As you read these words I will hopefully be hot footing my way to London. I say hopefully because, as the idea is so terrifying, I cannot be sure I will go through with the journey (I am writing this a week in advance. Call me Mr Organised. Actually don’t, make that Señor Organised…has a bit more of a flourish don’t you think?).
Going to London/leaving the house at all is scary for a multitude of reasons such as managing food, being in unfamiliar environments with uncontrolled levels of bacteria, generally being around people, but one of the top scary things on the list of ultimate London scariness (it is a very long list), is the fact I will have to use public transport, and I am pretty sure that will be on many peoples’ lists of scary things about leaving the house.
Therefore, today I thought I would write this blog post to help anyone out there who is overwhelmed with terror at the mere thought of bumbling along on a bus or trundling track via a train. I can’t say these are the best ways to manage public transport anxiety issues, but they are at least the tips I will be using to get me through…if I manage to leave the house to get to the public transport stage that is…All aboard the mental health travel tip train! Here we go!
1. Make alternative routes: If there is one thing you can rely on when it comes to public transport, it is the fact that it will be unreliable. Buses break down, flights have to stay grounded because it is cloudy and I am yet to have a train journey which hasn’t started with a good half hour wander up and down the platform listening to the woman on the tannoy tell me that my train is delayed in a frustratingly calm voice (she always says she is sorry to announce the delay but if you ask me she doesn’t sound sorry at all. HOW DOES SHE SLEEP AT NIGHT?). I once even had a train cancelled with the explanation that there were “slippery leaves”…That’s right, slippery leaves. Not even going to try and make a sarcastic joke about that. I think the phrase “slippery leaves” makes the point. Anyway, due to multiple reasons much like the aforementioned soggy foliage, it is likely that any route you plan to take will be interrupted. This is enough to make anyone frustrated, but when you are already anxious and stressed it can feel like the end of the world and make you run back to your home wondering why you ever bothered leaving the front door. For this reason it is always vital to have an alternative route to fall back on incase any slippery leaves rear their ugly heads to get in your way.
2. Customise your route: When trying to look up directions, pretty much all of us will turn to the internet (dear young readers, did you know that maps actually used to be things you could find on paper rather than apps on your phone with floating blue dots. They called these maps “The A-Z”. They were marvellous things, I really wish you could have seen them), and when you look up directions on the internet it will often tell you what it thinks is the easiest route. However, this “easiest” route is the route judged as easiest by a computer, it is a purely rational decision and unlikely to fit with what is “easiest” for the irrational fears in your head. Of course we must all push ourselves and challenge our mental illnesses lest they control every aspect of our lives and sometimes there is only one way to get from A to B. Nevertheless if there are options on a journey that may not be the quickest route on paper but that will help you manage anxiety better, go with them. Walking a few streets along may take longer than hopping on the London underground, but if the tube is likely to cause a paralysing panic attack in the end, walking may actually save time and a hell of a lot of stress.
3. Do not rely on the internet: Another thing in life that can be as unreliable as the number 44 bus is internet signal. It is all well and good to entrust your travel plans into the route calculating hands of an online computer but if you find yourself in the middle of nowhere with no internet, Siri is going to be of little use in helping you out of that predicament. Even if you do have signal, phones and other pieces of technology are always at risk of running out of battery (especially if you have spent too much time playing Pokemon go…ahem), so regardless as to whether you found your route online, make sure you take a paper copy. Paper doesn’t require signal and paper does not run out of battery leaving you in an anxious heap. In short paper is awesome, so don’t forget to use it.
4. Listen to audiobooks: When on a train or a bus I often find my anxious thoughts speeding around my mind faster than the mode of transport I am riding, so fast that they are little more than a blur that I cannot decipher. Every bump in the road is a potential earthquake to my terrified brain, every new passenger a potential murderer, and for this reason when anxious on public transport it is vital to have distractions. A lot of people listen to music in order to help soothe them and if you are one of those people then make sure any journey out of the house involves earphones to listen to your favourite tunes. Personally though I struggle with listening to music on public transport, as when you put music on shuffle it can be unhelpfully unpredictable. It is all well and good to be on the bus nodding your head to a relaxing ballad from Adele but seconds later you can find yourself being bashed about the ears with the drums of heavy rock which is not relaxing at all. For this reason then, I often listen to audiobooks which I find are a lot easier to get lost and calmed by, so I thoroughly recommend them as a distraction technique (especially Harry Potter books on trains. That way you get the dulcet tones of Stephen Fry and you can pretend you are on the Hogwarts express as you listen).
5. Buy tickets in advance and get money ready: To buy tickets you need to queue. Queuing is stressful. People with anxiety and mental health problems do not need added stress. The solution? AVOID QUEUING (by booking tickets in advance at quiet “non rush hour” times or online, not by whacking everyone else in the queue out of the way with your hand bag.) Personally when it comes to buying tickets I also find touching money to be a challenge, so if you also struggle with this may I suggest getting your fare ready prior to the moment some ticket officer asks for it so that you do not have to suffer the money touching stress with the “oh my goodness I cannot find the right change why is my purse full of pennies people are staring at me” stress. When I prepare a bus fare in advance I always like to antibacterialise it and then keep it in a separate pocket to lower anxiety further. It isn’t ideal in terms of trying to fight things like OCD, but if needs must, in my eyes it is better to do whatever you need to to get out of the house.
6. Give yourself time and plan every step that is difficult: The final thing that I would say makes travel difficult is the general panic and hysteria I find myself getting into when I am in a rush/under a strict time limit. For this reason to reduce anxiety I always leave a lot longer for my journey than might otherwise be necessary AND I plan in travel breaks whenever I need them. It makes more sense to hop from train to bus to train and on again until you reach your destination, but incase the anxiety gets too much it is important to plan pit stops to release some tension and take a break from all the mania. Personally, with planning breaks I also like to plan toilet breaks because the idea of an unplanned unexpected public toilet experience freaks me out, so if it scares you too, maybe find loos along your journey that would be easiest and fit them round your ticket times.
So there you have it! The six tips that I use to help me get through the fear of public transport and the six tips I will hopefully be carrying out right now on the way to London (like I said it is a week in advance but already I have planned every safe toilet along the journey. PREPARATION IS KEY.).
Of course they won’t take the fear of public transport away, but hopefully they will make it a little easier or at least doable.
I wish you all safety and relaxation during any upcoming travels and promise to keep my fingers crossed that you are never faced with the horror film inspiring added obstacle of “slippery leaves”.
Take care everyone x