The fear of using the bus or train is one of the most often cited examples of social anxiety on public transport – and it’s no surprise. It encapsulates a lot of the issues surrounding both the initial fear of being in public and also the spiralling fears which come from avoiding a certain situation.
For example, public transport involves:
• Necessary interactions with strangers (both to purchase tickets and potentially having to sit alongside them)
• An unstructured event in which you’re not in control
• Running according to a timetable and the implicit fears of missing scheduled departures or stops
• Being in a confined space.
But avoiding public transport also has its own issues which can contribute to spiralling social anxiety disorder:
• Not going out socially or searching for work outside the immediate vicinity of your home
• Having to organise your day around lifts from other people and then feeling reliant on them
• Missing out on taking up pastimes which you would otherwise enjoy.
Of course, you could always by a car, but sometimes that is simply not financially viable – and, anyway, there’s always occasions when public transport is a better option. It’s also greener – but that’s probably for another day!
So here are six ways in which you can face your social anxiety surrounding public transport:
Time and time again on social anxiety forums (and they’re a great place to swap stories with people going through the same thing), people bring up how self-conscious they are surrounded by other passengers on public transport. And dwelling on this discomfort can be a sure way to lead to a panic attack – in fact just the knowledge that you’re going to go on a bus or train can lead to an anxiety attack. But equally often on the same forums, fellow sufferers talk about how they distract themselves by listening to music or reading a book or newspaper. Thanks to the beauty of the internet and social media, you can even spend your time on public transport reading how other people have faced down their fears.
And while we’re talking about social media and the internet, why not use it to help you in difficult situations. Google maps and other apps have been picked by some people with social anxiety as tools which help them ease their feelings of anxiety while they’re riding buses and trains. Just the simple action of watching the blue dot showing where you’re travelling both acts as a distraction and a comfort that you’re prepared for your stop. And while we’re on about technology, text a friend or post a comment while you’re on public transport… just because you’re sitting on your own doesn’t mean you have to be alone.
Yes, we go on quite a lot about mindfulness here at Overcoming Social Anxiety, but that’s because it’s such a vital weapon in your armoury against fear. Travelling on public transport is the perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness: by concentrating on your breathing, or looking out of the window and taking in the landscape around you (look at the colour of the trees, or the shop window displays, or the people walking on the streets), feel the calming sensation of your own breathing. This will help you live in the moment and accept the feelings of anxiety which you are having are just that, feelings.
Which leads us to another important realisation: travelling on public transport isn’t just stressful for those with social anxiety, it can be a stressful situation for anybody. Look around you and as well as those buried in a book, texting their friends or doing their makeup, there are likely to be plenty of others worried that they’re late for work or unsure where their stop should be. Your anxiety is natural – so you don’t have to let it control you.
A key aspect of facing social anxiety is making sure you understand the situation you’re putting yourself in. Sure, there’s likely to be a few things which crop up which may surprise you, but you’re much more likely to be able to face them down if you’ve already done your homework over which bus or train you need to catch, where your stops are, how much change you need for the ticket or where you need to buy your ticket in the first place. Also, if you think distraction will work for you, get yourself a good book, download a great album or find yourself a great podcast to download.
6. FACE IT WITH A FRIEND:
Being mobile will make a serious change to how you face social anxiety and give you the opportunity to get out and about. But if you are facing one of your major fears, it makes sense to have someone on hand the first time you do it. As we’ve seen before, technology means you can have someone on the other end of a text, tweet or Facebook post, but that first time it might just be best if they’re there in person to help you through.
You may have other tips for fellow social anxiety sufferers. If you do I’d love to hear about them, you can respond to this post below, or contact me. And if you think this post could help a friend or family member with social anxiety, then feel free to share this post on Facebook, Twitter etc.
All the best, Kyle