With life slowly returning to normal, places are going to get busier. No more quiet roads, empty shops, space when we go out. With things being normal, a lot of good comes from it but also, going from isolation into busy places can bring about a lot of anxiety.
The first thing you want to do is create a kind of exposure plan. Start by listing places that you want to go to and the ones you think you will manage best. In an ideal world, you will go somewhere outdoors with an easy exit. It can be intimidating going to certain events, but being outside often gives you a lot more freedom.
Work your way through the list, but when starting out, don’t push yourself for a long period of time. For example, you might see a busy park and that can be very intimidating. Instead of planning to spend a few hours in the park, start by setting yourself the challenge of just walking through it. Walking will help burn off some of the adrenaline anxiety brings. Once you don’t feel anxious walking through the park, you’d set yourself the challenge to sit in the park for ten minutes and then slowly increase the time. Once you’re comfortable with that you’d move on to a more challenging environment such as a shopping centre.
When you are in a busy situation, there are two major anxiety disorders that would be triggered: social anxiety and agoraphobia. The symptoms of anxiety are likely to be similar though: nausea, rapid heartbeat, shaking, etc. The way to overcome that would be through certain anxiety coping techniques.
If you find that you are in a busy place and your anxiety is rising, the first thing to do is regain control of your breathing. Try to keep it slow and steady whilst at the same time, clearing your mind.
Next, you could try to look for an exit. This may not be the most helpful piece of advice as technically it’s a safety behaviour and you should be able to be alright no matter where you are but for me, it helps knowing that there is a way out. Straight away, my anxiety will lessen. It might be that you’re in shopping centre and it’s really busy and suddenly you feel overwhelmed. You may not be able to get outside but you should be able to step aside into a quieter shop or something.
Repeating some positive affirmations or even saying a little prayer when the anxiety becomes more intense can really help shift your mindset away from panicking. Anxiety can escalate into something unbearable if it takes over your conscious mind. That’s something we do always have control over and know that no matter how bad it may be in the moment, that moment will pass and the anxiety won’t last.
If you are testing yourself by going to busier places, go with someone you trust. It helps having support when you are challenging your anxiety. If you don’t have a friend or family member and you’re in school, see if you can get a support worker or if a member of staff can accompany you. You don’t have to go through it alone and there is no weakness in asking for help
Busy places are usually fun places but obviously you can’t have fun if you’re anxious. It takes time but focus on the reason that you are in whatever busy place you are in. That in itself will give you the motivation to overcome it. The more you practice it (in a safe way) the easier it will get.