Claustrophobia, sleepiness… public transportation is made to make you anxious.
If you’re like me, you have an anxiety disorder. That may not cover everyone reading, but it still casts a wide net. The wild thing about anxiety is that normal things can be one million times more difficult. This is why riding the subway or the bus during rush hour, something that’s stressful to people without anxiety, can feel like a tailor-made hell for you to suffer. The subway has everything: people crammed in like a tin of sardines, overwhelming heat, angry people, your own sleepiness as you trudge to work. I seriously think I would Uber most days if that were an affordable option.
However, for a lot of the city dwellers, this problem is impossible to avoid; I can’t afford that Uber and so I stuff myself into the subway car every morning. I seriously wonder how my mom has done this for over two decades. It hasn’t happened to me often, only twice, but my anxiety has gotten the best of me on the subway. I feel dizzy and lightheaded, my chest starts to hurt, and I honestly thought I would pass out or throw up on the train. Fear not, I did neither of those things. In one of the cases, I had to step off the train at one stop and wait for another car once I caught my breath. The car I’d been on wasn’t air conditioned and this happened in the past few days during our Boston heatwave. When I got on the next air conditioned train, the rest of the ride was fine.
The good thing about my anxiety is that when I almost have a panic attack, I will find at least 20 new ways to deal with it after the fact to be better prepared next time. This got me thinking. I can’t be the only anxious person on the subway. I’m sure other people get just as worked up as I have. With that in mind, I have a few things that I think would be helpful in this situation. Whether your anxiety is acting up, you feel sick, or whatever ails you, hopefully some of these tips keep you on your feet and on your way to work.
1. Get off
I’ll start with the first move I mentioned above; get off and wait for the next train or bus. It may be an extra five or ten minutes to your commute, but are those few minutes really worth your wellbeing? People are late all the time. As long as it’s not a habit, feel free to just exit and sit down on a bench while you wait for the next one.
2. Step off
The next step down from this would be the occasional step off. In this way, you can stay on your train, but get those fresh breaths of the outside air. Here’s how you do it: Finagle yourself so that you’re standing right by the doors. Since it’s always packed, you’ll have to step out and to the side for people to get out before others get back in. It gets you moving a little bit. Breathing can be a difficult in this kind of situation, so taking all the air you can get is good. Speaking of breathing…
It’s in every destress list ever. Deep breathing is important and it’s incredible helpful. In through the nose, out through the mouth. You can go online and find all sorts of different breathing techniques, but even keeping it simple with the in through the nose, out through the mouth method is effective. Clear your mind of everything and focus on the sound of your breath. Focusing on one thing can ground you and keep your mind away from all the distractions and stressors of your environment.
4. Your Go-to Distraction
Find one thing that you can focus on and run with it. Bring a book that you can get immersed in. If you’re reading an interesting story, you’ll be more engrossed with what’s happening on the page instead of what’s going on around you. I like to blast my music and close my eyes. I have a favorite album I listen to when I’m trying to wake up, and another if I’m looking to listen to something more chill. I also see a lot of people playing puzzle games on their phones or tablets. There are lots of things you can do on public transportation to take your mind off of the more stressful parts of the commute.
I’m not much of a breakfast person, but I’ve learned to at least eat a little bit before I leave the house. Having a little bit of food before stepping on the train is essential. Crackers are a good thing if you would like to just get something in your stomach and keep it mellowed out. Another great choice would be some fruit. I’ve always been a fan of bananas. They feel super mellow on my stomach, too. Recently, I have been taking grapes and strawberries to work. They get something in your stomach while also getting a little bit of sugar in you, too. It’s a bit of energy to get your blood sugar up, and that can help you feel less like passing out.
Another popular one on these types of lists, water is important for a reason. We’re made of it, and when we’re dehydrated, headaches and muscles cramps can happen. I mean, we need it to live. Water on a crowded subway is important. I would recommend even taking a bottle of water with you to sip if you start feeling woozy. When it’s hot and stuffy on the train, staying hydrated is key. It’ll keep you a little cooler, and if you end up feeling nauseous on the train, small sips can make you feel less like throwing up.
7. Seek Extra Help
There’s no shame in having some kind of anxiety disorder. They’re incredibly common nowadays, and they can interfere with your daily life. If you feel like this problem isn’t going away, and you’re feeling similar anxiety in other areas on your life, not just the train, it may be time to reach out. There are all sorts of therapists and clinics out there that can help you. Meditation apps and classes are also options to try. There are resources all over the place, and a simple Google search can lead you to the right place.
No one likes commuting. I’m sure if we could all teleport to work, we would. That being said, try some of these little practices to make that morning commute a little less painful.