Anxiety comes in many different forms. For me, it has been a struggle throughout my entire life. I had been experiencing symptoms of anxiety before I even knew what to call it. I questioned where my anxiety came from for a long time, but ultimately have decided this is a pointless feat. Whether it is from biological or environmental factors, all I can really do is live with it.
I finally had the guts up to see a therapist back in 2015. I can’t say I’ve completely enjoyed every session. My anxiety always flares up, my palms sweat and I often avoid eye contact with her — but I still show up, for myself.
Despite how often I give one-word answers and bypass the tough questions, since starting the sessions, I’ve learned a surprising amount about myself. I’ve listed four things I have been able to see pretty clearly are products of my anxiety, which has in turn, helped me become more aware of the moments I need to take a moment for myself.
My avoidance comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s a desperate need to get as far away from the situation making me uncomfortable as possible, sometimes it’s letting 3,000 emails build up in my inbox and never checking one. When relationships have gotten hard, I always seem to take the most obvious example of avoidance: the silent treatment. My version of the silent treatment never feels like it is to get the other person’s attention. It usually comes from a place of wanting to save myself from any discomfort I might feel. I’ve learned this is the cheap way out and only ever hurts the other person.
Being the anxious wreck I am internally, you would think I struggle to function in everyday life. Somehow, however, I am able to keep smile and power through most days. That being said, when I first began seeing my therapist, she recommended I try taking one day a week off from school, from interning and from my job. While I know lots of people have more rigorous schedules, for me it was just too much when I was trying to also maintain my mental health. But taking a day off a week that had nothing productive planned other than “relaxing” felt completely impossible. Every time I’d see my therapist, she’d ask if I took Saturday off and I’d explain how there was an extra shift at work and I had to help a friend out and there was just no way. Today, I just returned from a weekend at a resort in Mexico. I took a day off of work and the world didn’t end. Still, I struggle with the urge to fill every second of my time just so I never have a moment alone with my thoughts. I’m working on changing this and embracing moments of calm.
When I’m feeling extra anxious, I often need to do something with my hands. That tends to be ripping off my own skin. How the habit got started, I’m not sure, but I have always struggled with dry lips and acne. Rather than addressing these problems, I tend to pick at them, let them fester and ultimately make them worse — a great analogy for my life. This is something I have not yet found relief from. I am my skin’s own worst enemy a lot of days. The only way I have found to stop this terrible habit is to find something else to do with my hands. As cliché as it sounds, a stress ball has been a good replacement.
4. Panic attacks.
While I would say I do a pretty solid job at holding it together, there are moments when I simply cannot and that’s OK. I’ve learned the longer I hold it in, the worse it is when I let it out. Instead of trying to “fix” this one, I’ve learned to embrace my struggles by knowing when it is time to get out of a situation and take a moment for myself. Sometimes, when it happens in front of friends or boyfriends, I always a feel a bit ashamed after, but I’m learning the ones who stick around through it are the right people for me.
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.)
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.
If you’re familiar with our mental health Facebook page, you know we often ask you for songs that help get you through tough times — whether that be a panic attack, a depressive episode, the comedown from mania or just a difficult day in your life. Since we can’t always include every song you send our way, we’ve found ourselves with a surplus of good tunes and wanted to make sure we got them in front of you.
So, as sort of a bonus to our tips and tricks for dealing with anxiety at music festivals, we compiled some songs you’ve sent us in the past (and a few picks of our own) from bands touring this summer. Jump into our Spotify playlist at the bottom, or (if you can/want to!) try to catch one of these groups in person this summer.
“All my life I wasn’t trying to get on a highway / I was wondering which way to go.”
2017 festivals: Pemberton (7/13-16), Leeds (8/25), Reading (8/27), Bumbershoot (9/1-3), Life is Beautiful (9/22-24)
9. “I Know a Place” — MUNA
“I can recall when I was the one in your seat / I still got the scars and they occasionally bleed / Cause somebody hurt me / Somebody hurt me / But I’m staying alive”
2017 festivals: Governors Ball (6/2), Firefly (6/17), NXNE (6/24), Summerfest (7/1), Go Fest (7/2), Osheaga (8/4), Outside Lands (8/11-13), Leeds (8/25), Reading (8/27), Austin City Limits (8/6-8 & 8/13-15), Lost Lake Festival (8/20-22)
10. “Have Some Love” — Childish Gambino
“Have a word for your brother / Have some time for one another / Really love one another / It’s so hard to find”
2017 festivals: Governors Ball (6/3)
11. “Pink + White” — Frank Ocean
“You kneel down to the dry land / Kiss the Earth that birthed you / Gave you tools just to stay alive”
2017 festivals: Hangout Music Festival (5/19-21), Parklife (6/10-11), Lovebox (6/14), FYF Fest (7/21-23), WayHome (7/28-30), Panorama (7/28-30)
12. “All Our Lives” — Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
“I thought, ‘If I could tell her something, I would tell her this: / There’s only two mistakes that I have made / It’s running from the people who could love me best / And trying to fix a world that I can’t change.'”
2017 festivals: Hangout (5/19), Slam Dunk Festival (5/27), Summerfest (7/8), Panorama (7/30), Lollapalooza (8/4), Austin City Limits (10/6)
13. “Recovery” — Broods
“I will be your home, keep you warm when it’s cold / I will try to be what you need when you’re low”
2017 festivals: Pemberton (7/13), Bumbershoot (8/1), Life is Beautiful (9/22-23)
14. “Plastic” — Moses Sumney
“I know what it is to be broken and be bold / Tell you that my silver is gold”
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 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 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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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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