Even for those of us who have long struggled with anxiety and have evolved some coping mechanisms to help us regulate the way we feel, being in public can make it more difficult to control our feelings of worry.
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We may discover that we are unable to use some of our current coping mechanisms when we are out in public because we are unable to control our environment to the same degree as we can when we are at home. This is because we are more likely to experience higher levels of anxiety.
After all, we are around more people and possibly in unfamiliar locations. Additionally, we are less likely to possess items that we can utilize as distractions.
SET UP A PLAN
It can be a huge relief to know where we’re going, how to get there, and how our schedule fits in. We may feel more in charge as a result. To avoid having to make snap decisions while we’re out in public and to lessen the likelihood that we will, sitting down before we go somewhere and planning the order in which we’re doing things can assist.
PROVIDE ENOUGH TIME
Our anxiety might quickly worsen if, while traveling, we find ourselves in a rush and fret about missing a deadline (such as the time the concert doors close, the time we’re meant to be at work, or the train time). Even if we do make it there on time, we’re sure to feel hot, sticky, and uncomfortable when we get there. Additionally, we could worry about sweaty odor, and our hearts will likely be thumping. Planning our route and timing, as well as allowing extra time in case something goes wrong, can help us avoid having to rush.
The way we feel can greatly be affected by our clothing. It’s likely to make us feel more worried if we find ourselves continuously tugging at our clothing because it’s uncomfortably tight or doesn’t fit us quite the way we’d like. We are also prone to feel on edge if something itches us, such as a label, an item of clothing, or shoes that rub in the wrong places. Even if we are required to wear a suit or a uniform, we may still ensure that we have comfortable socks and other clothing on.
AN EXTERNAL “BLANKET”
We might get some strange looks if we walk around in public areas with a blanket wrapped around us. However, someone wearing a really wide scarf or a pullover that is a few sizes too big is not unusual (which can almost double up as a blanket). In addition to wearing these items, we could place them on our lap if we needed to sit down at any time, much like we would with a blanket at home. We may wash them with our preferred fabric conditioner to give them a homey scent for a little extra comfort.
FIDDLE WITH SOMETHING YOU BRING
We may get nervous and unable to sit still when we are anxious. Frequently, we will have twitching in our fingers and be unsure of what to do. Being able to play with something in our pockets can help keep our hands busy, and just having something to hold onto can make us feel more at ease. We may use a plasticine lump, fidget cube, or fidget spinner. Others have objects on their hands, such as spinner rings, or on their wrists, such as elastic bands or bobbles, with which they can play.
It can be busy and boisterous in public settings. We can become more sensitive to noise when we’re stressed, to the point where it practically aches. We could wear headphones and not play anything through them if the ambient noise is excessive. Headphones with noise cancellation can be particularly effective. We may put on a familiar radio show through our headphones for those of us who like the security of routine, while others might prefer podcasts or music. Another benefit of wearing headphones is that they can stop strangers from approaching us and starting a conversation, which many of us worry about when we’re out and about.
We frequently take short, shallow breaths when we are anxious, which might make us feel dizzy and so intensify our anxiety. Having control over our breathing can promote relaxation. There are many various ways to breathe, such as breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth, square breathing, inhaling for four counts, and exhaling for four counts.
GROUNDING IN PRACTICE
Sometimes when we are extremely nervous, we lose track of where we are, which can be disorienting and lead to an upward cycle of anxiety. Observing items that relate to our senses in our environment can help us to center ourselves. We may start by focusing on one item each of our five senses—hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and touching—can detect. When we find it difficult to concentrate, we can chew gum and concentrate on the taste or bring a special scent with us, such as a lavender pillow or perfume.