As anyone with anxiety can tell you, the beast of anxiety or panic can easily appear when you least expect it. And there’s no worse place for it to emerge than in public.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed and panicky in public, there are a few things you can do to combat the feelings and return to “normalcy” so you can continue your day.
Keep reading to find out the 7 quick ways you can reduce anxiety in public!
1. Practice "box breathing".
In a pinch, the easiest way to combat anxiety in public is boxed breathing. Any anxiety sufferer will tell you that the way you breathe makes a big difference to anxiety symptoms and overall wellness.
There are many different methods and even apps out there to help you control your breathing. However, the tried-and-true breathing exercise is called box breathing.
Box breathing is a practice in which you imagine your breathing pattern following a square or box. To do so, you exhale, hold, inhale, hold, and repeat, all on the counts of four.
Don’t believe me? Well, just take the word of a Navy SEAL—they use box breathing to help with reducing stress and improving alertness.
2. Chew peppermint gum.
Want to know a little-known trick? Chewing gum can significantly alleviate feelings of anxiety.
Yup, you read that right. That little stick of gum can make a big difference. Multiple studies have concluded that chewing gum can reduce anxiety symptoms, including panic.
Not to mention, peppermint is long known to diminish unpleasant symptoms such as nausea and heartburn—which are common features of anxiety, too.
Luckily, chewing gum is easy in public as it doesn’t draw much attention. However, in cases where you aren’t allowed to chew gum, like work or school, a peppermint hard candy can do the trick!
3. Find a distraction.
If you can feel a panic attack coming on, one way that you can quell the feelings is by distracting yourself. It may seem overly simple, but that’s because it is.
When anxiety is fogging up your mind with worry and the panic starts to grow, diverting your thoughts to something else might help you to fight back.
There are a few different ways to find distractions. For some, playing a game on their phone is enough to reroute their thoughts.
However, if you really need to put a bit of work into it, you can try what I like to call a Jedi mind trick. One of these tricks is the 5 senses grounding technique, in which you locate 5 things you can touch, taste, smell, see, and hear in your immediate vicinity. You can also try counting backwards, but make it difficult by counting backwards by odd numbers like 7.
When your mind has to focus intently on something else, it can reduce the amount of mental energy being used on anxious thoughts and feelings.
4. Wear headphones.
Some distractions can be helpful when you are experiencing feelings of anxiety or panic. However, too many distractions all at once can lead to sensory overload which will only make things worse.
If you’re in need of a temporary solution without total noise cancellation, you can easily carry a pair of wired or wireless earbuds or headphones with you to use in public. Airpods are a great option for this as they do offer a certain degree of noise cancellation.
If you’re looking for total silence, however, a robust pair of noise cancelling headphones is probably more of your jam. Bose has long been known for their high quality noise cancelling headphones and are used by many individuals with anxiety or sensory sensitivities.
Whatever brand or intensity they may be, headphones can be a quick and easy reprieve to the loud noises that are amplifying your anxiety. This is especially true if you’re in a crowded public place, like a mall, airplane, or public transportation!
5. Bring an object to fidget with.
When you get anxious, do you get fidgety? Yeah, me too. When I get really overwhelmed, it feels like I can’t stop moving.
This is where fidget objects come into play. Move over, stress ball. There are a ton more gadgets out there that are aimed at helping adults who need to keep their hands busy.
Along with helping children and adults with ADHD to focus, fidget toys have been found to improve short-term conditions of anxiety in sufferers. There are many options out there including spinners, cubes, keychains, and more. Fidgets are typically small and can easily be brought on-the-go.
Additionally, if you’re someone who suffers from OCD, skin-picking or trichotillomania, fidget toys can help to fight these urges.
6. Ground yourself through meditation.
Anxiety can often make you feel out of control and as though you are removed from reality. For me, when panic strikes, I start to feel my senses collide and often can’t make sense of anything around me due to my overwhelming internal emotions.
Grounding is a practice that can help combat these feelings by returning individuals to their senses through mindfulness. While I spoke earlier about the 5 senses grounding technique, there are quite a few other ways to ground oneself.
One way is to meditate. Meditation can be a bit of a tricky exercise that takes a lot of practice. It’s not as simple as following along with a video tutorial; you have to really work to stay grounded and focused.
There are many YouTube channels out there designed to make meditation more accessible for people. Some popular YouTube channels for meditation include Goodful, New Horizon – Meditation & Sleep Stories, and The Meditative Mind.
However, if you’re out and about, a YouTube video might be tricky to view. Meditation apps can provide on-the-go relief through short but effective exercises. Personally, when it comes to meditation apps, I couldn’t recommend Sanvello, Headspace, and Calm enough.
If you’re looking for a “quick fix”, Sanvello actually has guided breathing exercises which help you to control your breathing fast. They’ve done wonders for me when I’m feeling overwhelmed in public!
7. Find a safe place.
When all else fails, if you are unable to manage or contain your anxiety while in public, the best thing you can do is find a safe place.
A safe place can mean whatever you want it to be. If you’re in a very loud, crowded venue, you might find some solitude in a public restroom. Finding a safe place gives you the opportunity to collect yourself and to calm your anxiety without feeling any pressure or discomfort from the public.
When you’ve located this safe space, this would be a great opportunity to try to apply some of the methods listed above! Particularly, box breathing and meditation would be useful in this scenario.
As someone who has had many onsets of anxiety in public, I know too well how uncomfortable and disappointing it can be to leave a setting due to anxiety, even temporarily. Always remember that you’ll be able to rejoin your group or return to your tasks once you’ve calmed down.
Everything will be there, waiting for you. It’s most important that you feel safe and both physically and mentally able to rejoin the public space.
Do you have any tips for combating anxiety when in public? Drop them in the comments below so fellow anxiety sufferers can make note!
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Feature Image: Kayla Koss on Unsplash
I love these tips, Felicia! I haven’t heard of the box method, but I’ll try that next time x
Thanks for reading, Caroline – I hope they help! That box trick especially works for me 🙂 x