De-focused concert crowd.

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


Imagine anxiety.

Imagine being in constant fear of the possibility of something bad happening.

Imagine being unable to leave your house by yourself because you’re convinced you’ll have a panic attack and can’t manage it on your own.

Imagine having a panic attack at school or work, unable to do anything but sit and wait for the storm to pass because if you start reacting to it, everyone will think you’re being disruptive.

Imagine feeling like you’re having a heart attack, and you can’t breathe, but you’re trying your absolute best to ignore it for the sake of everyone around you.

Imaging constantly trying to make yourself appealing to others so they’ll like you.

Imagine thinking everyone secretly hates you and then having an uncontrollable need to prove your worth because for some reason, you care what people think.

Now imagine depression.

Imagine lacking the motivation needed to even get out of bed in the morning.

Imagine finding yourself questioning your self-worth as soon as you do get out of bed.

Imagine trying to talk to someone about it but only getting reactions like, “Oh yeah, I get sad sometimes too” or “Be grateful for everything you have! There are thousands of people who have it worse off than you!”

Imagine believing them.

Imagine thinking they’re right, and that you’re just overreacting, and that this horrible feeling you’re experiencing doesn’t matter.

Imagine thinking you don’t matter.

Now imagine experiencing both at the same time.

Imagine not having any motivation to get up in the morning but all the while worrying about being late for that day.

Imagine wanting to make yourself perfect for everyone but then thinking there’s no point and just cancelling any plans you had that day.

Imagine having one half that cares too much and another that doesn’t care enough.

Imagine constantly trying to figure out what to do with yourself.

One voice is screaming at you: “Do something! You have to! Everyone will hate you if you don’t do it!” And another one groaning and complaining: “Don’t bother. It’s not like anyone will notice if you do it or not. You should just leave and go back home. No one expects anything at home.”

Imagine having this war going on in your head.

Never ending.

Always at the back of your mind.

Two sides fighting for control over you.

But neither of them will ever win or lose.

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Thinkstock photo by Nastco

Imagine you’re walking through the forest at night. You’re lost and cold. Imagine the fear that would be running through your brain. What thoughts do you think you’d have? Probably something similar to this. “What if nobody finds me? What if I’m lost forever? What is lurking in the darkness? What made that twig snap? Oh, that was me. OK, onward. Wait, what was that?” At that moment, you see a brown snout stick out from the bushes, sniffing the air. “Oh gosh, it’s a bear. I just know it’s a bear. I’m dead. I’m dead. I’m dead. I’m dead.” It’s then that your brain kicks into flight-or-fight mode. Your first thought is probably to run away. It doesn’t matter that there’s no way you could outrun a bear or hide from it. People would probably say you’re ridiculous for trying. But, what else do you do? I know I’d run, the anxiety so intense I wouldn’t be able to think of anything I had learned in Girl Scouts about bears. I’d just run.

Life, for me and many others with chronic anxiety, is like walking through that dark forest. I’m always in a state of mild panic. And then, when I am called upon to do something, almost anything at this point, I feel as though I am faced with a giant, hungry, mother bear. I can’t think about anything except how to get away. Most people wouldn’t find what I am faced with nerve wracking. They have a hard time understanding why it’s so hard for me. A lot of people think I’m lazy and irresponsible. But I’m not like most people. For most my life I have dealt with anxiety and depression. And now as I am entering the world of adulthood, and all the responsibilities that come with it, it has increased into an unmanageable problem. Everything seems to be a bear, set on killing me. Going grocery shopping. Hanging out with friends. Making dinner. Going to work. Talking to people in general. And there are so many others who have this great of anxiety. The best thing anyone can do is being understanding. Knowing my friends understand when I cancel makes me feel like I can trust them and that next time, I can handle hanging out.

It takes a long time to get out of that dark forest, especially with a bear behind you. It’s an intensely frightening situation to be in. So when I cancel or call in sick or don’t respond to texts or phone calls, I’m in the middle of out running a bear and I’ll get back to you as soon as I feel safe.

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Thinkstock photo by Urmas83

What does the word “anxiety” even mean?

Anxiety means different things to different people and everyone’s experiences with anxiety are unique to themselves. I believe this is why the word gets thrown around a lot.

Having an anxiety disorder is completely different than feeling anxious or nervous. Healthy anxiety is feeling nervous before a big exam or driving test. Having an anxiety disorder is being physically unable to carry out day to day activities because you are so overwhelmed with anxious thoughts and feelings. Most of the time, I don’t even know why I am feeling like this, and it can come upon me randomly in the middle of doing my shopping, or it can build up and I can feel it coming before I have even stepped outside the door.

For me, having an anxiety disorder feels like I am trapped inside a small box that is rapidly filling up with water and I am doing everything I possibly can to try and come up for air. It feels like I have been punched in my stomach and am trying my hardest to act like I’m fine. It’s constantly putting myself down and telling myself how much of a failure I am because I had to abandon my shopping trolley and go and sit in my car because it all got to be too much.

So, please don’t throw the word “anxiety” around like it means nothing. It may be insignificant to you, but for someone like me, it’s a part of my life every day and it is a lot more than just being nervous.

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Thinkstock photo via evtushenko_ira.

The first thing I see when the alarm goes off is the light coming in between the blackout curtains. Dreams have terrorized me, as they often do, making me feel as though my heart is on the StairMaster. I look at my phone hoping to see what? I don’t know. I need to get up. I bury my mind in videos of cute animals, dogs saying “I love you,” cats finding their way home after being lost for years, goats. I know I need to shower. I know I do. I just… can’t. I can’t make myself get up, get going, get over it, whatever “it” is. I wait ’til the last minute, until I have only enough time to wash the spaces my dog likes to stick her nose in. What goes through her mind? “Oh, nice lady smell sad. I hope she still will play wif me.”

It’s 20 degrees and the sun is a rude party guest. I have made a mistake in not getting up. My son hates socks. “They bunch,” he whines.

It’s odd to sweat when you are cold, when you are still, when you cannot identify the “why.” The smell. It’s… I stretch my collar out just to confirm that it smells as bad as it usually does and sniff the tips of my fingers. That smell is not me. It can’t be.

I zip my coat. Fuck why won’t this thing zip up. Come on. Fuck. Come. ON. A lady wearing a coat that matches her dog’s tries not to make eye contact, but I see it. I see her judgment, unspooling like a typewriter ribbon. She’ll text her mom friend, the one whose children carry bento box lunches every day. Another layer of shame when I’m already overdressed.

I drive, but it doesn’t feel like driving. It feels like waiting in line. The trees are naked and grey. Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called Life… I wander back to the mid ’80s. I lost so many things between ’85 and ’90, innocence, people, illusions. My son bounces on each beat, “Are we gonna let the Now and Later break us down? Oh no, let’s go!” His cuteness should be a boon, but…

I drop him off with his grandmother. I should be more grateful. I should. I drive to the end of the block. The tick tock of my blinker signals right. I go left. I can’t go right today. I know I said I would, but I can’t. I turn off the radio. Drive home. Put on the alarm. Crawl into my bed. Under the covers, my heart is still on the StairMaster. Fresh tears wash the sand from my eyes.

For the next few hours, I lie. I lie to my friend who I was supposed to meet for lunch: “I’m suddenly nauseous. Raincheck?” I lie to my therapist: “I cannot come tonight. Something has come up.” I lie to myself: “This is the last bag of cookies I’m ever going to eat.” 

For a few minutes after every sleeve is empty and only crumbs rattle in the bag, I’m calm. I walk the evidence to the outside trash. No one ever looks in there.

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After years of working — sometimes three different jobs at one time — I was able to retire. I had visions of spending lots of time with my grandchildren, taking trips and enjoying life with my husband. Unfortunately, this did not happen!

I have experienced bouts of anxiety off and on for most of my life. It has made it difficult to get close to people many times, and it was always a black cloud hanging over my head. I have taken meds off and on, gone to counseling and participated in many treatment options. I worked very hard at keeping it hidden, though. I considered it my “big secret.”

For the most part, no one knew that I struggled with anxiety. When I would have episodes, I would just take a step back and “deal” with it. Because I experience chronic pain due to many health issues, my family just attributed my “off days” as just having another bad day with pain. That became easier and easier as I got older. Retirement changed all that.

I went from working a very busy full-time job, actively volunteering and trying to be an involved wife, mother and grandmother, to not being able to leave the house without a full-blown panic attack. Sometimes being stuck in the house for months and months at a time. Or going out with my husband and gritting my teeth so hard I would give myself horrific migraines. And, what felt the most humiliating to me was when my claustrophobia had to make an appearance to the point my husband would have to sit on the toilet seat cover and talk to me so I could take a shower with the shower door open.

I don’t remember any of this being part of my retirement plan. The saddest part is I was talking to women I had met standing in a store and they were talking about not being able to get out of the house, and I asked to join the conversation. To my surprise, we were all three newly retired and experiencing similar episodes. The first thing that jumped to my mind was I don’t remember seeing anything about this in the barrage of “getting ready for retirement” mail and solicitations I had received. Nor any warnings from my friendly neighborhood physicians!

How many of us are there out in the “Congratulations, you are now retired!” community? I thought life would get easier in retirement, not more difficult.

So, I make appointments with myself. I set a date on the calendar, the same as I would for a medical appointment and leave the house. Even if it’s just to take a walk on our 60 acres, I make myself leave the house.

Easy? No!

Needed? Yes.

My husband is beginning to understand what is happening and the guilt I have for not being able to be the “fun wife” walking into retirement with him. This has felt unbearable at times.

So I take my anxiety meds, make my appointments and work at trying to deal with this. But I know now I am not the only one. I can think of at least two others!

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via mheim3011.

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