I hate crowds. They make me really anxious and nervous. Ask me, then, why I live in New York City, the most crowded place on earth. (Not counting Tokyo.) The sight of people grouped together in tight clusters makes my heart race and my chest tighten. Having to stop on the sidewalk for slow moving tourists makes my blood boil and fists clench. (This literally happens to me multiple times a day). Writing about crowds is making my heart beat extra fast right now. No matter how many times I try to talk myself out of feeling anxious about all of the people around me 24/7, I can’t help but get that nervous feeling unless the closest person is about half a block away.
Riding the subway is a similar story. I do it because of its cheap convenience, but most of the time, I have a feeling of dread throughout the entire ride, especially if I’m traveling alone. Here’s a little bit of my stream of consciousness during a typical subway ride: Is this train stopped for longer than it should be? What was that noise? Is the person across from me strapped with bombs? Does that person have a gun? Will a crazy bum enter the train at a moment’s notice? Will the electricity go out? Are we stuck? Am I even on the right train? And that’s just a small sampling of my thoughts. It goes way beyond that! But once the subway doors open and I’m back on the platform, the thoughts subside and then I am back to thinking about how I have the desire to shove everyone out of my way as I climb the stairs to the street. There are just too many people.
If I am so anxious about all of this and have such thoughts, why do I not live on a secluded desert island? Well, the reason is this: I want to be able to live a “normal” (i.e., mingling with others in my species) life. After a few years of learning different coping techniques (thanks to a great therapist), I can talk myself through just about anything. In the moment, I may get very worked up, but if I just remind myself that everything will be fine, I always am just fine!
So the next time you find yourself inching along on that crowded sidewalk or jammed into someone’s armpit on the subway, remind yourself (out loud, if necessary—it will calm others down too!) that everyone is most-likely weapon-free and that this, too, shall pass. It always does, and you will be just fine.