If you’re dealing with an anxiety disorder, standing in a room with hundreds of people or camping for a weekend in an open field surrounded by loud stages may sound like an absolute nightmare. Even if music has been a life-saver for you, going to concerts or festivals may seem out of the question — but it doesn’t have to be. Despite your fear of crowds and tendency to get overstimulated, it’s possible to not only attend events like this, but enjoy them.
How do we know this is true? Because our friends with anxiety told us so. And since we know it’s easier said than done, we asked for our mental health community for tips and tricks for dealing with anxiety at music festivals or concerts. At the end of the day, no one knows your own limits better than you do, so do what’s best for you (you can watch kickass footage and live streams of most festivals, anyway). But if this is something you’ve really wanted to do but told yourself you can’t, consider the advice below and give it a shot. (Bonus: We curated a summer playlist for you of anxiety-reducing songs.)
Here’s what they had to say:
1. “I’ve found that getting box seats whenever possible has been a big help. Sometimes they cost a little more, but you get more of your own private/safe space. If that’s not possible, I aim for end seats and/or the last row of a section. Also, familiarize yourself with the venue beforehand if you’ve never been there before. Google Maps now has a ‘street view’ of the inside of a lot of major venues. Study the seating chart. Know how many rows there are. Know where the aisles, bathrooms, water fountains, concession stands, lobbies, etc. are so you aren’t overwhelmed and confused when you get there. Make a plan with the people you’re going with. Perhaps snoop out a designated quiet space you can retreat to if the noise and crowd becomes too much. I also know a lot of people frown upon taking tons of pictures during shows, as it takes away from “being in the moment,” but for me, having my hands occupied with my camera helps me stay in the moment. If that’s not for you, maybe a small fidget toy would work. I also have a bottle of water and a snack on hand. Sometimes just knowing I’m hydrated helps. — Chrissy W.
2. “My best friend and I both have anxiety with crowds, so we always go together. If one of us needs to leave, we both leave. We help each other enjoy it and get excited by being supportive together. We have found it’s easier to do something uncomfortable if you’re doing it for someone you love, so we do it for each other, and we have a blast most of the time, and if we don’t, we are still in it together.” — Stephanie S.
3. “Remember that everyone is there for the same reason: to have fun. I feel so connected to people at concerts and festivals. I always have a peppermint in case I get too nervous, and that helps me.” — Tina C.
4. “When I know I’m going to be in a situation that will trigger my anxiety, I always make sure I carry at least two worry stones with me (a smooth, round, small object, usually a stone) that has a slight divet in one side about the size of the pad of your thumb, used to rub and fiddle with to distract and calm an anxious mind). That way if I start to feel myself panic I can take it out and mess with it. The cool, smooth surface of the stone is soothing to me and calms me down. I especially like ones with imperfections like bumps or cracks because it gives me something else to focus on.
If that doesn’t work, temporarily retreating to a secluded area and pacing slowly back and forth as I concentrate on breathing helps. Heat tends to soothe me as well as I get cold very easily and start to shiver when I’m anxious.
Always make sure you go with at least one person who knows about your condition and its triggers so they can help you if you need to suddenly leave and be alone.
When all else fails, remember the vast majority of people at music festivals are kind, caring, understanding people and will be willing to help if you ask.” — Amanda K.
5. “Don’t be worried that you’re going to be judged. I have anxiety, and I find I’m more comfortable at a festival even though I tend to avoid crowds. Everyone is there for the same thing and they just want to have fun. Being with a group of friends also helps put me at ease.
Keep some chewing gum with you in case you get anxious — that helps me focus on something. Also fiddling with my festival band helps take my mind off it.” –Kirstie C.
6. “Go with someone you trust, and set up a plan for where you can meet if you get separated. It can be terrifying to get separated from your group. I’ve been there, but if you know exactly where you can find each other and regroup it eliminates a lot of the stress. If you are near the front, acquaint yourself with security. They can help you get out if you are trapped in the crowd. It always amazes those who know me just how well I am able to handle myself at music festivals and concerts, but it has taken a lot of events to get this comfortable.” — Katelyn M.
7. “I always think to myself that there are always people in the crowd doing or wearing something that draws more attention than I ever will. I also carry something I can fidget with like a lanyard. I never walk about on my own. And I always stand towards the back of the crowd.” — Helen G.
8. “Wear ear plugs if you are noise-sensitive or triggered. Go with someone who knows you well and will understand if you need to take a break and go for a walk, rather than get mad at you for leaving the main part of the concert. Familiarize yourself with your surrounding and hotel if you are staying in a different town before the concert so you don’t have to worry.” — Kassy S.
9. “Bring camping gear/clothes/etc. that make you feel comfortable and cozy. If your tent is ready for any weather and you bring pillows and soft blankets, you can make a great nest to nap or get time to yourself to regroup. Comfortable clothes and shoes are also essential. A battery charger can give you peace of mind in case you need to get in touch with someone or use a calming app. Make sure you have plenty of water and your regular meds or vitamins so you can maintain your schedule. Keep a map with you, and don’t hesitate to ask staff or medical tents for help. They are wonderful and they want to help you.” — Suzanna M.
10. “I have severe anxiety, and I go to music festivals a lot… but I love standing at the back of the crowd. I have room to dance, and I don’t feel crowded, blocked in, or like I can’t get away if I need to. And there’s always room to sit at festivals and just chills, which I highly recommend. Go, go, go and you’ll wear yourself out way too fast (mentally and physically).” — Sarah F.
11. “Everyone you think may be judging or staring at you is off in their own world, dashing to see the next performer or looking for where to get their next beer. If you focus less on the discomfort and focus more on what you came to see and hear, the whole excursion can be 20 times more enjoyable. Difficult but doable, and so, so worth letting your guard down a smidgen.” — Jimmy F.
12. “Get there early. Note the locations of the exits, bathrooms and an area you can get to easily if a panic attack occurs. Find your seats (if you have them). Take your seat and scope out the people around you. Take a breath. Make sure you know you can leave if your anxiety gets too bad, and you shouldn’t feel bad about it. Learn as much as you can about the venue and note anything that makes you feel safer/better. I always remind myself that once the concert starts I will have a great time and forget about the anxiety (at least a little).” — Allison L.
13. “As a music teacher and someone who has anxiety, [I believe] concerts are a way we as humans connect with one another without having to speak. My favorite part about concerts is being in the middle of the crowd, closing my eyes, putting my hands in the air, singing my heart out, and listening to the chorus of voices around me. Music is a way to remind us we are not alone, that there are people who feel the same way as us and going through their own journey’s as well. So when anxiety starts to hit, be in the moment. Focus on the crowd, the voices around you, and embrace the community there to support you.” — Shelbi B.
14. “Take care of yourself before you go. I know it can be difficult, but be well rested, eat before going and limit your alcohol if you drink. I find it helpful to decide what I’m wearing the night before and figuring out where the exits are once I’m there. The best advice is going with someone, but I don’t usually have that luxury so I acknowledge my anxious thoughts and feelings and tell myself it’s good to do things for myself even if it’s pushing me out of my comfort zone.” — Adah J.
15. “Take a doctor’s letter along with your medication. I got pulled up for having six or seven types of tablets in my rucksack when they searched it, but they were fine once I explained what each one was for and said that I had a doctor’s note if they needed proof.” — Becca H.
16. “Go with a friend who has been to festivals or concerts before and is well versed in the goings-on!” — Lex C.
17. “Dance like no one is watching — because no one is! You’re there to have fun, they’re there to have fun. I find that live music events are one of the few times my social anxiety is relieved.” — Noah B.
18. “Rest... don’t push yourself. Go to your tent and just lie down and be by yourself, even if your friends are out partying. Don’t force yourself to be hyped all the time for them. And don’t feel bad for taking care of yourself or leaving early if you have to.” — Meika M.
19. “I have been criticized and looked down on for wanting to take my service dog to a small festival. If you have a service dog and you want to go to a festival make sure they have all the appropriate attire. Booties to avoid glass, cooling shirts to keep from overheating, portable water bottle, mutt muffs, etc. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re wrong for bringing your service dog to a festival!” — De C.
20. “I get sensory overload and panic attacks in dark, loud, crowded stadiums. Bring head phones and a distraction of some type — even fiddling with my keys can help ground me and help me focus.” — Julie B.
What advice would you offer someone with anxiety who’s attending a music festival or concert? Let us know in the comments below.
Thinkstock photo by m-gucci