Are you experiencing anxious thoughts in lifts, on trains, cinemas, supermarkets or other public places? Have you ever had to find an exit point because of these thoughts? Public places can be common trigger situations for anxious thoughts, however the level of distress which these thoughts cause can vary, from mild to severe distress. In severe cases the occurrence of anxious thoughts can lead to avoidance of public places and interfere with daily life. It can be difficult to know when to seek support so the following points may help to guide you.
What are anxious thoughts?
Thoughts can be understood as the general ‘chatter’ which goes on in our minds. Everyone will experience thoughts about different topics, and sometimes our thoughts connect to feelings which we have. Anxious thoughts are often future-orientated and begin with the words “What if…?”.
For some people, anxious thoughts might also be about past incidents and they can be ruminative in nature. Images can also accompany anxious thoughts. Anxious thoughts can make us feel as though we are under threat as the physiological anxiety response kicks in, our adrenaline levels rise and this fuels a ‘fight or flight’ response. Understandably, this can pose a difficulty in public settings where lots of other people are present and may lead to a search for an exit point.
Managing anxious thoughts:
1. Actively trying to push the thoughts away or block them out could make them more intense. Instead you could try distracting yourself in the situation. You could use a quick and discreet relaxation exercise, or use music or reading to redirect your attention away from your thoughts.
2. If distraction doesn’t help, defuse yourself from your thoughts. Identify and label them as ‘just anxious thoughts’ and then see what happens to them.
3. Remember that avoidance of the situation may be contributing to the maintenance of the anxious thoughts. You could try asking yourself, “What is the worst thing that could happen if I stay in this situation?”
4. If the anxious thoughts are so intense that you feel “out of control” and/or you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or panic (e.g. sweating, racing heart) you might benefit from some treatment such as a course of talking therapy as you may have an anxiety disorder.
At The British CBT & Counselling Service we offer the full range of psychological therapies including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), so contact our team of specialist clinical and counselling psychologists who will be able to help you.