Being in public can make it much harder to manage our levels of anxiety even for those of us who’ve struggled with anxiety for a long time and have developed some coping strategies to help us to manage the way we feel.
When we’re in public, not only are we likely to have higher levels of anxiety due to being around more people and potentially in less-familiar places, but we might also find that we can’t use some of our existing coping strategies because we’re not able to control our environment to the same extent that we can at home. We’re also less likely to have things that we can use to distract ourselves.
1. Have A Plan
Having an idea of where we’re heading, how we get there, and where our timings fit in can be a great source of relief. It can help us to feel more in control. Sitting down before we go somewhere and working out the order in which we’re doing things can help to prevent us from having to make sudden decisions when we’re out in public, which can help to reduce the number of panic-filled situations that we might encounter.
2. Allow Enough Time
If we’re heading somewhere and all of a sudden we have to rush and we worry about missing a deadline (such as the time doors close for a concert, the time we’re supposed to be in work, or the train time) then our anxiety can escalate very, very quickly. Even if we do manage to get to the place on time then we’re likely to arrive feeling hot, sweaty and uncomfortable. We might also worry about smelling of sweat and our heart will probably be pounding. Making a plan of where we’re going and when, and then adding in contingency time in case things go wrong can help to prevent us from having to rush.
3. Wear Comfy Clothes
Comfy clothes can make a big difference in how we feel. If we find ourselves constantly pulling at our outfit because it’s uncomfortable or doesn’t quite fit us as we’d like it to, it’s likely to increase how anxious we feel. Having a label that’s scratching us, an itchy piece of material or shoes that rub in all the wrong places are also things that are likely to make us feel on edge. Even if we can’t choose all of our clothes because we have to wear a suit or a uniform, we can still make sure that we have comfortable socks and such, on.
4. An Outside ‘Blanket’
Walking around in public spaces with a blanket wrapped around us might result in some funny looks. However, there isn’t anything out of the ordinary about someone wearing a jumper that’s a few sizes too big, or a really wide scarf (which can almost double up as a blanket). As well as wearing these items, if we need to sit down at any point we could pop them on our lap, as we would with a blanket at home. For a bit of added familiarity, we could wash them in our favourite fabric conditioner so that they smell like home.
5. Take Something To Fiddle With
Anxiety can leave us feeling jittery and unable to stay still. Often our fingers will feel twitchy and we won’t know what to do with ourselves. Having something in our pockets that we can fiddle with can help to occupy our hands, and the very act of having that to grip onto can help us to calm down. We could have a fidget spinner, fidget cube or a lump of plasticine. Some people also have things on their wrists they can fiddle with like elastic bands or bobbles, or things on their hands such as spinner rings.
6. Wear Headphones
Public places can be noisy and busy. When we’re anxious, we can be more sensitive to noise and it can reach the point where it almost physically hurts. If the noise of a place is far too much, we could wear headphones and not play anything through them. Noise-cancelling headphones can work especially well. For those of us who prefer the comfort of routine, we could play a familiar radio show through our headphones or others might prefer podcasts or music. Another advantage of wearing headphones is that it can prevent people we don’t know from coming up and speaking to us – something that many of us worry about when we’re out and about.
7. Take Distractions
Although we have to be careful not to crash into a lamppost if we’re walking down the street looking at our phone, flicking through social media can be a great way to distract us from the world around us. If we’re on public transport, we could read a book, do some puzzles or even bring a portable craft like crochet to keep us busy. Having something to focus on other than the unfamiliarity and inconsistency of the world around us can help to keep our anxiety at bay.
When we panic, we often breathe quick, shallow breaths which can lead to us feeling dizzy which consequently escalates our panic. Controlling our breathing can help us to calm down. There are loads of different breathing techniques including breathing in through our nose and out through our mouth, square breathing, and breathing in for a count of four and out for a count of four.
9. Practice Grounding
When we’re super-anxious, sometimes we lose touch with where we are which can be disorientating and can send us on an increasingly anxious spiral. In order to ground ourselves, it can be helpful to notice things around us that relate to our senses. We could start by noticing one thing we can hear, one we can see, one we can smell, one we can taste, and one we can touch. If we’re struggling to focus, we could chew chewing gum and focus on the sensation of that, or bring a particular smell with us in the form of perfume or something like a lavender pillow.
10. Have A Mantra
Repeating the same mantra over and over again can help us to stay calm. We could either repeat it in our head, tap it out on our body, or say it quietly to ourselves as we’re walking along. A mantra with a sense of rhythm can be particularly helpful, such as ‘I’m safe, I’m okay’. Chanting it to the time of our footsteps as we’re walking along can help us to feel connected.
11. Lean On Someone
There’s absolutely no shame in asking someone to go with us when we go somewhere, especially if it’s somewhere that we’ve never been before. Moral support can be invaluable. If we’re not able to find anyone who can accompany us, we could arrange to talk to someone on the phone while we’re out or to text them as we’re walking around. Having someone at the end of the phone, or by our side, who we can call on in moments of panic and who knows where we are and what we’re doing can help us to feel safer and more secure.
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