It’s fair to say a lot of us experience some sort of anxiety with crowds (given the state of the whole world), and even more of us struggle with social anxiety, especially post-2020. While our collective social anxiety has certainly intensified over the years, our concern for large crowds is engrained in our history. While we are debatably existing in a safer cultural space than in 1969, the LGBTQ+ community has always met protesting and celebration with fear of violence and catastrophe. I’m not going to sugar coat it: We’re very valid in being afraid, but the beautiful thing about us queer folk is that we celebrate even more in the face of fear because we are, and have always been, resilient. However, no amount of pep talks will change the fact that most of us have anxiety when it comes to showing up in large spaces, specially those of us in LGBTQ+ spaces who are further marginalized. So, in the spirit of protesting fear, I wanted to share some of my go-to hacks for navigating large crowds.
SAVE THE FOLLOWING IMAGES TO YOUR CAMERA ROLL! When we’re in stress and crises, we’re much less likely to go looking for help. We need to have something instantly accessible to us. If you know these are only one click away, you’ll be able to manage your anxiety about managing anxiety. Even though I am in school to become a therapist, I am not a licensed therapist, so please bring these to your own mental health providers if you have questions or would like to discuss crowd anxiety further.
The Five Senses
The goal of this super simple trick is to get you out of your head and back into your own environment. I’ve used this in all types of situations to help me deconstruct the tornado of “ah!” spinning around me into individual things that are real manageable. Adapt as you see fit and repeat as many times as you need to.
Name 5 things you can see
Name 4 things you can hear
Name 3 things you can touch
Name 2 things you can smell
Name 1 thing you can taste
This is a great one if you feel all sorts of gross, confusing, sticky feelings and thoughts inside you. The goal is to flush these feelings out of your system, and ground you to Earth supporting you. It can be done standing, sitting, or lying down.
1. Place your feet on the floor (preferably ground outside)
2. Close your eyes, place your hands at your sides facing outwards
3. Picture the energy built up in your body
4. Visualize it being flushed down into the Earth below you
It’s called box breathing because it’s helpful to think of a square when doing this exercise. It seems extremely simple, but trust the process. This technique can bring your heart rate down, allowing you to get a better sense of control and clarity.
Breathe in for 4 counts
Hold the breath for 4 counts
Breathe out for 4 counts
Hold for 4 counts
This one is probably best done in a less chaotic area, such as in a bathroom stall, a corner of grass far away from where the main activity is happening, or on a walk with a friend a few streets over from the festivities. This one takes a little bit more time and is best done with eyes closed, so if you aren’t in a bathroom stall or somewhere private, make sure to have a friend around.
Begin by closing your eyes and noticing your breath.
Visualize a golden ball of light glowing within the top of your head.
Allow that light to spread through every crevice, dark spot, and painful area, healing whatever it touches.
Slowly follow that light through your neck, shoulders, chest, ribs, etc. all the way down to your toes.
Take your time and notice how each inch of your body feels as light passes through.
If you were on pandemic mental health TikTok like I was, you might’ve come across this fun one. It’s essentially ice play, but for your mind. If you have a bowl or bucket available to you, you can fill it up with ice water and stick your face in it. But you might not always have access to something like that during an event or protest. The alternative version of this is to simply hold an ice cube. It will probably be a bit uncomfortable, but that’s the idea. Focus on that discomfort. It will help you get out of a negative thought loop. If you don’t have ice, you could try dumping water on your face as well. It needs to be a little shocking, but obviously safe.
Choose a mantra. Close your eyes and repeat this mantra for at least three cycles of breath. If you already have a go-to mantra, then use that! I’ve listed some of mine.
I am safe.
I am powerful.
This is temporary.
I belong here.
I am complete.
Relaxing the Body
This is very similar to the body scan, only the end goal is slightly different. The body scan invites warmth and safety to the body, whereas this exercise invites tension release.
Begin by relaxing your eyelids.
Drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth. Let your jaw hang naturally.
Next, relax the muscles in your neck, your shoulders, your chest.
Relax your stomach, hips, pelvis. Focus on feeling each muscle group relax.
Continue this all the way down to the muscles in your toes.
“I Accept” Statements
This is similar to the mantra exercise, only the goal of these statements is to welcome your feelings rather than push them away. By inviting them in, we release half the battle of trying not to have the experience we’re having.
Make sure to tap into the emotion you’re actually feeling and place this into the prompt.
Choose a statement. Close your eyes and repeat this mantra for at least three cycles of breath. The object of this exercise is to welcome your feelings as a way of managing them.
I welcome fear.
I welcome anxiety.
I welcome uncertainty.
I welcome sadness.
I welcome stress.