After a 45 minute trek station to station, I am hit by a wave of emotion. Crowds of people continue to ripple around me like a school of fish as I stand, totally frozen, halfway to my destination at Shinjuku Gyoen.
Anxiety out of nowhere is pretty wild—Am I excited or nervous? Oh my god. Do I know how to cope with anything at all?
Admittedly, the answer to this question is sometimes “no”—anxiety wins every now and then.
It is something I’ve struggled with for most of my life. Occasionally, I need to turn around and head back on the train home. Tokyo is a big city. Working in a quieter, more cooperative space is just the answer to easing my anxiety, sometimes. However, this is not always an option.
In these moments where I need to pull it together in public, I can acknowledge that I’ve been here before. I notice that, in the space between us in this sea of umbrellas moving through Shinagawa Station, everything is actually okay.
I find ways to manage my anxiety in the crowded areas of Tokyo’s Metro system, but pausing and finding stillness takes practice. Most of us can easily get back to zero while we are meditating in the privacy of our own homes, but what about when we are moving with the hustle and bustle of a city?
Here are five tools that really help me ease anxiety when it starts grabbing at my confidence in crowded, public spaces.
Try not to rush. Slow down. There is absolutely no rush. We have enough time. Tokyo is a major business capital of the world, so there is definitely an anxious energy here. Learning to keep it steady while the world around us paces is challenging, because rushing feeds nervous energy. It leads us back into feeling that there is not enough. Remember that we always have time. Remember that the tortoise wins the race.
Find the breath. Sometimes we need to take a literal step back. Find space away from the flow of traffic. Inhale and exhale deeply. There are no rules against slowing down and using the tools we know from meditation practices in a public setting. My anxiety stops me in my tracks, but when I make a conscious effort to step aside and find the breath, I am reminding myself that everything is okay in this moment.
Embrace the boring. We are not here for the highlight reel of our lives. We are awake, and it is a privilege to be present for our entire story. Embracing the simple, mundane actions of our daily lives brings us sustainable joy. Waiting in line and riding the train can feel like the most boring aspects of my day, but being present for these things means that I am less likely to get stuck in my head—I am less likely to get overwhelmed with anxiety. Settling into the pleasure of doing nothing but walking in a very crowded area can actually be entertaining if we take the time to embrace it.
Stay open. Offering our time and attention to the moment means that we are open for connection. Think about how unavailable we are when we are stuck in anxiety. Living in the moment means that we are available for interaction. This is usually where I notice a person who needs my seat on the train way more than I do. This is where I notice that baby smiling at me like I am the most interesting thing in the world. Stay open.
Take inventory. Taking inventory with all of our senses helps us tune in. Listen to the humming of the train as it rolls along. Sometimes I look out at the colors of the season. The big, empty sky can be healing if we just look up. Noticing the smells outside of a building and how they change once we enter the building can be enlightening. W can take inventory of our living bodies. Acknowledge the beating heart in our chest and how it slows down once we calm down. Feel the cool air as it passes through the nostrils. Take note of stepping fully into each foot. Be here all the way.
Anxiety is an intense feeling of constriction that can be intensified in public, but taking these mindful steps can offer us expansion.
Sometimes the answer is to turn around and get on the train home because we need tea and blankets to help us regroup and move forward—and this is totally fine. But retreating for the whole day is out of the question for most of us.
In this case, I use these tools to help me overcome anxiety and reclaim my confidence in the moment. It is possible to carry on without white-knuckling it the whole way through.
Anxiety does not define us. Breathe. Be kind. All is well.
Author: Jacqueline Levin
Image: Mike Wilson/Unsplash
Editior: Emily Bartran