I have lived with anxiety at varying levels all my life and have a diagnosis of anxious/dependent personality disorder. Although this has improved over recent years, I still get times, such as I’m experiencing now, where my anxiety levels significantly impact my daily life. One of my major ongoing challenges, as is common for people with anxiety, is coping with being outside. I used to need a lot of support from other people to manage this. However, over the last few years, I have learned tools which allow me to be able to get on with my life independently, as best as I can. In recently revisiting these tool, I thought I might share them to hopefully help others in a similar position.
Preparing to go outside
Ask a trusted friend if they can be on standby to be available for a call or text should you find yourself struggling outside. For example, I have a friend who works from home and I know I can send him a message for some encouragement, support or just for a bit of distraction if I find myself getting overwhelmed outside. Having this in place before you leave the house helps to provide reassurance and the sense of not being alone.
Using public transport
Public transport can be very difficult to negotiate when anxious. Finding ways to self-soothe or distract yourself when anxiety runs high can be very helpful. Those that know me will know I travel everywhere with a small stuffed sheep called Lambycat. He has become a permanent lodger in my rucksack since I split with my partner a couple of years ago. He is now my substitute outside support. I am a very tactile person and touch really soothes me. I can easily stick a hand in my rucksack and stroke his ear and it settles me. I don’t care what people think if it helps me to manage a journey without a panic attack then what does it matter!
The item doesn’t have to be a stuffed toy. It could be a favourite scarf or another item of clothing that makes you feel comforted. It could also be a fiddle toy such as a fidget spinner. Mobile phones now come with a huge variety of apps and games and you could equally use one of those to help to calm you and distract you on your journey.
Using things such as these, help to focus the mind on something other than stressors in the external world or on racing inner thoughts.
‘Secret crossing button’
Anxiety can negatively impact our ability to concentrate and make decisions. For myself, this happens when I attempt to cross a major road which is a daunting task when my anxiety is high. Even using crossings can be challenging as I can get overstimulated by watching cars and people and then not see the green man appear or hear the crossing beep.
A few years ago, I discovered that some crossings have a small cone under the button panel. These are designed for blind and or deaf people and it rotates when it’s clear to cross. Its so much easier for me to lower my eyes so I can calm myself and not be overwhelmed by cars and people and concentrate on feeling it start spinning. I make a point of knowing which ones have them in my area and on a high anxiety day, I will use them.
Finding your way around
Google Map mobile app
Finding your way to a new place when you are anxious can be all too overwhelming. Using Google Maps has been a lifesaver for me for several reasons. Using the app makes it so much less stressful to attend appointments in new places, as the map gives me step by step guidance. I can even find familiar places hard to get around in if my anxiety is very high as I can forget where things are. At times of extremely high anxiety, I can find that a familiar place just drops out of my mind, like an inner map has been deleted. I can see where I am, and I can visualise the place I want to get to but for some reason, I cannot work out how to get there. Google map has saved me from a huge panic so many times with this. Additionally, I like the ‘time to get there’ feature which can be changed from transport to walking. This is really useful as knowing how much time I have to reach my destination makes me feel reassured and calmer.
Coping in crowded places
Anxiety can make it very hard to be around people, due to the noise and the crowds and the worry that someone might speak to you. I carry around headphones, but mostly for things other than listening to music. Listing to music on public transport can be soothing but I find that listening to music whilst walking actually makes me more anxious and paranoid. I worry that I won’t hear someone speak to me or creep up on me. However, having headphones in my ears without music dulls the outside noise enough to make the sounds less intense. Also, they serve as a signal for people to not talk to me when I am too anxious to make conversation.
Meditation is such a powerful tool in dealing with anxiety. Developing a daily practice helps to train you into the habit of being able to quieten your mind and calm yourself down in times of high anxiety. Learning to meditate has been a huge turning point in learning to live with my anxiety and managing to function on a daily basis. There are lots of wonderful apps to help you to learn and to use on the go. My favorite is Buddify as it has meditations of various lengths for various situations, such as coping with difficult emotions and crowded places.
Having someone safe to retreat is vital. I make a point of knowing a few places where I feel safe and comfortable such as a café, local library or local park. Even a familiar public toilet can be useful, just to have a private space to sit for a moment and calm down before venturing back outside.
Importantly, if you have tried everything you can, and the anxiety is just too much, don’t beat yourself up if you need to get home. You have done amazingly well to get out of the house in the first place so congratulate yourself and then try again another day. Dealing with mental health is difficult and exhausting. Any steps, even the ones that seem tiny, are actually giant leaps forward. Its all about progress, not perfection.
I hope these are helpful to you. I have also made a video about anxiety to accompany this blog. If you would like at add any hacks, tips or advice that you find helpful I would love to hear them!