Living with anxiety can be tough, especially when you have to handle anxiety in public. But there are ways to manage this anxiety so you can improve your quality of life. It’s also possible for this anxiety diminish over time when you find the right ways to manage it.
What Is Anxiety?
Anyone can experience anxiety from time to time, such as that feeling you get when someone says “we need to talk”. But what sets this kind of anxiety apart from an anxiety disorder is its frequency, intensity, and lingering worry (Mayo Clinic). Anxiety disorders come in a few different flavours. Mine are social anxiety and agoraphobia. Other types of anxiety disorders include generalised anxiety, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and separation anxiety.
Whatever version you’re experiencing, there are overlapping symptoms between them all. The first, and most obvious, is an unhealthy level of worry and fear that affects your quality of life, as well as your daily life. Others include, but not limited to, a fast heartbeat, trouble sleeping, gastrointestinal issues, and the desire to avoid your anxiety triggers.
What’s important to remember about anxiety is that it’s a sense of fear and panic that’s unrelated to actual risk of harm and danger (Chorpita and Barlow, 1998). The anxiety we experience is all in our heads. It’s hijacked what anxiety was for our ancestors, to avoid death, such as hearing a distinctive sound of a rattlesnake, making us fear situations we shouldn’t.
Many things can lead to anxiety developing. For me, mine was a combination of drug use and trauma suffered during my childhood. But it can also be caused by stress, pregnancy, life events, etc. (Mental Health Foundation). The list is pretty much endless.
Tips For Handling Anxiety In Public
Identify your triggers
When it comes to managing anxiety, especially anxiety in public, knowing what can make your anxiety worse (or better) can be extremely useful. But don’t stop at identifying your triggers. You also need to make a plan for how to manage those triggers. Having a plan will make it easier to manage your anxiety in public.
If you have a journal, then this is the perfect time to get it out. Now write a list of all the triggers you can recall that can make your anxiety worse. Once you’ve completed that list as best you can, take each trigger and work out what you could do to manage it.
For example, one of my triggers was feeling moist. This made sweating quite an annoying trigger, especially during spring and summer. However, I found a way to manage that trigger by switching my cotton boxers for bamboo ones. These types of boxers are quick wicking and feel so much better than moist cotton boxers going up your bum crack. These boxers significantly made it easier for me to handle my anxiety in public.
While working on your plan to handle what triggers your anxiety in public, you should also consider ways to distract yourself around your triggers. It also pays to know what can help when your anxiety has been triggered.
One way I used to mange my anxiety in public was to always have my headphones on with music playing. My anxiety disorders and psychosis can be triggered by whispering and laugher. So to avoid that, I block out the surrounding sounds, using music to distract me. But you could also message a friend, make a call, watch a video on your phone, play a game, the list goes on. Find what works best for you.
One simple thing you can do if you’re experiencing anxiety in public is to use a breathing exercise. I wrote an article on this not long ago, which covered the 10 Great Breathing Exercises For Your Mental Wellbeing. These are really easy to do, especially if you follow the steps that I outlined. But for simplicity’s sake, box breathing is easy to remember for when you’re out and about. You can do this one anywhere at anytime and no one will notice you doing it.
- Breathe in for four seconds through the nose.
- Hold your breath for fours seconds.
- Breathe out through your mouth for four seconds.
- And hold for four seconds.
- Repeat as many times as needed.
Grounding exercises are fairly similar to breathing exercises. They’re especially good for those who might be dissociating or have PTSD. Again, this is another thing you can easily do while experiencing anxiety in public. One of the easiest to remember is the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding exercise.
- What are five things you can see?
- What four things you can feel?
- What three things you can hear?
- What are two things you can smell?
- What is one thing you can taste, such as a drink you have or imagine the taste of your favourite food?
There are other grounding exercises you can try. So if you’re interested in learning about some of the other grounding exercises to help you manage your anxiety in public, then click here.
When it comes to using relaxation techniques to mange your anxiety in public, you might be surprised to find that there are some suitable ones. Normally, relaxation techniques are equated with tai chi or yoga. Which are great to do, but aren’t that useful if you’re experiencing anxiety in public.
Techniques such as guided imagery and body scanning, however, can be done in public. When using body scanning, you’ll start off by doing some deep breathing. Then you’ll focus on a body part or group of muscles and mentally release any physical tension you feel there. For example, you may notice that shoulders have become tense. So, once you’ve completed some deep breathing, you would focus on your shoulders and bring them to a more relaxed state.
Unfortunately for me, I don’t have a very good inner eye that makes guided imagery useful for me. Hopefully, you don’t have that issue. For this technique, all you need to do is think of a soothing image, such as the waves lapping against a beach. Ideally, the more personally significant the image you conjure, the better the soothing affect (Harvard Health Publishing).
Fidget toys aren’t just a dying craze or for people with autism. They can be useful things to have when we need to distract ourselves, especially if it’s something that can pull your focus towards it. My partner and I both have fidget toys, but for different reasons. I struggle to only do one thing at a time without my mind going to dark places, so I use mine mainly for that purpose.
With the right fidget toy, you can use it to help ground yourself in the present and distract yourself from your anxiety and your negative intrusive thoughts. It’s just a matter of finding the right item. It can even be as simple as a textured item or a chess piece. All you need to do is focus on how that object feels, such as its texture and shape.
This is by far the best way to tackle your anxiety in public (and in general) in the long-term. Using graded exposure was life-changing for me when it came to my anxiety disorders and my psychosis. If you’ve made a plan for your triggers, then you’ve already started on how to create your graded exposure plan. Simply put, you create a series of steps, starting with your least possible fear/trigger. You then keep working at that step until the fear that step brings melts away.
For example, when I worked on my anxiety disorders using this approach, one of my steps was to go out in public with someone I trusted. My next step was to do that but without engaging with any of my safety behaviours. You get the idea.
If you’d like to learn more about graded exposure, then check out my article with a free download on this topic by clicking here.
Accept your symptoms
No one really wants to hear this, but it can be a key part of your recovery journey. Accepting your symptoms doesn’t mean giving up on doing anything about them. It means you acknowledge that they exist and that they affect your quality of life. The symptoms might never go a way fully, but they can reach a point where your quality of life can return to pre-symptom levels.
20 years ago, I couldn’t leave my home without experiencing full-blown anxiety and psychosis. It was seriously debilitating. I couldn’t work and I only made it through my undergraduate degree with the help of alcohol. But now I’m able to leave my home and go to new places without triggering my psychosis. Although this is a vast improvement on how I was, my anxiety still ticks away deep inside me. It just doesn’t become so bad that it becomes a problem for every second of my waking life. And, without my anxiety vamping up to unbearable levels, my psychosis is rarely triggered.
There’s not much that’s worse than experiencing anxiety in public. I struggled with it for so long that it completely undermined my quality of life. The fact that my anxiety disorders could cause a psychotic episode didn’t help either. For a while, I relied on alcohol to help manage my anxiety in public. But there are healthy ways to manage this.
The best I found to manage my anxiety in public was graded exposure. It was a total game changer. But it’s a long-term solution, not a short-term one. So It can be emotionally painful as you work through the steps. But worth it when you do.
Anxiety is manageable. You just need to find what works for you as an individual. So what works for you?
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, please share your experiences with handling anxiety in public in the comments section below as well. Don’t forget, if you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.
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Unwanted Life readers.
Chorpita, B. F., & Barlow, D. H. (1998). The development of anxiety: the role of control in the early environment. Psychological bulletin, 124(1), 3. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bruce-Chorpita/publication/13613792_The_Development_of_Anxiety_The_Role_of_Control_in_the_Early_Environment/links/5682216b08ae1e63f1edeab8/The-Development-of-Anxiety-The-Role-of-Control-in-the-Early-Environment.pdf and https://psycnet.apa.org/buy/1998-04232-001.
29 thoughts on “The Best Tips For Handling Anxiety In Public”
I don’t think I have anxiety all the time and I was able to go out without it. I always do the relaxing techniques
Thanks for commenting
This is such a helpful post, filled with so many excellent tips. I am going to share it and I know it’ll help so many people
Thanks for commenting
Very helpful post with helpful suggestions for identifying triggers and also grounding techniques. This is how I found EFT because you can do it on your finger knuckles without saying anything and no one notices. Helpful if you’re on a bus and around alot of people./ Thanks for sharing!
That does sound like another good tool to add to the toolbox. Thanks for sharing
Thank you for sharing. I get over stimulated in loud busy places and these are good to keep in mind.
I hope you find these tips useful then
Great tips. As someone who suffers from anxiety, I need them. I think accepting your symptoms is a big one. And it really helps me!
Thanks for sharing
Great tips! Sometimes my anxiety can be too much in public. Grounding is a helpful way to manage it when others are around.
Thank you, and thanks for sharing your experience
Another GREAT post! I love box breathing and 5-4-3-2-1! Since incorporating a regular yoga practice into my life, I’ve noticed an overall decrease in my triggers (especially in social situations). BUT I’ve also become more firm in my boundaries and I’m very picky about what sort of social situations I put myself in, which also helps.😁 Very glad to hear you are finding more peace in the present. Thank you for sharing!✌️
Boundaries are very important to living a better quality of life. Thanks for sharing your experience
Thanks again for another useful post. I sometimes suffer with public anxiety as I’ve always felt socially awkward. I do find that breathing exercises are very good for me, but your post reminds that yoga is something that I definitely need to re-introduce to my life.
Thanks for sharing.
I hope you get back into yoga
Thank you for these tips! As a person with anxiety, I’m always looking for new ways to manage it and these look super promising.
I hope they help
When I read that phobias are a form of anxiety, a huge lightbulb lit.
I hope this lightbulb moment proves useful
These are some really helpful tips for people struggling with anxiety in public. If I get anxious in public distraction works best usually through listening to music. Thank you for sharing.
Music is always my favourite method too
Good ideas for distracting yourself. I know I have to take deep breaths before entering a room full of people or speaking to new people.
Thanks for sharing
I love reading your posts, as they are always well researched and informative. Lots of great coping strategies for dealing with anxiety listed here. I’ve also found relief from box breathing and yoga. Currently, I’m working on developing a more consistent meditation practice.
Thanks for sharing
What a wonderful idea Very helpful and super informative.
Great post. Although I don’t have the same level of anxiety and philosophy, Stoicism in my case, helped me to get a different view on things, but I did recognize some of the things you mentioned. For example sweating. That always used to worry me and hold me back to going out. I’ll give the bamboo boxershorts a try.
But I loved your techniques. I’ve found myself applying the breathing one sometimes. But the graded exposure sounds like one I can also use when it feels a bit overwhelming to get out there.
Thanks for sharing this with us. It’s of great help to me.
Bamboo boxers were a huge game changer for me. I highly recommend them. You can even get bamboo t-shirts and undershirts, which can help with managing sweat too