How I Overcame My Anxiety in New Places and at Events
I know I'm not the only one who feels that tightness in my chest, jaw clenching, clammy hands when someone suggests visiting a new place or attending an event. The questions start to run through my mind;
"Who will be there?"
"Will I be the only one to show?"
"What if I don't know anyone?"
"What if I make a fool of myself?"
"What if I have a panic attack?"
"What will the parking situation be like?"
"What food will be available? Will I be able to eat?"
"Where are the escape exits?"
"What if it's too noisy?"
I know so many of you reading this will be nodding your head saying 'Yeah that's me!'.
As someone who has Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD), Generalised Anxiety Disorder (Anxiety) and Agoraphobia, I have felt this way anytime I had to visit a new place or attend an event and for a long time it was anytime I left my house. I couldn't check my mail or take my bin out for years (and I still have moments where I can't!).
I know I am not alone in feeling this and I also know that someone does not have to have a diagnoses to feel any of this! It is more than okay to feel worried or scared about a new place but when it affects your daily life, that's when you need some support to help you.
Over the years I have tried many strategies and therapies to help me overcome the anxiety of going to new places. It was a lot of trial and error, but I have developed some amazing strategies that have helped me to overcome so many fears and I can tell you now
IT DOESN'T ALWAYS WORK!
I still have my hard days and sometimes what worked yesterday won't work today. Sometimes I give in and go back to bed and other days I will try another strategy to help me to get out of the house. It is about working with yourself, knowing your limits and being patient.
Here are my strategies that helped me to overcome (most days) my anxiety when going to new places and events!
- Become familiar with the place - this can be done in so many ways! If it is a restaurant or café, try looking up the menu! You can also look up their website and social media to see what the place looks like and see pictures of the people who work there! You can even try visiting the place with a trusted person before the event. If it is a new workplace or school/University/Tafe, ask for a tour! Having a tour of the place will help you to know the layout of the building and its surroundings. If you can't have a tour, ask for a map so you can start to familiarise yourself before your first day! You could also drive or walk around the area to become more familiar with the place!
- Find the out about parking or public transport - Find out all the details! Including the best route, how much it might costs, the best time to leave and even do test runs! Crazy? Maybe, but it works. The weeks leading up to my first day at Tafe, I would drive around to see where all the parking options were, especially at the time of day that I would be going! I became familiar with the payment options and had back up plans if the park I wanted was gone. I would park and walk to where I needed to go with a safe person to help me become more familiar. On the first day I did get a lift to help and by the next week I was able to drive myself!
- Arrive/leave earlier or later - For me, I prefer to be at places early! I like to get there, find my seat and welcome everyone into the space as I find it more overwhelming walking into a group of people. For some it is easier to come later as the attention won't be on them being the first person! Either is fine and do what is comfortable with YOU! This goes for leaving as well, I personally prefer to be one of the last to leave. Again, whatever is easier for you, do it! It definitely helps to have a plan around arriving and leaving before you go to the place/event.
- Pick a seat - Finding a seat that your feel comfortable in is actually so helpful! I find that sitting in the back of a room easier as I can see everything going on. I also prefer my back to a wall so nobody can sneak up behind me and scare me. I strategically place myself at a table to ensure I feel safe and comfortable during the event/at the place. Some may prefer to be closer to the door so they have a quick escape exit, this again is dependant on what is best for YOU! If you aren't sure, trial it out and see what feels more comfortable for you. Don't be afraid to ask a friend to change seats if you feel uncomfortable, it is more than okay to ask!
- Ask for help from a friend or family member - It is okay to let them know that this is a hard situation for you and you are feeling anxious about it. Try asking if they can come with you! Sometimes this is harder to do especially if you are starting a new job or school but there are ways your friends and family can support you! Ask them if they can drop you off, walk with you or sit with you on public transport. This can help lessen those nervous feelings before arriving at the place as you have someone you feel safe and comfortable with to assist you. If you don't have anyone who can come with you, ask if your friend or family member is able to be available for a chat during the day. They may be able to text, call, facetime or see you after the place/event and check in on you!
- Make a code system between you and a trusted person - This is a great technique and check in tool to use when you need some help or maybe want to leave the place/event. You can also let them know that you're doing okay! Silly words, emojis or hand signals are a great way to relay information quickly to a loved one that you need help.
- Talk to a health care professional (psychologist, counsellor, GP, mental health worker etc.) - Having a session before the event with your trusted health care professional is a great way to identify your barriers, discuss why you're feeling anxious about the place or event and talk about strategies that may help you. We always recommend speaking to trusted health care professionals as they are trained to support you. (read disclaimer statement below)
- Make a safety plan - It is recommended to do this with a trusted health care professional. A safety plan will assist you to use strategies outlined by you and your health care provider and help you to access supports when and if needed. (read disclaimer statement below)
- Make a self-care plan - Self-care is always important but it is especially important after a difficult experience or stressful time. After you have visited the place or gone to the event, take some time out for you and practice self-care. There are a number of ways you can practice self-care and that blog post will be out soon!
- Take Fidget Toys with you - Fidget Toys are becoming more popular, which means it is not uncommon to see someone playing with them! Years ago, people felt uncomfortable bringing them out as this encourages other people to ask questions or stare, not what you want when you're already feeling anxious! Now that everyone is into Fidget Toys, it has made it easier for those who use them to bring them out and assist them in social situations! If you do feel uncomfortable about bringing them out, that is more than okay and there is a huge range of Fidget Toys that are small, discreet and quiet. Check out our Acupressure Rings, Acupressure Bracelet, Anxiety Rings (new designs coming SOON), Bean Squeeze Key Chain, Flippy Fidget Chain, Key Chains from Handmade by Anka and Marble Fidget.
What else would you add to this list? Lets share over on our Instagram page what you have tried and what has worked for you.
Remember, these strategies won't work for everyone and some days they may not work for you even if they have in the past! Keep trying, never give up and reach out to us, your health care professional or a Helpline if you need extra help!
For Your Mind Boxes is not a replacement for health care professionals including Doctors, GP, Psychologists, counsellors. The strategies outlined in this blog post are only to be used as a guide and not to be relied on solely. It is strongly recommended to use these strategies in line with your health care professional.