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7 Tips for Coping With Social Anxiety in Public Places

Finlay Games shares candid first-hand experiences of recovery from mental illness and addiction, and of his transition as a transgender man.

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One of the most difficult things about social anxiety is that it can make us feel like a prisoner in our own homes. In my mental health journey of learning to live with an anxiety disorder, I have developed various tools to help me to get out of the house and to cope in public places. The following seven tools have been of great help in staying calm in public, despite the anxiety.

1. Wear a Pair of Headphones

Wearing headphones can help to cope with social anxiety in several ways. Firstly, music can help to distract from the anxiety and also help to lift our mood. Using calming music can soothe you and help you to slow yourself and your breathing down when you are anxious. Creating a playlist of music which makes you feel good, can also help to lift your mood and empower you. Additionally, if one of your social anxiety triggers is being approached by people, headphones can act as a signal to others that you do not want to be spoken too.

2. Ask for Reassurance from a Friend

Ask a friend or loved one if they can be on standby for you to call or text should your anxiety become overwhelming. Having someone at the end of the phone can be a great reassurance. Even if you do not actually call them, just knowing that they are there, can help you to feel less alone and in turn lower the anxiety.

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3. Use Distraction Tools

An effective way to manage anxiety is by using distraction tools. A distraction tool is anything which takes our minds off the anxiety and helps to keep our hands and minds busy elsewhere. Ideas for distraction tools in social situations are such as, carrying an item that you can fiddle with, to keep your hands busy and relieve tension. Alternatively, carrying something that soothes you, like a photo or a small stuffed animal, can work equally well.

4. Use Sensory Buttons to Cross Busy Roads

When you have high anxiety, crossing busy roads can feel very overwhelming. Not a lot of people know that, especially here in the UK, crossings have a sensory button. A sensory button, if a crossing has one, is located under the button box. The sensory button is usually a small cone that rotates when the crossing is green. Using these can help to lower anxiety by giving an additional reassurance signal when it is safe to cross a road.

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5. Download a Navigation App

In a similar way to having a trusted friend on hand, you can also use a navigation tool as a trusted advisor. Google Maps is incredibly helpful in managing social anxiety. For example, the app can give you clear walking or public transport instructions and the time it will take to arrive at your destination. The information the navigation tool provides can serve as a greater reassurance and, in turn, take the stress out of finding the best way to travel.

6. Download a Meditation App

Meditation can help a great deal, with regular practice, to lower anxiety and to cope with panic attacks. Spoken meditations, can help by talking you through something difficult or to help increase your confidence in yourself. There are many apps available to learn and practice meditation, such as Buddhify. Not only does Buddhify teach the basics of meditation, but it also has meditations for every situation. Make sure to have a set of headphones with you, so that you can comfortably listen to the app.

7. Have a Safe Retreat Space in Mind

In the process of finding ways to deal with anxiety outside, it is good to have a backup plan. For example, having a place you can go to, to calm down, to get some space and perhaps call your trusted friend. Your safe space could be a favourite café, a park, or a library. If you are travelling to a new place, make sure to have a look at google map beforehand, to find a park or library you can reach, should you need a quiet place.

I hope that you find some of these tools helpful in your mental health journey. Remember to be gentle with yourself, dealing with anxiety is challenging. Therefore, any step forward is huge progress and should be acknowledged. Take it one step at a time, and remember that it is progress, not perfection, which ultimately counts.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2019 Finlay Games