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4 min read

Managing Social Anxiety on the NYC Subway

Williamsburg Therapy Group explores how to manage social anxiety on the subway or public transportation in NYC.

Whether you’re new to the Big Apple or you’re a born-and-raised local, there are a few rites of passage that every New Yorker experiences. These include indulging in the best $1 pizza, finding your favorite bodega, and overestimating your strength while carrying something heavy for too many blocks. While all these are true, perhaps the most notable is getting used to the subway.

For many people, even the most seasoned New Yorkers, the subway can be a source of all sorts of anxieties like getting stuck in the standing turnstile and wasting your fare or accidentally missing your stop, but the most common is social anxiety.

Something about being in closed, captive quarters with people is a stressful trigger for a lot of us—even people who have lived here and used the subway their entire lives—and now with COVID, there’s a whole new layer of anxiety to take into consideration.

Don’t worry, there’s no need for you to feel like you have to avoid the subway, and there’s definitely no reason for you to feel like less of a local! Here are a few of our favorite tips on how to manage your social anxiety while on the subway:

First of All, What Is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety disorder is one of the more common anxiety disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health:

“A person with social anxiety disorder feels symptoms of anxiety or fear in certain or all social situations, such as meeting new people, dating, being on a job interview, answering a question in class, or having to talk to a cashier in a store. Doing everyday things in front of people—such as eating or drinking in front of others or using a public restroom—also causes anxiety or fear. The person is afraid that he or she will be humiliated, judged, and rejected.”

A social anxiety disorder can also present itself as a performance anxiety disorder, in which the person doesn’t feel stress in social situations, but will in the event they need to make a speech, perform on stage or play a sports game.

Signs of Social Anxiety Disorder Include:

When having to be around other people or perform for others, someone with a social anxiety disorder may experience:

  • Physical reactions like blushing, sweating, increased heart rate, nausea, or a “blank” mind

  • Speaking very softly or showing a stiff body posture and making little eye contact

  • Fear of meeting or being around other people, especially strangers

  • Difficulty speaking to others, even if they want to

  • Extreme self-consciousness in front of others

  • Fear of being judged

  • Avoiding places where there are other people

If someone has been experiencing any of these signs to the point where it interferes with their daily life for over six months, it’s very possible they could have a social anxiety disorder. We recommend speaking with a professional if you think you or a loved one could have a social anxiety disorder.

Why Do I Feel So Anxious on the Subway?

Let’s take a second to address a few potential social worries you can feel on a subway:

  • Necessary interactions with others: Whether it’s a chatty passenger, a lost tourist asking for directions, or an old friend from high school, there may be times when you need to speak with or interact with others.

  • Being in close proximity to others: For some of us, this may or may not be a new nervousness thanks to COVID. Being physically close to strangers or even people you know can be very stressful, especially when you’re worried about a virus.

  • Making your way through crowds: You may find it difficult to assert yourself, even if you’re simply trying to make it to the doors on time.

It’s completely understandable to have social anxiety while living in New York, especially on the subway, and especially during COVID-times. But there are ways to deal with it.

How Can I Manage My Social Anxiety While on the Subway?

Here are a few ways we recommend dealing with your social anxiety or social anxiety disorder on the subway:

Distract Yourself

Sometimes, the simplest remedy might be the best. Our minds are truly powerful; if you focus your mental energies on worrying about your surroundings and things you could be anxious about, that’s going to take a physical and emotional toll on you.

If you divert your mind to something positive or to something that will keep it busy, you may have an easier time in places that could make you nervous.

Look on the bright side: your subway commute is guaranteed downtime you might not get during the day! It’s the perfect time to keep your brain busy by reading, watching your favorite show on your device, listening to a podcast or music, or even learning something new.

Practice Mindfulness

Being mindful doesn’t mean that you have to completely shut your eyes and start meditating in the middle of the subway—it can be as simple as focusing on your breathing or even taking in your surroundings.

If you’re new to breath work or want a more subtle technique, one that we like to do goes like this:

  1. Inhale for one count, exhale for one count
  2. Inhale for two counts, exhale for two counts
  3. Inhale for three counts, exhale for three counts

Continue this until you make your way up to 10 (or for as long as you comfortably can), then make your way counting back down:

  1. Inhale for three counts, exhale for three counts
  2. Inhale for two counts, exhale for two counts
  3. Inhale for one count, exhale for one count

You’ll find that the counting and focus on your breath creates a healthy distraction and the time to take a personal inventory of how you’re feeling: mentally, physically, and emotionally.

See the People Around You as Individuals.

They’re individuals on the subway who do their makeup, text their friends, and get stressed about being late for work, and they’re all on their own ways to their own jobs, meetings, and homes.

Sometimes with social anxiety, it’s typical to feel like the rest of the world makes one collective “them” that you’re not a part of, and if you look around at your fellow passengers, you’ll find that that’s not true.

Anyone can be feeling just as socially anxious about the subway as you are—there’s no need to feel alone.

Talk to Someone

Speaking of not feeling alone, you can take the time to talk to someone about your social anxieties, while you’re in or out of the subway.

Texting a friend or joining an online community is a great way to keep your mind busy with meaningful conversation.

You can also reach out to a professional, like us at Williamsburg Therapy Group to discover more ways to manage and cope with your social anxiety.

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