When it comes to potential disasters in life, many of us would rather not think about it. However, you never know if you’ll end up in one of these situations, so it’s important to be prepared. Rather than burying our heads in the ground, let’s explore the ways in which we can come out of these situations alive and well:
1. You Can Control Your Reaction
Many think that in situations such as plane crashes or car accidents, they just have to let go and let fate take them. Actually, this is hardly the case. Studies have shown that those who prepare for disaster beforehand in their minds do remarkably well when catastrophe strikes. Here’s why: in an uncontrollable situation, your mind goes into something called ‘tunnel vision.’ Your brain is focused on one thing and one thing only: getting you out. However, how you escape can be hampered by this same tunnel vision.
If you’re on an airplane and have no idea where the closest exit is, your tunnel vision could be your worst enemy, in some cases causing people to shut down completely. If, however, your brain has planned in advance for a disaster type situation, your brain already knows exactly what it needs to do. This is why military and police often survive tragedies, because they have trained their mind into taking action during unforeseen circumstances. You don’t need years of training, though: simply make a plan beforehand and your brain will likely do the rest.
2. Always Know Your Surroundings
In airplane disasters, one flight attendant we spoke with relayed the importance of physically counting the seats to the exit row nearest you. It’s an easy and subtle way to prepare yourself, by touching the seatbacks from the nearest exit to your row. If something happens, you know physically know exactly where to go.
If you have a plan before things go down, whether you are staying in a hotel that catches fire or you find yourself wandering too far off the trail while hiking, you are less likely to go into panic mode and far more likely to do what needs to be done to ensure your survival.
3. Passivity Can Kill You
One of the main killers during disaster is simply behaving as if nothing has gone wrong. It sounds incredible, but it’s actually a fairly common response. People remain in their seats, people wait for orders and people assume others will be the ones to act. You are in charge of keeping yourself well, nobody else. Take that seriously and exert yourself when necessary.
4. Repetition Exists for a Reason
Ah those stupid flight attendants who constantly tell you how to buckle your seat belt! Who even needs that, amirite? Yet the truth is, in disasters, the tunnel vision can keep your brain from comprehending basic tasks.
During a number of survivable aircraft accidents, people have been found dead in their seats, hands clasped to the left of their chair. Why the left? Because motor vehicle seatbelts buckle on the left. Airplane seat belts buckle in the middle. With tunnel vision, these people’s minds went to what they know best: being in a car. That announcement, while seemingly pointless, is there for a reason. The drills are there for a reason, and if you assume you’re above them, you’re probably not.
5. Your Anxiety Won’t Get Worse
Many people avoid thinking about disaster scenarios because they assume that too much dwelling on the subject will cause anxiety. While it’s true that thinking randomly about your airplane going down or your boat sinking will cause a knot in your stomach, figuring out how you can pragmatically deal with those situations has actually been shown to decrease anxiety. Learn what you need to know then trust yourself to carry it out.
6. Gender Roles Don’t Matter
In studies of disasters, it has been shown that women are far more likely to follow orders while men are more apt to try to take control of the circumstances. Before you assume one is better than the other, consider that if a boat is sinking, women are more likely to survive because they are more likely to get to lifeboat points and follow directions away from the ship. That said, in tsunamis, men were more likely to survive because they knew how to swim. The take away: do not rely on how you’ve been taught you should act. This is your life; you do whatever you need to do to get out.
7. Real Fear Will Help You
That old adage about the only thing we have to fear is fear itself is just plain wrong. Fear, real fear, is an instinct that we all have for the purposes of survival. I’m not talking about being scared or experiencing anxiety. I’m talking about when you hear an avalanche coming your way it’s that real fear that will give your body the ability to get away. Instead of shirking fear for the purpose of being ‘courageous’ or ‘fearless’, embrace it. And let it guide you in situations where you need to make split second decisions.
8. Get Over The Freeze
If you freeze during stressful situations, I’m sorry, but you’re less likely to survive. However, there is an easy way to retrain your brain. It involves simply letting go of whatever you’re doing. Those who tend to choke under pressure also tend to freeze while swinging a golf club or giving a speech. They are too conscious of every action and how it might impact their situation. To get over this, you can train yourself in non-disaster situations, such as taking an exam or playing a sport. Let yourself move without conscious thought of what exactly it is you’re doing. This ability could later save your life.
9. Basic Survival Skills are Also Basic Fitness
Can you swim? Can you swim for long periods of time and tread water? Well, if you can’t, it might be worth learning. Can you climb a tree? Can you run 50 yards? Fitness is not only a prerequisite of good health, but it’s also a fantastic indication of who will survive and who won’t get out. While during disaster situations, you’ll likely have an increased amount of adrenaline that will help you through the first painful moments of exertion, it won’t last forever. Simply hitting the gym occasionally could one day save your life.
10. Learn How to Live Off the Land
Living in tune with nature is not just for hippies, it’s also for survival junkies. If a pandemic or nuclear blast happened, and you were forced to flee into a national park or deeply rural region to escape, what would you do for food? Would you know how to build a shelter? Light a campfire? Make clothing? These are basic skills that almost all humans knew at one point in history, and aren’t very difficult to learn. In fact, basic shelter building and camping skills can be acquired over a week-long course. Learn how to scavenge for what you need and take care of yourself when nobody else can.
Not everyone can pay for the news. But if you can, we need your support.
Truthout is widely read among people with lower incomes and among young people who are mired in debt. Our site is read at public libraries, among people without internet access of their own. People print out our articles and send them to family members in prison — we receive letters from behind bars regularly thanking us for our coverage. Our stories are emailed and shared around communities, sparking grassroots mobilization.
We’re committed to keeping all Truthout articles free and available to the public. But in order to do that, we need those who can afford to contribute to our work to do so — especially now, because we have just 3 days left to raise $35,000 in critical funds.
We’ll never require you to give, but we can ask you from the bottom of our hearts: Will you donate what you can, so we can continue providing journalism in the service of justice and truth?