At the best of times, one of my most noticeable mental health triggers is physical contact with people. I dislike being touched on the shoulder, or being brushed past. On a bad day, when this has happened multiple times already, I will make a noise like a strangled cat when touched on the arm. Sometimes, it brings on a panic attack, but my medication seems to be improving this as one of my panic attack triggers. As Christmas draws nearer, public spaces are becoming busier and busier and people are becoming more frantic and rude in their desperation to finish their Christmas shopping. The obvious advice would be to stay home during this busy period, but sometimes I have to venture outside – for example, I’m working every day in the lead-up to Christmas Day. If anyone else is like me, and finds it difficult to be around crowds, I thought I’d write a quick post about the little things that help me to cope and keep functioning!
- I find that when I’m already feeling uncomfortable/out of my depth, the best place to sit when I get a moment to myself, such as my lunch break, is on the floor, with my back against a wall and a clear view of the door (of whatever room). The feeling of the wall and floor helps to ground me and bring me back to myself. I focus on things like how hard the ground is and how cold the wall is and that it helps re-set my senses that not all contact with my body is negative.
- If you’re nearly at the point of no return from anxiety, ask for some time out. Ask to go for your break a little early or to go for a quick toilet/water break and use this time to practise some deep breathing and maybe some quick meditation. If it’s only a short reprieve, I’d recommend going somewhere quiet/alone where you can really feel that you’re safe from being further triggered just for that moment. Sometimes, your boss/parent/carer/friend will say no and you’ll have to stick it out, but at least then they are aware of how you’re feeling, even if you have to lie and say you’re feeling a little sick rather than de-personalised.
- A really good trick to keep people away from you is well-placed feet. As soon as someone walks towards me at work, I stick my right leg slightly in their direction. They see me do it, and, more often than not, stop a good distance away from me. If they don’t, they walk into my foot and then they realise. Either way, they don’t walk into my face. Do NOT just simply walk backwards if someone is moving in too close to you, they’ll just keeping walking until they’ve backed you into a corner. One man last week actually kept me walking a good 10 paces back until I was backed up against our staff room door. By the time he stopped, and asked me a query, I had to ask him to keep moving backwards again until I could actually reach my computer, which was all the way back where I had been before he ambushed me!
- Don’t be afraid to ask the people who are not giving you enough space to back away a tiny bit. I tend to explain to customers that are standing too close that I have ‘personal space issues’ and need more space to feel comfortable serving them. Yes, there’s a very small moment of ‘oh, okay’ in their tone, but they always say sorry and move back. If you don’t want to be that blunt, simply say you can’t do what you’re trying to do because of their proximity. ‘I can’t actually type this into my computer right now as you’re standing in front of it’ is one I find myself saying more than I should!
- Perhaps this last one should go without saying, but remember to take care of yourself when you are inside and feeling comfortable too. Don’t see toxic friends or put yourself in mentally exhausting situations and try not to deal with anything that can feasibly be put off until the new year. On the flipside of this, look after yourself when in the outside world too. Don’t volunteer for any intense social experiences and don’t take on an extra mammoth workload. Be honest with both yourself and your friends/colleagues/boss about the maximum you can physically handle and still stay healthy.
Hang in there, there’s only 5 days to go until we get at least ONE day off work (or in my case, 4!) – I believe in you! Have a wonderful Christmas if I don’t post another post before the big day!