Self

34 Tips For Surviving Right Now

Photo: Getty Images | Unsplash
Man surrounded by house plants practicing stillness

I spend a lot of time watching survivalists on TikTok. I am mesmerized by skills I do not possess and likely never will. I will starve to death during the post-apocalypse because my microwave won’t work. I am slow-walking, loud-screaming Grizzly bear bait.

But while I don’t know how to make a fire, build a shelter out of branches, or cook a fish I caught with my hands, I do know how to survive something I like to call “modern life.” And, look, modern life may not be as dangerous as a rattlesnake in a sleeping bag, but it’s full of layoffs, political screaming, and social media suffering.

I‘d like to hear a prepper’s advice for surviving the holidays with your mom and MSNBC (my advice: loving suggests you change the channel to Turner Classic Movies.)

Do I know how to open a coconut? No. Do I know how to deal with a panic attack sans Xanax? Sort of. Trust me. Here are 34 tips for surviving this wild, stressful moment in history. I stand by every one. I hope they help.

RELATED: How To Survive The Emotional Turmoil Of Today’s Unprecedented Times

Here are 34 tips for surviving right now:

1. Be a houseplant

I once had a therapist I didn’t connect with. I knew it, and she knew it. One thing I think that keeps people from going to therapy is the idea that it’s a kind of marriage you can’t get out of, but you can. It’s awkward, but finding someone you connect with and trust is worth it. I don’t think everyone should be in therapy, but what I’ve learned on the couch has helped me strengthen my relationships, which has improved my quality of life.

Before our last session, she suggested I meditate. I shrugged. I said I didn’t know how. Besides, “meditate” is pretty basic advice, but then she said: “Be a houseplant.” Randomly. Be a houseplant.

I immediately knew what she was saying, though. Intuitively. It was one of those rare lightbulb moments. She told me to sit and be. Do nothing. Be a houseplant. Breathe. She said houseplants are neither asleep nor awake; they exist in the now, and I should sit in a sunbeam and do likewise. A philodendron? A fern? I decided to be a ficus tree. I asked her how long I should do this, and she told me houseplants don’t ask those questions.

34 Tips For Surviving Right NowPhoto: fizkes / Shutterstock

2. Enjoy a shvitz

This is the Year of the Sauna (which I am trying to get trending.) I was recently dragged to a sauna by my girlfriend. I complained until I sat down on a cedar plank in a steam room. Reader, I emerged relaxed and invigorated and can’t wait to return.

The difference between sweating and crying is I can sweat at the gym, and no one stares. There are three 3 million saunas in Finland, a country with a population of 5.5 million. That many Fins can’t be wrong.

3. Delete your dating apps

Here’s the basic plot of my favorite scary movie, Clive Barker’s 1987 cosmic horror Hellraiser: solve an ancient puzzle and unlock a gate to hell. That’s also the story of Tinder, which has been wreaking emotional havoc for ten long years now. I know two people who met through it and a couple of dozen who swiped themselves into a dark dimension where horny demonic lunatics dwell.

My advice? Let your friends know you’re single, and then be patient. Sometimes, the best ways are the old ways: someone in your social circle loves you and yearns to be a matchmaker. This person (or people!) wants to see you happy. Allow them to care about you. This is a proper survival tip.

4. The world is healed one person at a time

I used to drink with an EMT back when I used to drink (which was often and in shocking quantities.) Intense type, to say the least. They’d get off a shift of saving lives, and I’d be finishing up a day of blogging, and we’d both get drunk. Sometimes, the trauma of their day was too much, and they’d tell me stories about blood and death and, sometimes, hope. I remember them telling me about “single patient focus,’ one of the tenets of triage. “One patient at a time.” They said they focus on what’s in front of them when it gets intense at the scene or in the truck. I’ve been thinking about that recently.

The news is so bleak. It can feel overwhelming. I have friends who are expressing profound helplessness about the rise of bigotry and intolerance in this country and the raging wars overseas. The dismaying truth of this life is that evil can kill dozens — hundreds — at a time, but the world is healed one person at a time. There is important work to do: organizing, protesting, voting, standing up, and being heard. But every second of every day is an opportunity to help someone in need, to reach out to the suffering.

Right now. Listen, donate, act. Call a friend, make a friend, forgive a friend. Righteous anger has its place. So does compassion. Speak truth to power. Always. But tell the broken people in your life that you love and you’re there for them. The little things add up, I promise you.

5. Roll it out 

As we age and deteriorate, our bodies turn into bags full of pudding. One way to slow that universal process is to buy a foam roller, get on the floor, and roll your poor muscles out. Find that spot in your back or calves and… roll… it… out.

6. Save a few bucks 

I shudder to think how much money I’ve spent over the years on fancy-schmancy coffee when instant coffee tastes fine and is significantly cheaper. Instant coffee. Yeah, Do you know what tastes pretty good? Instant coffee. That’s right, the caffeinated wonder dirt Grandma used to shovel into a mug of scalding hot water before stirring loudly, the clanging sound of metal spoon banging against ceramic echoing through her house.

Look, coffee is a vehicle for caffeine, and I won’t accept any argument to the contrary. It’s your choice if you want your dose topped with foam and syrup; I’m sure your inner child loves it. But the truth is, you want a jolt of energy in the morning, and instant coffee does the trick, and each cup costs a handful of change. And don’t buy expensive instant coffee. Buy the good stuff: Sanka, Folgers, Café Bustelo.

7. Take a nap

The most “middle-aged” thing I do is ask myself daily, “Do I have time for a nap?” Now, I have bills to pay. I often don’t have time for a weekday afternoon nap, but I still ask myself that question. Do I? Can I do it on the couch? Put my feet up on the desk and snooze? Can I run home and jump in bed for forty winks?

Naps are one of life’s great pleasures, like ice cream and clawfoot bathtubs. If you can nap, do it. Get comfy. A recent study by the meditation app Calm claims that almost half of Gen Zers and a quarter of Millennials don’t get enough sleep. I get it. It feels like everything is on fire, but not everything is on fire. Not yet, at least. So nap while you can.

8. Put away the phone

In Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune, the Pain Box is used by telepathic space nuns to cause agony to whoever puts their hand inside. This is a simple life lesson: Don’t put your hand in the Pain Box if you can help it! I repeat: don’t reach into the Pain Box. There’s nothing in there you want.

This leads me to this humble tip: make your own Pain Box and put your phone inside. Think of it as an art project, and art projects are fun. They give your eyes, brain, and fingers something to do other than swipe and stare with giant dead eyes at greasy iPhone displays. Take a break from your many terrible feeds. The fear, the envy, the anger. So it’s easy to make your own Pain Box. Use a shoe box or buy a balsa wood box from a hobby store. Decorate it if you want. Use markers or cheap acrylic paints, cut up some old magazine photos, and make a collage with glue. I drew a skull on mine with a Sharpie!

Next, place your phone inside your Pain Box and close the lid. Don’t put your hand in the Pain Box! This way, you can momentarily free yourself from the horrors of scrolling the internet. I keep my Pain Box on my dresser, and the first thing I do when I come home is put my phone in it—the Pain Box.

RELATED: 6 Ways To Break Your IPhone Addiction And Return To Real Life

9. Dog comfort. 

Greet every dog with “What’s up, pal.” Make eye contact. Ask their owner if the dog is “friendly.” Never assume a dog’s gender. However, all dogs are “pals.”

10. Check in with yourself

There’s a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous that I’ve been thinking about often these days (there are many, TBH): resentment is drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It’s one of my new mantras. I always try on new resentments like socks, and that quote is the stone-cold truth. Every petty resentment I have has everything to do with my insecurities and BS. Resentments are a red flag, a sign that I must take the air out of my ego.

11. Read fiction

It is commonly assumed that men read non-fiction only: we love histories, biographies, and how-to manuals. This is probably true, but it is not written in stone. Gender is, after all, marketing. The stereotype says that men read non-fiction because we’re all gruff, practical lumberjacks who would prefer hammering nails into boards with our foreheads rather than using our imagination.

I love books about the Roman Empire, but I also recommend reading fiction because fiction exercises your brain in ways that make you more empathetic and receptive to new ideas. I read the excellent sci-fi fantasy The Surviving Sky by Kritika H. Rao last month and Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow before, a heartfelt novel about love and video games. Last year, I re-read Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, my favorite book, which I have nicknamed The Lord of the Rings of Texas. 

Reading fiction is transportive, and it helps me focus on what could be or should be rather than what is.

   

   

12. Buy random bouquets of flowers

Your partner will love it. The more unexpected, the more they’ll swoon. Are they vehemently anti-flower? Then Surprise Tuesday Donuts it is.

13. Make a go-bag

For preppers and survivalists, a go bag is an essential item, a rugged backpack full of emergency supplies, like protein bars, first aid kits, and flashlights. Well, I have a go-bag, too. It’s my airplane carry-on, a ratty knapsack where I keep all my chargers and multiple bottles of almost empty hand sanitizers and snacks, like Sun Chips and Sour Patch Kids. There’s usually a Diet Coke 20oz, my favorite pair of tweezers, and a few single-dose packs of Zyrtec, too. That’s the tip: one way to survive right now is to have a bag of random stuff handy.

14. The 10 mg rule

I don’t drink or do drugs, but I have watched a loved one who hasn’t smoked pot in years pop a 10 mg gummy and then slowly lose their mind and get sick. Here’s a tip: if you’re new to edibles, don’t eat 10 mg of cannabis. I can’t always be there to talk you down.

15. Hug your bros

Bros should become a non-gender-specific term of endearment. Everyone is a bro. So… hug your friends, lovers, and family. Your people. It will flood your brain with positive chemicals and reinforce social bonds essential to living a long life.

16. Be polite

My old man once explained that the traditional Southern tradition of refusing to talk about religion or politics at the dinner table was not merely performative politeness. The South he grew up in was a political minefield, and in many ways, it still is. Minding your manners was the easiest way to avoid fistfights. No one is ever persuaded to change their views over mashed potatoes for instance. It’s more accepted today to do the opposite — everyone talks politics and religions constantly and loudly — but consider the benefits of tactical politeness.

17. Listen to this

I was once an aging hipster who would say things like “I don’t like Taylor Swift,” and I thought such pronouncements made me cool, but the truth was I was insecure. But then the pandemic lockdowns happened, and I listened to her album Folklore repeatedly and was converted. I know it sounds a little like Stockholm Syndrome, but sincerely, I would probably die for Folklore. And that’s not hyperbole. Have you heard it? Sixteen tracks of melancholy power ballads. I nicknamed it Wuthering Heights: The Soundtrack.

I know Swift produces perfectly crafted pop cruise missiles that are objectively enjoyable, at best tomorrow’s classic rock cliches, at worst, little amuse bouches for the ear that are instantly forgettable. But then there’s Folklore, haunting and buoyant. Eternal. I think you should give it a listen if you haven’t; it’s like hanging out with ghosts you love.

18. Face time

Old dogs can learn new tricks. This is one of my mantras. For instance, I bought hydrating gel the other day for my dry skin, and you know what? I glow now. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from TikTok, it’s to embrace a regular nighttime beauty routine. Taking care of my beautiful face is self-care. I know many people know this, but I didn’t. I wish someone had told me sooner that there’s no wrong way to scrub and soothe your mug. Start simple: buy a cleanser and a moisturizer. Have you ever tried a Korean sheet mask? I have!

RELATED: The Best Skincare Routine Order For Healthy, Glowing Skin

19. Play a game of cribbage

The unofficial game of the U.S. submarine fleet is cribbage, a unique little board game that is portable and addictive once you get into it. Nail-biting is another word to describe the gameplay. Cribbage was invented 300 years ago in England and has been beloved by sailors, cowboys, and other men hungry for entertainment in remote places. There are cards and pegs, and you must be good at counting. There are weird words to learn, too, like nibs and nobs and muggins. To win, you have to use strategy and screw over your opponent. It’s fun.

20. Apply this miracle cure

Do you have a tub of Vicks VapoRub? Because you should. My Mexican-American mom swears by this stuff — if you’re sick, slather your feet in this 118-year-old mentholated ointment and wear socks. I swear it will help. Vicks VapoRub cures all sorts of ills: headaches, backaches, stuffy noses. You will smell like a giant cough drop, but your body will be wrapped in tingly, eye-watering warmth.

21. Buy the right tool

Do you have a Leatherman? I do. I bought a Leatherman Skeletool 7-in-1 model. Seven tools! I have never used my Leatherman but, dammit, one day I will. Having a Leatherman is 51% of being a survivalist; the other 49% is knowing things. I wear my Leatherman on my belt like Batman.

22. Pray 

I don’t believe in God, but what do I know? Nothing. And yet, it never hurts to try to talk to the universe every so often. Who knows who’s listening? I usually mutter the famous and grounding Serenity Prayer when I feel like my life is out of control, but I’m also partial to a prayer I wrote many years ago after I woke up on the NYC subway, lost and still blotto. I call it The Drunk’s Prayer, which goes like this: “O Lord, where am I, and how do I get home? Amen.”

23. Mohawk or hockey mask? 

I read recently about tech billionaire Mark Zuckerberg’s $270 million underground bunker, and I thought, “My apartment building’s basement is no place to ride out the end of the world.” Chances are, if you survive armageddon, you’re unlikely to be doing it in a luxury fortress. You’ll probably be roaming the post-apocalyptic wastelands looking for canned food. And out there, the most important question is: mohawk or hockey mask? Which one will you wear as a soldier in an army of mutant biker freaks?

Now is an excellent time to ask yourself such things. It will be a miracle if I last the first 24 hours of a civil war, but I’ll be prepared with costume ideas if I do. First, I’m Team Mohawk. I also want a cape of some kind.

24. Scream into your pillow

Self-explanatory. You don't need anyone's permission to scream into your pillow, but just in case you feel that you do, I, John DeVore, give you permission to scream into your pillow.

25. Do you have fun slippers? 

I never thought I’d miss an office, and I like that feeling, and only that feeling. Missing going into an office makes the memories of dragging my ass into an office every day for decades more bittersweet than they’d otherwise be. I am content to yearn for coffee pods and small talk before standing meetings and printers that never work. But I must work.

Celebrate your freedom from cubicle life with a pair of whimsical slippers you and only you will know you’re wearing while smiling on Zoom. They’re an affordable way to assert your individuality while on the clock. How about timeless hairy Hobbit feet slippers or weird fish ones? You can’t go wrong with a pair of classic bunny slippers. Live a little. Wear them during your next quarterly review. It’ll be our little secret.

26. Take a minute

There’s a movie trope that I’ve always made fun of until I did it. Tell me if you’ve seen this before: our exhausted hero stands over a bathroom sink and splashes cold water on his face before staring into the mirror. This scene happens constantly in movies and TV shows, and every time I say, “Who does this?” Well, I did it before a recent job interview, and it relaxed me, no bullcrap.   

27. Chili and relax

Few things comfort me more thoroughly than making a gigantic pot of largely improvisational chili. Texans raised me, so I know that real chili doesn’t have beans, but chili has no rules. I am a master of Chaos Chili, which has everything I’ve got in the pantry and fridge: meat, beans, whatever veg I have, and lots of spices (I go heavy on the cumin.) And then there are the toppings: scallions, fresh cilantro, Greek yogurt, cheddar cheese, and Fritos. It’s delicious the next day and freezes well. Homemade chili is self-care as well.

28. How to succeed

“The harder I practice, the luckier I get” is a quote attributed to South African golfer Gary Player, and it is also my new success mantra. And now it’s yours.

29. Buy paper maps

I went to Paris for the first time last summer. Yes, the one in France. I’m not a traveler, but I’m glad I went. Here’s what I learned: buy a paper map. An unexpected technical difficulty with my phone led me to navigate the winding streets of the City of Lights with a folding map. We should all use paper maps you can spread out on a table and mark up with a pen.

30. Sit in the park

A recent report from the International Monetary Fund on the effect of AI on the global economy predicts turmoil in the coming years: 40% of jobs could be impacted by these technologies, and that figure could jump to 60% in the US and Europe. The best way to cope with these unprecedented changes is to sit in the park like an old man.

When was the last time you sat on a bench in a park and watched people and clouds float by? It’s nice. History is a tidal wave that wipes us all away, but whispering trees, chirping birds, and the sounds of children laughing in the distance? That’s good stuff. You don’t have to sit in the park for long; treat yourself to a pleasant, restful break, and remember that you have no control over whether or not you will one day be replaced by a robot.

Humans are built for struggle; you will figure out what to do next. Have faith. Look at me: I’ll probably be replaced by an A.I. at the end of this article, but I will keep writing until then.

34 Tips For Surviving Right NowPHOTO: wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock

31. Order a milkshake

I have been laid off six times. I wish I weren’t an expert in getting laid off. Still, I am, and my advice is simple: the whole process is dehumanizing and traumatic, so nod politely as the HR person talks to you. I wouldn’t sign any paperwork right then and there; it can wait until the next day. Instead, get some fresh air. Then buy yourself a milkshake. A McFlurry? Blizzard? A good old-fashioned diner malted? Chocolate is the gold standard, but I’m a vanilla person.

32. Stock up on DVDs

The movies and TV shows you buy on Amazon or Apple aren’t yours; these platforms have licensing agreements that can end or be sold, and your beloved digital copy of Bob Fosse’s cynical song-and-dance hallucination All That Jazz from 1979 can go poof! The entire streaming economy is fickle, and the studios and platforms have little regard for their content… or what you think you own. The only 100% sure way to ensure you can always watch Michael Mann’s 1995 heist classic Heat or the 2002 post-apocalyptic man versus dragon flop Reign of Fire is to own them on DVD. This is called “survival.”

33. Stock up on snacks

I’m no doomsday prepper, but I store cans of sardines, a tasty, versatile, portable, easy-to-eat protein packed with Omega-3 fatty acids, which I’m told are very good for you. They’re part of any complete go-bag (see survival tip #13.) We live in a Golden Age of tinned seafood. Check out Patagonia or FishWife. These high-end brands sell super tasty sardines, mackerel, and other fish drenched in olive oils. They’re great on crackers, or stirred into pasta, or crumbled atop salads. I recommend eating these tiny fish with chopsticks. It’s what all the foodies do. The sardine is the favorite food of cartoon cats, survivalists, and me.

34. Move it 

There’s a saying that goes, “Dance like no one is watching.” This is well-meaning but flawed advice. Instead, I suggest dancing like the entire world is staring at you. Shake your proverbial money maker for all to see right there in the privacy of your living room. Be Paula Abdul. Be Chita Rivera. Be Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing. Mosh, pirouette, pop, and lock. Do the Macarena. You’re awesome. You’re a star. Play something upbeat (not Folklore), play it loud, and get funky in your underwear. Hear the applause. Feel it. They love you. You’re loveable.

RELATED: 9 Tiny Ways To Instantly Create Extra Happiness In Your Life

John DeVore is a two-time James Beard award-winning writer and editor. He's written for Esquire, Food and Wine, and Vanity Fair, to name a few. His debut memoir, Theatre Kids, is now available for preorder. 

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.