It’s everyone’s worst nightmare, the blow you think will never happen to you—until suddenly it does. You slowly come out of a fog, you’re lying on your back, dirt is hitting you in the face, and one of your “friends” is doing the shoveling. WTF?

Or you wake up in pitch darkness and realize you’re trapped inside an oblong box, wearing your best clothes. It seems a bit stuffy. You’re claustrophobic, and the first hints of panic are starting to surface. Is this the way you pictured your life?

You may think you’re exempt from this horror, but live burial doesn’t discriminate. It happens to rich and poor, black and white, young and old. The more you prepare for this event, the greater your chances will be of surviving until that magical day when you’re buried appropriately.

As most people know, live burial comes in two main forms—"encapsulated" (inside a coffin or other container) and “natural” (just the body). The latter form has become popular in recent years due to its green appeal. Although either experience is sure to be upsetting, there’s an important difference between the two. If you wake up inside a coffin, there’s a chance they truly believed you were dead. Are you a heavy sleeper? Do you tend to be slothful? Did you recently ingest a drug that causes total paralysis and slows cardiopulmonary function? If you answered yes to any of these questions, try to withhold judgment about what could be an honest mistake.

On the other hand, if you’re not inside a coffin and someone is shoveling dirt on you, they’re probably burying you alive on purpose. (This is especially true if you’re moving around and making noise.) Moments like this can seem like the worst kind of betrayal, and you’ll be tempted to fixate on the act itself. But think back: What could have motivated them to do something like this? In the end, the real issue isn’t that you’re being buried alive. It’s that the relationship has serious problems that should be confronted.

Fixing a relationship comes later, however. For now, you need to focus on saving yourself.

Encapsulated Burial

Let’s say you’re inside a coffin. After trying to sit up and bumping your head (don’t feel embarrassed; everyone does it), you should lie still a few minutes and get your bearings. Keep your breathing slow, and let your heart rate come down to a normal pace. Remind yourself that people have been buried alive for thousands of years and that you are now connected to each and every one of them.

Now, check your pockets and take stock of what resources are available. If you have a cell phone, see if you can get reception. If you get through to a friend, dispense with pleasantries quickly and state the situation calmly and clearly. The newer cell phones have GPS function, which will aid greatly in directing him or her to the right place. If you’re worried about using valuable phone minutes, try texting, but keep it to essentials. HLY SHT BD ALV. GT HLP, BRG SHVL, OXY, BR (NT PBR).

While waiting for rescue, keep breathing slowly to conserve oxygen. There are several exercises you can do to avoid blood clots or to strengthen stomach muscles—try lifting your feet six inches off the bottom of the coffin and holding that position for 10-second intervals. If you can turn over on your stomach, mini-pushups also are possible.

If you have to go to the bathroom, try to hold it, for obvious reasons. Before long … well, there’s no sweeter sound than that shovel, especially when it hits the coffin.

If it turns out you were buried without a cell phone, see if you have a lighter or even some matches. This will allow you to see the dimensions of your coffin and illuminate any blasting caps or pneumatic boring drills that you could use to create a path to the surface.

Natural Burial
(Early Stage)

If you are nude, the dirt can feel surprisingly nice and cool against your skin, but it gets into unusual places. If you can still move your arms and reach your phone, follow the same procedure as mentioned above to contact someone. (Note: It is recommended that you do not phone the person shoveling dirt on you.) Whether you use a phone or not, be aware that once the layer of dirt on you gets up to three inches deep it can be very difficult to move at all. The best way to prevent this is to continuously make “dirt angels,” so space is carved out for arms and legs.

If one of your other friends responds to your phone call and manages to dispatch the jerk who’s burying you, don’t ruin the moment by falling to pieces and embarrassing them with sobs of gratitude. Simply lie still and hold your breath while your rescuer tremulously calls your name, hoping against hope—then suddenly thrust your hand up through the dirt, grabbing an ankle, like at the end of Carrie. Hilarious.

Natural Burial
(Later Stage)

You’re screwed.