Are you terrified? Of course you’re terrified. Anyone who claims they aren’t scared in 2016 is either not paying attention or naively optimistic.

End of the World

Seventy-five years ago, President Franklin Roosevelt told a nervous nation that the only thing they had to fear was fear itself. But that was in 1933, in a world where you could walk into a movie theater, or airport, or mall, or church, or school, or concert hall, and be reasonably confident that a crazy person wasn’t going to shoot you or blow you up.

This was before global warming was a thing, and tsunamis and sharks and flesh-eating bacteria weren’t something you thought about every time you went to the beach, and STDs didn’t come with the prefix “Super,” and you only had to worry about earthquakes if you were in California, certainly not in the freaking middle of the country.

As a country, we’ve got what the New York Times called “a gnawing sense of dread.” That dread is relatively new. A 2001 Gallup poll conducted seven months before the 9/11 attacks found that that Americans’ biggest fear—at a whopping 51 percent— was snakes.

We were also freaked out by the idea of speaking in public (40 percent) and heights (36 percent). Those were the most terrifying things we could collectively imagine in early 2001. 18 percent of us were afraid of plane travel, but everything else on our national fear list—dogs, the dark, needles, and lightning—sound like something that only worries prepubescent kids.

Compare that with Chapman University’s survey of “American Fears,” conducted last year, which reads less like irrational paranoia and more like a tickertape of the evening news.

Our shared fears include terrorist attacks (44.4 percent), bio-warfare (40.9 percent), economic collapse (39.2 percent), pandemics (34.3 percent), and nuclear attack (33.6 percent). Those are just the marquee names in our fear roll call.

We’re also scared of illegal immigration, earthquakes, drunk drivers, floods, hurricanes, blizzards, Ponzi schemes, mass shootings, police brutality, kidnappings, hate crimes, getting murdered by someone you know, ghosts, vaccines, clowns, and robots.

At least some of that anxiety is justified. The world has become more dangerous. But the problem isn’t the deadly threats lurking behind every corner; the problem is when we let our fears control and paralyze us.

“When you came to the office today, you probably crossed a road, right?” asks Alon Stivi, a California-based security expert who’s provided personal security for Warren Buffett and Arnold Schwarzenegger. “Before you crossed, you looked left and right, just to make sure there wasn’t a car coming. You don’t feel paranoid or stressed about needing to do that.” We’re not afraid of cars, he says. We’ve just learned to be aware of them, to not leap into traffic and then be surprised when we’re run over.

“200 years ago, there were no cars,” Stivi continues. “We looked for mountain lions.”

The best way to protect yourself from mountain lions isn’t by pretending mountain lions don’t exist, or hiding under your bed and refusing to leave your house, because what if there are mountain lions outside? If you live in a place where people are eaten by mountain lions, you just learn to pay attention. Not live in fear of lions, but look for lions like most of us look for cars.

Roosevelt was halfway right when he said the only thing to fear was fear itself. The only thing we have to fear is being too afraid, and not having a reasonable game plan for the actual dangers.

Let’s take a closer look at the things that scare us in 2016—some of which we’re justified in fearing, and some of which are boogeymen that exist only in our imaginations. We’ll separate the proverbial mountain lions from the fictional chupacabras, and help you be prepared without the paranoia.


plane crash

The Fear:

Flying is the safest way to travel. You know that. Everybody knows that. It’s drilled into our heads constantly. There isn’t a safety expert out there who says, “Only an idiot with a death wish would get on an airplane.”

But sometimes when we’re on a flight that hits rough turbulence, we’ll peek outside that little oval window and half-expect to see the ground spiraling towards us, or for the pilot to make a somber announcement over the intercom, “Please brace yourself for the gruesome inevitability of burning metal and melting flesh.”

The Reality:

The statistics are on your side. Your odds of dying on a commercial plane are one in 90 million. That means you’d have to fly every day for the next 250,000 years before you got on a flight that went down.

2015 was by far the safest in aviation history, with only four accidental crashes and 136 deaths worldwide. More people die every year from falling out of bed, according to the Center for Disease Control, than die in planes. 450 people left this mortal coil last year because they couldn’t make the transition from horizontal to vertical, but nobody died in the U.S. because they got on a doomed commercial airline.

But that knowledge probably doesn’t make you rest any easier. There are no videos of people falling out of bed on YouTube that will haunt your nightmares. But do a search for “plane crash,” and you’ll never sleep again.

What You Can Do:

Theories abound that the best way to survive a crash all comes down to seat placement. Boeing’s website promises that “one seat is as safe as another,” but Popular Mechanics magazine investigated every plane crash since 1971 and found that the back of the plane (behind the wings) were slightly safer, with a 68 percent survival rate, than the front, where just 49 percent of passengers survived a crash.

The best seats however are probably in the middle, right over the wing. Not because it’s a better location for a crash, but because that’s where passengers experience the least turbulence. “That’s the point where the airplane pivots, like a seesaw,” says Ron Nielsen, a retired commercial airline pilot who teaches workshops on overcoming flying anxiety. “The wings take a lot of shock out of the turbulence.”

Regardless of where you sit, Nielsen says the best safety precaution is to keep your seatbelt fastened. It probably won’t save you in a crash, especially if your plane disintegrates on contact. But it will protect you from violent turbulence.

According to the FAA, there have been 298 serious turbulence injuries since 1980, and three fatalities. That may not sound like much, but three people died because they were on a bumpy plane? What in the actual hell? That’s like dying on the bumper cars at a carnival. There is no stupider way to expire.


Mushroom copy

The Fear:

The Cold Water has been over for decades, but Russian president Vladimir Putin looks and acts like a James Bond villain, and Moscow is rumored to be developing drone submarines that can shoot nuclear missiles at the U.S. Igor Ivanov, Russia’s former foreign minister, predicted that the likelihood of an all-out nuclear shit show (we’re paraphrasing) “is higher than in the 1980s.” Fantastic! If you need us, we’ll be hiding under a school desk.

The Reality:

In a recent poll of fifty global security experts, they predicted a 6.8 percent probability that there’ll be a major, catastrophic nuclear conflict in the next twenty-five years, killing more people than the entire death toll of World War II. So we’re talking in the ballpark of 80,000,000 radioactive corpses.

The million-dollar question is where. Somewhere in the Middle East is the most likely ground zero for a nuclear showdown. According to the poll, there’s a 9 percent chance that the India/Pakistan hostilities will have a nuclear outcome.

But don’t count out Russia or the good ol’ U.S. of A. They’ve got the biggest European arsenal, with around 1780 nuclear weapons at the ready, and the U.S. is holding on to roughly 1900, according to the Federation of American Scientists. Could we be heading to a U.S.-Russia nuclear holocaust? “Sure,” says Seth D. Baum, Ph.D. an Executive Director at the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute

The power struggle over who gets to occupy the Ukraine isn’t helping. “How do you think we would have reacted if the Soviet Union won the Cold War and then tried annexing Canada or Mexico?” Baum says. “As long as they feel cornered, we need to worry about their rather large nuclear arsenal.”

What You Can Do:

Not a damn thing, other than vote for politicians with the sanest foreign policies. You can also give yourself the illusion of control, like finding a place to live that’s least likely to be a nuclear target.

“The safest place in the world from nuclear war is New Zealand,” says Baum. “As an island country in the southern hemisphere, they will be largely spared from the ‘nuclear winter’ that would follow any moderately large nuclear war.” But you’re not really going to move to New Zealand, are you? We didn’t think so.

Take a tip from those of us who survived the Cold War. The best defense against nuclear Armageddon is to not think about it constantly. If somebody brings it up, just furrow your brow and mutter, “Yeah, that’s a bad situation.” Then immediately change the subject.



The Fear:

“What a lovely day! Not a cloud in the sky. Wait, what’s that up there? It almost looks like… is that the moon? No, it’s getting bigger. Really big. I wonder if I should call somebody about….” Aaaaaand you’re dead.

The Reality:

First, the bad news. A small meteorite, maybe the size of a chair, hits our planet “roughly once a month,” says Phil Plait, an astronomer and author of Death from the Skies!: The Science Behind the End of the World. “You could go a year without one, or get four in a week. It’s all random.”

Bigger cosmic debris falls into our atmosphere as well, like the “Chelyabinsk meteor” that exploded over central Russia in 2013 with a force almost thirty times greater than the Hiroshima bomb. “That one was sixty feet, about the size of a small house,” says Plait. “Something that big is pretty rare. It only happens maybe once every hundred years.”

Here’s the good news. Despite many rumors and wild claims, a meteorite has hit only one person in recorded history. In 1954, Ann Hodges was taking a couch nap in her Alabama home when a meteorite—8.5 pounds moving at approximately 60 miles per hour—ripped through her roof and slammed into her hip. She survived with an insane bruise and bragging rights.

What You Can Do:

Nothing. You’re not going to be hit by a meteorite. Okay, you might be. It’s statistically possible. But it’s not like anybody has ever been killed or even hurt by a falling meteorite because they weren’t paying attention.

The scary truth is, we really don’t know all that much about what’s hurtling towards our planet from space. “You would need six to a dozen huge telescopes dedicated to monitoring the skies all the time,” says Plait. That’s not happening, he says, because it’s way too expensive. NASA only monitors falling space objects “that are roughly 140 feet across, and they only find maybe 95 percent of those,” he says.

Basically, our first warning that something big and heavy is about to hit the earth is somebody looking up at the sky and saying, “Hey, what’s that?” And then hopefully getting out of the way in time.

What’s in our favor is the vastness of our planet. “The earth is a huge target, and people occupy a very small part of it,” says Plait. We’re living on a big rock that’s 196.9 million miles squared. That’s a lot of real estate. If a meteorite hits you, you’re either profoundly unlucky or the universe had it in for you.



The Fear:

The glaciers are melting. Record-setting heat waves have become commonplace. It’s so dry in California, taking a shower or watering your lawn can get you fined. There are more wildfires, more (and stronger) hurricanes, and more assholes in wife beater tank tops saying, “Hot enough for you?” Is it too late? Are we all doomed? It sure feels like it.

The Reality:

Between the time we’ve written this and when you’re reading it, the predictions about climate change have probably gotten more dire. All but one of the sixteen hottest years in NASA’s 134-year record have happened in the past fifteen years.

Former NASA climatologist James Hansen claimed that sea levels are rising ten times faster than previously predicted, and the late Australian microbiologist Frank Fenner thinks we’ll all be dead because of climate change by 2100.

Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich says we’re experiencing global climate events that “could easily, easily ruin the lives of everybody on the planet.” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy calls climate change “the greatest threat of our time.”

We could go on and on with the quotes, but let’s keep it simple. 97 percent of climate scientists who don’t take advice from their pastors agree: Global warming is real, and we’re completely fucked.

What You Can Do:

There’s plenty you can do to fight climate change. You can power your home with renewable energy, eat less meat, buy energy-efficient light bulbs, and drive a hybrid car. Will it make a difference in the long run? Maybe, maybe not. You won’t be around to see. Global warming might very well kill your children, or your grandchildren. But it probably won’t happen fast enough to kill you.

Here’s something that will kill you: Heart attacks caused by arguing with global warming deniers.

A 2015 Australian study of 313 heart attack patients found that a cardiac episode was 8.5 times more likely to happen two hours after feelings of intense anger, involving everything from “clenching fists or teeth” to “throwing objects.” 42 percent of study participants claimed their anger resulted from an argument, like you might have with a friend or family member explaining to you why global warming is a myth.

Want to live long enough to see if global warming can be reversed? Don’t argue with people who say things like “CO2 in the air mostly from volcanoes” or “They can’t even predict the weather next week, how can they predict it a hundred years from now?”


mass shootingd

The Fear:

That quiet guy at the office who always seems so stressed out? Hopefully you remembered to say “hello” to him at least once, or show him even a modicum of kindness. It’s only a matter of time before he comes to work with a machine gun and murders everybody on his enemies list.

The Reality:

How quickly mass shootings went from shocking to commonplace. According to a 2014 FBI report, there have been one hundred and sixty “active shooter incidents” over the past fourteen years, with an average of eleven per year, spanning forty U.S. states.

The numbers aren’t especially comforting if you’re looking for recurring patterns to help you avoid becoming a victim. The shootings happen seemingly everywhere, with 70 percent occurring in either a business or school. Anyplace you feel safe, or never think twice about visiting as part of your regular routine, could erupt in gunfire at any moment.

The only commonality is that shooters are predominately Caucasian and male, at least in this country. So, just avoid white guys and you should be fine.

What You Can Do:

The best defense is an active offense, says Alon Stivi. “Nobody has ever survived an active shooter by ducking under a desk or a table.”

If we’re not talking about terrorists looking for mass casualties, active shooters have a hit list. “They are looking to kill specific people,” Stivi says. “And guess where they find them when everybody is on a lockdown? Exactly where they were expected to be.”

If you’re in a building that’s being attacked by a gun-wielding maniac, Stivi recommends not hiding and waiting for help to arrive. “The majority of deaths happen in the first five, ten minutes, before the police can arrive,” he says.

If you can’t get out, either through the exits or crawling out a window, Stivi suggests waiting next to the door, ready to attack anybody who enters. An active shooter is essentially a horse with blinders, he says, which makes them vulnerable “to anything that moves from the side, from behind, from above, or from below. If you or a group of people are waiting on either side of the door, he won’t be expecting that.”



The Fear:

You’re at a bar, and you strike up a conversation with a beautiful woman you’ve just met. Everything’s going well, until you black out. When you come to, you’re sitting in a bathtub filled with ice, and there’s a crudely stitched scar on your back. Looks like your kidneys have been harvested by organ thieves. And son of a bitch, they also got your Rolex watch!

The Reality:

This is both ridiculous and kind of plausible. Black market kidneys are a real thing. The World Health Organization estimates that roughly one fifth of the 70,000 kidneys transplants performed every year across the globe were illegally purchased. But that doesn’t mean they were illegally stolen as well.

In fact, every kidney on the black market was bought and paid for, says Benjamin Radford, a deputy editor at The Skeptical Inquirer magazine and author of Hoaxes, Myths, and Manias: Why We Need Critical Thinking. “People, usually in third world countries, are more than willing to sell their kidneys,” he says.

That said, men are sometimes roofied by hot women with sinister motives. It happens enough that the U.S. State Department warns overseas travelers about “overly friendly locals” whose “ruse may be to offer drugged refreshments.”

It happens just as much at home, from New York to Florida. Earlier this year, the Hollywood, Florida police department issued a warning to men on their Facebook page: “Girls spike guys’ drinks and steal their Rolex watches.”

Radford has heard all kinds of weird stories about the ways women secretly drug men to steal their valuables. “There are apparently buxom strippers who will encourage a horny gentleman to lick her breasts, because of course who wouldn’t, right? You’ve had a couple beers, you’re with your friends in Ecuador or Cancun or whatever, and you take a little lick on this stripper’s breast. All of a sudden, the room is spinning, and when you wake up later all of your stuff is gone.”

What You Can Do:

Practice a little discretion. If you’re wearing a watch that costs more than a year’s college tuition, maybe don’t accept drinks from strange women, or at least keep an attentive eye on your cocktail.

If you’re visiting a Third World country and it’s after midnight, maybe it’s not the best time to make new friends. Lastly, as a general rule, maybe you don’t put your mouth on a stripper’s boob. (Even though Radford has his doubts about this particular yarn. “If she’s got such a powerful sedative on her breasts or nipples, wouldn’t it be absorbed through the skin?” he asks. “Shouldn’t it knock her out too?”)

There is a silver lining. “If some strange woman does slip you a mickey,” says Radford, “at least you know that you’ll definitely wake up with your kidney intact.”



The Fear:

There are so many mixed messages out there. Jim Cramer, host of CNBC’s Mad Money, insists that an S&P 500 index fund is a smart investment. “The stock market has been the most wonderful wealth creator in history,” he says. But then you scroll through the financial news and see scary headlines like “Stock market plummets” and “Dow closes down nearly 400 points.”

Economist Andrew Smithers thinks “U.S. stocks are now about 80 percent overvalued,” and even the Royal Bank of Scotland has warned their own investors that 2016 will be a “cataclysmic” year for markets. Mark Spitznagel, a hedge fund manager for Universa Investments and author of The Dao of Capital, predicts that we’re heading into “a catastrophic deflationary crash. Think 2008 all over again, only worse.”

The Reality:

The stock market isn’t going to ruin you financially. (Unless your entire nest egg is invested in stocks. In which case, you might want to put down this magazine and call your accountant.) If you wake up penniless tomorrow, it won’t be because you made the wrong stock market investments. It’ll be because you don’t have enough (or any) emergency savings.

A 2015 report by the Federal Reserve found that 65 percent of Americans felt pretty good about their income, claiming they were “living comfortably” or “doing ok.” But 47 percent of them would be screwed if faced with an emergency costing more than $400. (Their solution? Borrow some money or sell something. Sounds like an airtight strategy, Rockefeller!)

A survey published earlier this year by financing site discovered that 63 percent of Americans have more credit card debt than emergency savings. In fact, 29 percent don’t have any emergency savings at all.

What You Can Do:

Start a savings account, for the love of god. Even a few dollars every week will make a difference in the long run.

If that doesn’t have the romance and excitement of investing, here’s an investment strategy recommended by Mark Cuban, the Shark Tank star and billionaire owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks: Pay off your credit card debt. Wait, that doesn’t sound like investing? It is, actually. “You will have just earned the amount of interest you would have paid,” Cuban says. That’s guaranteed profit, unlike those stocks you’re hoping will make you independently wealthy.

Spitznagel advises against investing in “any risky things that seem to make a nice short term yield like stocks. Instead, own things that don’t yield anything, like cash or, better yet, gold and silver.”

For many of us, investing in gold seems like the financial strategy of people who live in remote cabins and own a lot of weapons. “I’m not saying put everything you have in gold bars and bury it in the back woods,” Spitznagel says. “Maybe try a third or so of your assets in precious metals, the rest in cash.”

Why cash? Because when the next financial collapse comes—and he and many others insist that it will— “everything, and I mean everything, will get much, much cheaper,” he says. “There will be investing opportunities around the corner that come along once a generation, and they’ll be available only to those who have the patience to wait for them.”


black plague

The Fear:

This summer it’s the Zika Virus. In 2014, it was the Ebola virus. During the 80s and 90s, it was HIV/AIDS. There have been so many viruses—SARS, West Nile, MERS—that all seemed to have the potential to become the next pandemic. So far, there hasn’t been an outbreak to rival the original Black Death—the Bubonic plague that killed over 25 million people during the 14th century—or the Spanish Flu of 1918, which infected half the world’s population and killed about 100 million.

But it could be only a matter of time before doctors start wearing spooky beak masks again like they did during Plague times, and you realize that the majority of your Facebook friends have died in the last 48 hours, and you can’t get on a plane without wondering if that guy three rows ahead of you who just coughed is going to be the one who kills you.

The Reality:

The next Black Death is coming, it’s just a matter of when. In a 2006 survey of epidemiologists, 90 percent of them predicted that a major pandemic will—not could, will—happen in the next two generations, infecting one billion and killing up to 165 million.

“Over the past fifty years, we’ve had over 150 new pathogens newly emerge or re-emerge from other places,” says Sonia Shah, a science journalist and author of Pandemic: Tracking Contagions from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond. “It’s a global phenomenon of pathogens on the move.”

The virus that wipes out humanity could be literally anything. Maybe even the original Black Death. A study published by The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene reports that there have been 21,725 cases of the plague globally since 2000, and 1,612 deaths. Most recently, a high school quarterback in Colorado was bitten by a plague-carrying flea, and died just a day after his 16th birthday.

What You Can Do:

You’re not as helpless as you think. “These things only spread through human behaviors,” says Shah. “We don’t know much about how Zika makes you sick, but we know it’s carried by mosquitos and transmitted through sex.”

It’s what all potential pandemics have in common: They don’t move around independently. “They’re not going to go anywhere unless we do something,” she says. “We know how they’re transmitted, so we can change our behavior, we can change the way we live.”

It’s the unpopular answer. We want antidotes and easy cures, not preventative lifestyle changes. “It’s very easy to avoid HIV,” Shah says. “Well, it’s technically easy. Culturally, politically, economically, then it gets murky. But technically, we know what to do to not get HIV.”

You don’t get HIV, or Ebola, or Zika just by opening a window in your house and breathing the wrong air. Viruses don’t seek you out; you’ve at least participated in getting an infection.

“A lot of the reason we panic is the false expectation that we should live in a world that is free of infection,” says Shah. “We live in a microbial world, and medicine is not going to save us.”

Changing your behavior might not save you either. But Zika is going to have a harder time touching you if you’re slathered in mosquito repellent.



The Fear:

This isn’t just about John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer and professional clown who murdered 33 people during the 70s. Clowns with ominous intentions have become more prevalent in recent years. Since 2013, when the “Northampton Clown” became a social media sensation for making random appearances across the small England town, clowns have become a global menace. They’ve been spotted roaming throughout Italy, Spain, and especially France, where clowns don’t just rely on their inherent creepiness but also terrorize people with axes and knives.

In the U.S., hostile clowns have turned up everywhere from Waukesha, Wisconsin to Albuquerque, New Mexico, Bakersfield, California to Naples, Florida. They’ve occasionally been photographed with weapons— baseball bats, machetes, and even guns—and have been involved in petty crimes like stealing bicycles and following children to school.

But the scariest clowns are the ones who don’t do much of anything, who frighten us just by existing and having vague intentions. Last summer, a clown scaled the 7-foot gate of a private Chicago cemetery at night, and when bystanders took a cellphone video of him, he just waved.

The Reality:

There are two types of non-circus clowns who stand creepily on street corners with balloons or weapons. One, they’re teenagers with fragile egos who want your attention. Or two, they’re performance artists with a lot of big conceptual ideas who want your attention.

The former are more common, but the latter are considerably more annoying. Take Brian Andrew Whiteley, a Brooklyn based artist who created the Chicago graveyard clown.

“The concept fit perfectly with my practice where I place characters out of context, provoking the most exaggerated results,” he told us. “As simple of a gesture as placing a clown in a cemetery is, it is the documentation and fabricated narrative that drives the sightings the most.” Who knew a clown could be such a fucking pretentious prick?

What You Can Do:

If you encounter a clown and you’re not in a circus setting, you have two self-defense options. You can ask the clown for his Instagram account or Twitter handle, because wow is he going to be huge on the Internet, and the girls at school will finally start noticing him.

Or if he seems especially smug, you can point out that his work is a little derivative and self-consciously quirky, and while you respect his attempts to create a challenging, multi-dimensional living art vignette that explores contemporary fear, perhaps he should consider a different creative milieu.

Unless you’re in France. If you encounter a French clown, who may or may not be holding a chain saw—it’s happened!—start running and keep running.


sharks and bees

The Fear:

We’ve always been a little uneasy about bees and sharks. They’re the assholes of the animal kingdom. What’s up with all the stinging and biting? But over the last decade, they’ve upped their game.

It’s not just regular bees we have to worry about anymore, it’s killer bees. They’re already in most southern U.S. states—from California to Florida—and in recent years they’ve been moving north.

They’re also super aggressive—one might even describe them as moody bastards. In 2014, around 800,000 killer bees attacked and killed a gardener in Arizona because they didn’t like the sound of his lawnmower.

As for sharks, there have been 98 unprovoked attacks worldwide last year, the highest on record. Even scarier than the numbers are the people who’ve been bitten by sharks and decide to share the experience on social media, like the Hawaii spear fisherman who lost a chunk of his leg to a 13-foot tiger shark and then posted a video of his bleeding leg to Instagram.

The Reality:

Despite their name, killer bees—a mix of African and European honeybees—don’t actually kill. Their venom isn’t more powerful or toxic than a regular honeybee. The difference is all in their attitude.

“They have bad tempers,” says Joshua Kohn, Ph.D. a professor of biology at UC San Diego. “If they feel threatened, more of them come out and they attack for longer.”

Think of it this way: Killer bees aren’t cyborg assassins. They’re not the Terminator of bees. They’re more like drunk frat guys who are totally ready to fight you, brah! Or, more accurately, like 800,000 drunken assholes, all of who only have enough energy to get one punch in.

Sharks are less aggressive. In fact, despite the high number of attacks last year, only 6 people died because of a hungry shark, according to the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

But that’s only slightly reassuring. It’s a little bit like saying, “Only 6 people were killed by a guy in a hockey mask who broke into their home with a machete.” Only 6? That’s great news. But I’m not so much relieved by the low number of deaths as I am alarmed that guys in hockey masks are breaking into homes with machetes!

What You Can Do:

Killer bees, like the aforementioned drunk frat guys, don’t necessarily attack only when provoked. “Sometimes you’re working with a power tool and some nearby hive feels threatened,” says Kohn.

The key to surviving is to act fast. As in, run inside a building as fast as you can. Don’t lie down or curl up in a ball, and don’t jump into a swimming pool. “They’ll stay mad a lot longer than you can hold your breath,” Kohn says. You’re going to get stung, it’s just a matter of how many times.

The average person can withstand 10 bee stings per pound of body weight, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Sharks are much easier to avoid. Stay out of the water between dusk and dawn, when sharks do most of their hunting, and “leave the bling at home,” says George Burgess, director of shark research at the Florida Museum of Natural History. That means watches, jewelry, rings, or anything made of a metal. The way it reflects off the sun can look very similar to fish scales.

Some people think peeing in the ocean attracts sharks, but that just ain’t true. Despite their reputation, sharks don’t have an especially good sense of smell, especially when it comes to identifying piss.

In 2012, National Geographic hosted a series of shark experiments, one of which involved a deep-sea diver emptying an 8-ounce plastic bottle full of fresh, stinky urine into shark-infested waters.

Total number of researchers who were mauled, eaten, or bitten during the test? Zero. Total number of sharks that even noticed all the piss? Zero.



The Fear:

It’s not like you go out looking for trouble. You just want to socialize with your pals, maybe have a few brews, and not get teargased by cops in riot gear. How hard can that be?

So you pick something innocent and family friendly—like, oh, let’s say a pumpkin festival in New Hampshire. Nothing bad could happen there, right? Certainly no drunken vandalism or Subarus flipped over or public fires or throwing beer cans at police. No way that’s happening at a pumpkin festival.

Unless we’re talking about the 2014 Pumpkin Festival in Keene, New Hampshire. Because that is exactly what happened.

The Reality:

If you find yourself in the middle of a riot in 2016, you likely wanted to be there. You’re protesting oppressive political regimes or marching against police brutality, and you’re well aware that things could turn ugly.

But riots don’t always happen for reasons that make sense the next morning. Riots break out because a favorite sports team was victorious, or a block party was cancelled, or a rock festival is charging $4 for bottled water, or a university decided to fire the football coach who didn’t say anything about the boys being molested in his locker room.

People don’t always need noble justifications to set cars on fire and loot local businesses.

Riots aren’t as deadly as they were back in the 19th century. At the 1863 Draft Riot, more than 120 people were murdered in the streets of Manhattan by protesters pissed off about the Civil War.

Today, being at a riot probably won’t get you killed, but you might end up on the receiving end of tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, or bean bag rounds. And get ready to call your parents later to explain why you need bail money because you were so excited that your favorite football team unexpectedly won a regular season game.

What You Can Do:

If you’ve been somehow drawn into a rampaging mob that you never intended to be a part of, your best defense is to respond like a swimmer caught in a rip tide. Don’t bother fighting against the current, you’ll only be sucked under.

“You need to go with the flow, because that saves you physical energy,” says Tim MacWelch, author of Prepare For Anything Survival Manual and founder of the Advanced Survival Training school in Warrenton, Virginia. “If you can, swim along a diagonal, and try to get towards the edges.”

That’s where you’ll find the “unorthodox exits,” he says. You’re looking to make an “Irish Goodbye”—a hasty retreat from a social function without anybody realizing that you’re leaving.

You’re not getting out of there by being the guy who says, “Excuse me, can I get past you? I’m not a riot guy. Sorry, sorry, if I could just… if you could move out of the way for a second.”

You escape a riot by blending in and following the throng, slowly edging your way towards the outer edges, and then silently and inconspicuously drifting away at the first opportunity.



The Fear:

You’re on a much-needed vacation on an exotic island, feeling relaxed and totally unthreatened. The natives are so friendly and sociable, and they’ve even invited you to be the guest of honor at a private dinner. What an honor! And then the next thing you know, you’re somebody’s poop.

The Reality:

If you like to vacation in New Guinea, or the Fiji or Solomon Islands, then sure, you might encounter a few cannibals. They might even try to eat you, says Carole Travis-Henikoff, author of Dinner With a Cannibal: The Complete History of Mankind’s Oldest Taboo.

Western tourists aren’t regularly eaten by cannibals, but it has happened. Michael C. Rockefeller, son of politician and businessman Nelson Rockefeller, was (allegedly) eaten by Asmat cannibals during a 1961 trip to New Guinea.

You’re not even safe if you stay on U.S. soil. In 2012, a man later dubbed “The Miami Zombie”—who may or may not have been high on a street drug nicknamed “bath salts” (reports vary)—was discovered eating the face of a homeless man on a southern Florida highway. Not just gnawing on it, he literally ate the guy’s face! He chewed and then swallowed the victim’s eyebrows, one of his eyes, his nose, and parts of his forehead and cheek.

What You Can Do:

If you’re planning a trip to a jungle or remote island where people have been known to eat people—check those Yelp reviews, people—then Travis-Henikoff recommends making a detailed and specific itinerary. Vacating with cannibals is not the time to be spontaneous. “Know where you are going,” she says. “A guide is a good idea, unless he’s a cannibal.”

But what about the cannibals in your own neighborhood, who you don’t yet realize are cannibals? Here’s the good news, at least for our male readers. The vast majority of cannibals in recent history are men, and they mostly eat women.

There’s the Italian guy who ate his mom 2013; the Los Angeles chef who cooked his own wife after a fight in 2009; the Indiana gentleman who ate parts of his girlfriend in 2014; the Canadian man who ate a 77-year-old woman in 2013. The examples go on and on. The point is, maybe stop worrying about being eaten, and instead reassure the special woman in your life that you don’t intend to cook and consume her flesh.

Which isn’t to say that men don’t get cannibalized. It just rarely happens by surprise. German cannibal Armin Meiwes put out an Internet ad in 2001, looking for “a well-built 18 to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed.” Here’s a good rule of thumb: If a creepy German man asks to eat you, don’t say yes. Don’t even return his emails. Problem solved!


GRA030 MELILLA, 22/10/2014.- Agentes de Policía junto a algunos de los ochenta inmigrantes que están encaramados desde primera hora a la valla de Melilla, fronteriza con Marruecos, tras el último intento de entrar en la ciudad autonóma protagonizado por varios centenares de subsaharianos, algunos de los cuales, al menos una docena, ha conseguido superar el vallado perimetral. EFE/Francisco G. Guerrero

The Fear:

There are an estimated 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. right now, and presidential contender Donald Trump suggested that they’re “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

He wouldn’t just make up something like that, would he?

How else do you explain “El Chapo” Guzman? He’s Mexican, right? He’s always killing people and then burrowing out of jail. How long until he burrows into the U.S. and starts murdering and raping people with Sean Penn?

Remember last summer, when a Mexican illegal immigrant shot and killed a woman in San Francisco, a city where white people spend $3,000 for one-bedroom apartments? If it can happen to one rich white person in San Francisco, near that place by the water where tourists buy Alcatraz t-shirts, it can happen to any white person anywhere!

The Reality:

“Our research shows that there is no evidence to support claims that immigrants are either more or less likely to commit crimes than anyone else,” says Jessica M. Vaughan, the Director of Policy Studies for the Center for Immigration Studies.

Need more? The American Immigration Council points out that while the number of illegal immigrants jumped from 3.5 million to 11.2 million since 1990, the violent crime rate in the U.S. has dropped in that same time frame by 48 percent—violent crime meaning things like rape, murder, and other behaviors blamed on illegal immigrants.

What You Can Do:

“It’s very difficult to get people to change their minds about this stuff,” says Joseph Uscinski, Ph.D., a political science professor at the University of Miami. “There’s no evidence to suggest that what they believe is true. In fact, when they’re given authoritative information that they’re wrong, not only do they reject it, but they actually double down on their beliefs.”

Uscinski isn’t talking about illegal immigrants. He means the 12 million U.S. citizens who purportedly believe, according to a 2013 Public Policy Polling survey, that intergalactic, shape-shifting lizard people (or “reptilians”) are secretly running our government. 12 million people think this.

What do lizard people have to do with illegal immigrants? “It’s essentially the same anxiety,” says Uscinski. “It comes from the same fear.” Meaning, the fear that our power is being usurped by foreigners who are pretending to be one of us but really want to destroy us.

The next time you read anything about the threat of illegal immigrants, just replace the words “Mexicans” or “immigrants” with “our reptilian overlords.” Sound ridiculous? Yes, it’s ridiculous.



The Fear:

The common denominator in any natural disaster—be it blizzards, hurricanes, floods, or polar vortexes—is panic grocery shopping. The mere possibility that they might be stuck inside their homes for more than 24 hours turns otherwise rational people into terrified food hoarders.

Who can argue with their logic? What if a Snowpocalypse or Snowmageddon lives up to its name, and we’re trapped for months without enough food or booze?

The Reality:

It might happen, but it hasn’t happened yet. The worst disaster-related food shortage was New York’s Blizzard of 2015, which resulted in a citywide kale shortage. At least according to panicky New Yorkers, who shared photos of empty store shelves on social media and bemoaned the “kale-pocalypse.” To the surprise of absolutely nobody, there were zero starvation deaths.

What You Can Do:

Stocking up on pre-disaster provisions isn’t a bad idea, says MacWelch, if only to prevent becoming a victim of price gouging. Don’t be the guy waiting in line for six hours for the food that cost three times as much as it did yesterday.

How much should you have? A week’s worth at most, MacWelch suggests. Focus on foods that don’t require a stove or can be cooked easily.

“And get the high calories stuff,” he says. “Survival is all about calories.” Especially if you’re trying to survive an especially frigid winter. Just 15 minutes in the cold is the metabolic equivalent of a full hour of exercise, according to a study by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Better still, MacWelch recommends a month’s supply. “Think of it as an edible insurance policy,” he says. “We have insurance for our health. We’ve got insurance for our car. We’re got insurance for our home. A backup food supply is just another form of insurance.”

But don’t get too ambitious, he says. A year’s supply is not just difficult to store (unless you have a lot of square footage), but it’s also less mobile.

“If there’s looting and pillaging, or if there’s a hurricane coming and you need to get out of there, there are a lot of people who’ll be tempted to stay and sit on that stockpile,” MacWelch says. “Ironically, a massive food bank could be the reason you don’t make it.

(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the July/August 2016 issue of Men’s Health.)