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Managing anxiety while using public transport.

by Raeesa – 20th Nov 2023

Looking back, I can’t believe how far I’ve come. I used to dread getting on the train, my heart would race and I’d feel a knot of anxiety in my stomach. But I’ve been trying to manage my anxiety and embrace the possibilities of public transportation. Even though I’m not over the fear entirely, I’ve discovered new places, met interesting people and been able to seek opportunities in the fields I’m interested in. I’ve learned that avoiding my fear only made it worse. So, I started small, taking short rides into town on less crowded routes. With each trip, my confidence is growing and I no longer feel consumed by fear even though I still deal with it till this day.

Why do people have anxiety on public transport?

There are a few reasons why a lot of people (including myself) are afraid of public transport. In order for me to understand where my fear comes from, I had figure out the root of my anxiety and fear.. I learned that the uncertainty was my main issue. It can be unpredictable with delays, route changed, and other unexpected events. I knew this was a massive problem because even when my friend suggested that I try an app that adjusts the journey in case anything like that were to happen and it STILL didn’t help me feel better. The lack of control I had over the situation was incredibly anxiety inducing. Some other reasons a lot of people deal with this are:

  • Crowds: For some, the crowds and close proximity to strangers can be overwhelming and trigger feelings of claustrophobia or a loss of personal space.
  • Safety concerns: Some people may have concerns about personal safety, especially if they’re traveling alone or in unfamiliar areas.
  • Prior bad experiences: If someone has had a negative experience in the past (e.g., being harassed or feeling uncomfortable), this can trigger anxiety in future experiences.
  • Not enough exposure: If growing up they were never allowed or strongly discouraged to use public transport that lack of experience can cause problems when you’re older.

Do you feel like you’re the only person that has this problem?

I know how isolating it feels to have this kind of anxiety. Especially in a world where everyone seems to get on them without any feeling of fear or dread. It can really feel like you’re stuck in your own world, surrounded by strangers and a whirlwind of sounds and smells. I would avoid public transport altogether, which can limit my ability to connect with others and access certain places.
I felt like I was constantly on guard, constantly monitoring my surroundings and potential threats, which made it hard for me to relax or engage with others.
A lot of people experience physical symptoms like increased heart rate, shortness of breath or sweating which can make it difficult to interact with others. Especially, if you have sensory issues and can feel the sweat on your clothes and it’s the ONLY thing you can think about.

Image credit: Dennis Kussener flickr

Public transportation anxiety can be a major stumbling block to achieving goals and personal growth. It can prevent you from exploring new opportunities, such as trying out a new job, taking a class, or attending a social event. It can inhibit your ability to network and connect with others, which is crucial for career advancement and personal growth. It can contribute to a negative self-image, as you may see yourself as limited or incapable due to your anxiety. It can create a cycle of avoidance and withdrawal, preventing you from taking risks and pushing your boundaries. I felt embarrassed or ashamed because of my anxiety, which can make it difficult to talk about it with others. I genuinely felt as if I was the only person in the world that was dealing with this issue, I have since learned that I am not.

Ultimately, anxiety can make you feel held back from reaching your full potential and living a fulfilling life however there are things you can do to help yourself in this situation. Public transport can be a breeding ground for anxiety, with all the crowds, delays, and unpredictable elements. Here are some anxiety-reducing tips I use for riding the bus, train or tram.

  • Deep breathing. Taking deep breaths can help you feel calmer and more in control. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds
  • Positive self-talk. Remind yourself that you’ve survived this before and you’ll survive it again.
  • Distraction techniques. Listen to music, read a book, watch a film or play a game on your phone to keep your mind off any anxieties.
  • Visualisation. Imagine yourself at your destination, feeling calm and in control. Visualising a positive outcome can help make it a reality.
  • Prepare in advance. Make sure you’ve planned your route out in advance and know exactly where you need to be. You’ve got this! I have a notes app on my phone with all these written down so I can actually look at them in the middle of my journey to remind myself of these points, just in case I forget!

Have you considered speaking to a GP?

I know how daunting it is to go to the GP because you feel that they may not take you seriously, but it may be a worth a trip to the doctor to ask if they could offer any treatment or support about your anxieties. Remember to be honest and specific about your symptoms, including how often they occur and how they impact your life – I know it can be hard but this is an important first step to take.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your GP is there to support you and help you get the treatment you need and in my experience therapy has helped a lot to overcome this fear. Be prepared to answer questions about your medical history and lifestyle and be open to discussing treatment options, which may include therapy, medication, or a combination of both.

Reflection

I’m still learning and growing but I’m proud of how far I’ve come. There are still bumps in the road, like crowded trains and unexpected delays, but I am learning how to take them in my stride. I’ve discovered facing my fears have given me a new sense of confidence and courage. I think that’s why it was so important for me to try and help other people who may be dealing with this too.

Riding public transportation can be anxiety-provoking for many people, but with the right strategies, it doesn’t have to be. By using the relaxation techniques and addressing underlying psychological factors like social anxiety, general anxiety, panic disorder, it’s possible to reduce anxiety and make using public transport a more manageable or even enjoyable experience. By seeking help and working to overcome your anxiety, you can regain control over your life and pursue your goals with confidence.

It’s important to recognize that public transportation anxiety is not a personal failing and you are in no way to blame for how this effects you. It as a common and treatable condition and as isolating as it feels there are loads of other people who are dealing with this too. And if you haven’t met these people but you are reading this blog, then at least you know one other person who does.


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Comments

  1. If you have anxiety some things that seem simple to others often feel you dread. I still don’t like getting public transport, especially in areas I’m not familiar with.

    You’ve shared some really great tips, that will consider next time I have to take a journey I don’t want to.

    I especially like the idea of digging to the direct cause of the anxiety and where it’s come from. Finding the trigger of anxiety can be the first step in finding ways to help reduce the associated feelings.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experiences – I used to work with adults with anxiety, and I remember that public transport and supermarkets came up more than anything else in terms of places that can cause anxiety and panic. I think your tips are so helpful and I’m sure reading this will help other young people who experience this, as they can see how you are overcoming it step by step which will give them the confidence to as well 🙂

  3. I just found this blog.
    I’m 73 and have never had this issue. I’ve been taking buses etc all my life, even when I had a car.
    Not sure why or how it started, all I know is that it makes me angry that this is happening. It’s been over a year now.
    My Dr will just give me meds, I’m tired of always being given drugs for whatever I’m experiencing.
    I force myself to travel regardless but sometimes I have to disembark the bus for fear of fainting or something.
    I will keep your tips on my phone.
    Thanks.

    Julia

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