. Take every precaution not to kill one another while the government works on distributing a vaccine and treating patients.
A Canadian Red Cross volunteer shares his expert advice on how to make it through a natural disaster safe from harm.
8. How to Survive an Earworm
It takes only one passing toddler to get “It’s a Small World (After All)” stuck in your head and a whole teeth-gnashing day to get it out. There is a better way to cure what scientists call involuntary musical imagery (aka, the common earworm). In fact, there are two ways:
- Option one: Embrace it. Listen to the song all the way through, at full volume, ideally singing along. The idea is that by confronting your brain with the full version, your earworm will end when the song does.
- Option two: Replace it. Play a different song all the way through, at full volume, in an attempt to chase away your earworm with something more forgettable. In one U.K. study, the most popular “cure” song was the national anthem, “God Save the Queen.” On this side of the pond, try humming “The Star-Spangled Banner” to clear your head before twilight’s last gleaming.
9. How to Survive Election Season
Here are three home remedies for preventing campaign exasperation.
- Flee the TV: Psychologists have found that people who don’t watch TV are more accurate judges of everyday risks and rewards than those who follow fear-mongering news programs and that even thinking about politics can slash your overall happiness. Their advice: Try a news fast for one week and see how little you miss.
- Flee your feed: Remember: There’s no shame in hiding a friend’s or a family member’s annoying Facebook posts; neither will ever find out about it, and it’s easier than starting a digital shouting match. (Learn the real reason why Facebook is so addictive.)
- Flee your blathering buddies: And walk the dog instead. It can’t talk politics and is proved to release happiness-inducing oxytocin. Bow wow!
10. How to Survive Crowd Crush
When a huge crowd hits a tight choke point, a scary thing happens: The crowd starts moving like a fluid, each person forced forward by the people behind, regardless of whether there’s anywhere to move. This occurred last September when a group of more than a million pilgrims reached a narrow street intersection in Mecca. Trapped between the force of people behind them and the wall of people in front of them, some 2,200 died from compressive asphyxiation, the air literally crushed from their lungs. It’s a terrible fate but one you can avoid. Here’s how.
- Don’t fight the tide. Shock waves from the back of the crowd will push you forward—do not fight them. Stopping is the quickest way to fall, and falling is the quickest way to die. Instead, “wait for the surge to come, go with it, and move sideways. Keep moving with it and sideways, with it and sideways,” says Edwin Galea, a crowd behaviour specialist at the University of Greenwich.
- If you do fall, make an air pocket ASAP. Try to fall in a rigid fetal position (arms over your face and chest) to attempt to make room for your lungs to breathe. One man survived the 2003 Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island by doing this and securing a small supply of fresh air through the blaze.
11. How to Survive the World’s Slowest Line
Anytime you have more than two lines to choose from, odds are you will not pick the fastest line. What to do? Plan ahead.
- At the grocery store: Favour stores that use a “serpentine line”—that is, a single long line that flows into multiple cash registers (e.g., the line at your local bank). Many Whole Foods stores use this system, proved to be at least three times faster.
- At airport security: Wait times tend to double every Friday afternoon from four to eight, but if you are a frequent traveller who cannot avoid rush hour, consider investing in Global Entry.
- At Disneyland: Arrive at least 30 minutes before the park opens, and start with the most popular rides; every minute you show up after the doors open becomes two extra minutes in line.
12. How to Survive a Speeding Ticket
The boys in blue took to social media site Reddit to share their tricks for avoiding hefty speeding fines. Here’s how to tip the scales in your favour:
- Do: Keep your hands on the wheel. According to one cop, “This shows care and concern for the officer’s safety—and trust me, we really appreciate that.”
- Don’t say: “I’m sorry I was speeding.” If you admit guilt, the officer is supposed to write you a ticket.
- Do say: “Is it possible you could just give me a warning?” In many cases, warnings count toward a department’s ticket quota.
- Definitely don’t say: “Do you know who I am?!”/“My taxes pay your salary!”/ “Don’t you have anything better to do?!” Officers agree: Not being a jerk is the minimum requirement to getting out of a ticket.
Brush up on the rules of the road with these car driving tips.
13. How to Survive the Doctor’s Needle
If you are among the roughly 10 per cent of people who fear a loaded syringe, heed these tips:
- Fess up. Tell your doctor how needles make you feel; she might have you lie down to avert wooziness.
- Visit your happy place. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and listen to your favourite song on noise-cancelling headphones.
- Chew the fear away. A piece of gum or candy provides a sweet distraction from the doc.
- Skip the coffee. Caffeine can make you anxious for up to six hours before your procedure.
- Request a security blanket. According to Mark Burhenne, DDS, wearing a weighted blanket like the ones used during X-rays can make you feel safer in the chair. It pairs nicely with a therapy dog—a cuddly service that more and more practices are offering.
14. How to Survive a Wild Roller-Coaster
As you can see from the front row, roller-coasters are no joke. But neither are you.
- Ask yourself: Am I healthy enough to be an astronaut? Alternating between moments of weightlessness and gravitational forces reaching about four times those of Earth’s atmosphere, many coasters put your body through a mini space camp. Your organs will temporarily float inside you, and your heart rate may soar above 200 beats per minute. Read the ride’s safety warnings carefully.
- Sit smart. The front seat of any coaster gets the freakiest view, while the back feels the greatest force. Wimps: Snag a middle seat.
- Don’t lose your lunch. Never eat a big meal before a big drop, warns John Cooper, a professional ride tester who braves up to 100 theme park thrills a day at the U.K.’s Drayton Manor. Eat light, wait 90 minutes between chow and coaster, and face forward throughout the ride to avoid the spins.
Want to improve your mood, boost your creativity and spice up your relationship? Try acting more like a kid.
15. How to Survive a Nasty Sunburn
Remember this: When you’re as red as a beet, make yourself a salad. Freshly cut cucumber cools and soothes the skin, as does the starch from a grated potato or a spritz of apple cider vinegar. Your skin needs vitamins A and D to heal quickly—augment your produce regimen with lots of milk, and find a cool place to veg out.
You can also try these sunburn home remedies.
16. How to Survive a Divorce
“Divorce is always good news,” says comedian Louis C.K., “because no good marriage has ever ended in one.” This hard truth may not make the emotional process any easier to deal with—but these three actions might.
- Write the pain away. Relief can be as simple as freewriting for 20 minutes a day, four days in a row, says James W. Pennebaker, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas. “Across multiple studies, people who engage in expressive writing report feeling happier and less negative than they felt before,” he writes in his book, Expressive Writing: Words That Heal. Per one study, “those who kept their traumas secret went to physicians almost 40 per cent more often than those who openly talked about them.”
- Launch a project (or a rocket): Like the jilted New Zealand woman who launched her wedding ring into space on a homemade rocket or the blogger who got a book deal from devising “101 uses for my ex-wife’s wedding dress,” you, too, can channel hard feelings into hard work.
- See it through your kids’ eyes. In 2014, actress Gwyneth Paltrow popularized conscious uncoupling as a byword for a positive, amicable divorce. As doctors Habib Sadeghi and Sherry Sami subsequently wrote on Paltrow’s website, “Children are imitators by nature…If we are to raise a more civilized generation, we must model those behaviours during the good and bad times in our relationships.”
17. How to Survive the Hiccups
Hiccups strike when the vagus nerve (which runs from your brain to your abdomen) is irritated. Your diaphragm contracts involuntarily, which triggers the sudden closure of your vocal cords—and that telltale sound. These tactics may help short-circuit the cycle and stop the hiccups:
- Breathe into a paper bag. This increases carbon dioxide in your system and may help stop the spasms.
- Eat a teaspoon of sugar, a tablespoon of peanut butter, or a spoonful of honey. The sticky sweetness is supposed to change the rhythm of your breathing.
- Gargle with ice water. The cold reportedly shocks the hiccups and makes them stop.
Check out more hiccup home remedies here.
18. How to Survive a Toothache
Grab an ice cube. If you rub an ice cube on the spot between your thumb and index finger, it sends cold signals to your brain, which in turn can tamp down the pain signals coming from your tooth. In one study, people who did this reduced their pain levels by 50 per cent compared to people who rubbed the spot with no ice.
You can also try one of these toothache remedies.
19. How to Survive a Sugar Binge
Uh oh—you only meant to eat a few cookies/M&Ms/office cupcakes (pick your poison). Now you feel sluggish and headache-y and just want to curl up in a ball. To undo a sugar binge, start with a spoonful of PB: the protein and fat help slow down digestion and delay the inevitable blood sugar crash. Then resist the fetal position: get up and walk around. A 15-minute stroll after meals can lower blood sugar, according to research in Diabetes Care.
20. How to Survive a Ring Stuck on Your Finger
“When a ring threatens to cut off circulation to a swelling finger, you have to get that tiny tourniquet off any way you can,” says James Hubbard, MD, MPH, author of The Survival Doctor’s Complete Handbook: What to Do When Help Is Not on the Way. Before you buy a ring cutter or draft an apology letter to your beloved, check your bathroom cabinet for dental floss. That little spool of string just might be your salvation. What to do:
- Ice the finger for five minutes to decrease swelling.
- Slather a lubricant such as soap, grease, or lotion all over the finger to help the ring slide.
- Tear off a foot or two of floss or another strong string.
- Poke one end of the floss under the ring, toward your palm, and pull it a couple of inches out.
- Wrap the longer piece firmly around your finger, starting next to the ring and continuing toward the end of the finger until it’s wrapped well past the joint you’re trying to get the ring past. The goal is to compress the swelling and push some of it toward the skinnier part of your finger.
- Grab the two-inch end of the floss that you’ve poked under your ring and pull on it as you push the ring past the joint until it’s free. Woot! You get to keep the finger—and the ring.
For more essential first aid tips and tricks from a survival-medicine specialist, check out The Survival Doctor’s Complete Handbook.