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13 Things to Do on Your Phone When You're Feeling Anxious in Public

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Before you roll your eyes thinking this is a “millennials glued to to their phones” post, realize many people with social anxiety take refuge on their phones not because they’d rather be texting than engage with the world “IRL” — but because they’re anxious, and being on your phone is a “socially acceptable” way to disengage. “My phone is my social crutch,” commented Carry K. in a post about nervous habits of people with social anxiety. “Any time I talk to someone I have to scroll through the nothingness on my phone. When I hangout with people I avoid awkward silences by getting really interested in it.”

So if this is you, right now (Hey! I hope you’re OK. Thanks for visiting.) — we have some suggestions. Instead of aimlessly scrolling through Facebook or Twitter feed, we wanted to provide some quick things you can do to help ground yourself and then eventually get back to where you are, hopefully feeling a little less anxious.

Here are some “productive” things you can do when you need to take a phone break in a social situation.

1. Breathe with this calming GIF.

If you’re feeling a little panicky and need to take back control of your breath, following along with this popular 8-second GIF can help. Count along and take a few minutes for yourself, really focusing on the movement. Perfect for a quick “bathroom” break.

calming gif

2. Write out your worries on your phone — either in a note or in a blank text.

If you’re looking at your phone because you have thoughts racing through your head, get them out! Even if it’s word vomit, it might feel good to get all those thoughts out of your head.


3. If you have headphones, meditate for 10 minutes.

My favorite meditation app is Headspace, but there are plenty of other great meditation apps as well. You also can find guided meditations on Youtube if that’s easier.

4. Check in with your support system.

If you have a go-to person, now’s the time to check in. Even if they don’t respond, just getting your feelings out to them might make you feel less alone. And of course, if they respond, they might be able to offer some much-needed words of encouragement.

5. Play a mindless game – but time yourself. 

Angry Birds. Candy Crush. Whatever the kids are playing these days. Let yourself do something mindless — but especially if you’re at an event with friends — try to only give yourself 10 minutes. So you don’t get too lost in the game and too disconnected from what’s going on around you, consider it a quick grounding exercise to help your mind get back on track. After 10 minutes, reevaluate how you feel, and see if you feel comfortable putting your phone down.

6. Save a photo album on your phone with good memories and your favorite images.

Make a special photo album for moments when you’re anxious — maybe call it “Emergency Photos” — full of good memories, people and places you love. Or even fill it with silly memes and cartoons — anything that will make you smile or feel loved, that could help give you some perspective when you’re stuck in an anxious moment.

7. Watch “The World’s Most Relaxing Film.”

I think the name speaks for itself. Good to watch with or without sound.

8. In your notes or in a blank text, type out five things you see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, one thing you can taste.

This is a classic grounding technique for people who experience anxiety. By using your phone to take note of what’s happening around you — it can help you get better situated with your surroundings and potentially more comfortable.

9. Write yourself a nice email of things you think you’ll need to hear when you go into work.

While you’re on your phone, send yourself an encouraging email of things you’ll need to hear first thing in the morning at work. Sounds corny (it’s a little corny), but it can help give your brain some motivation to think positively. You may be a little happier when you see it over your first cup of coffee.

10. Mark something you have to look forward to on your calendar. 

When you’re feeling anxious and stuck at a party or in a public place, it’s easy to feel like this moment will never end. So instead on dwelling on how you’re feeling now, take a second to think of any fun things you have planned for the future. Someone’s birthday? The premier of a new show? If you can’t think of anything, create something to look forward to, even if it’s a Netflix date with yourself or a visit to your favorite coffee shop. Look forward and remind yourself there will be life after this moment.

11. Set some self-care reminders.

If your phone has a “reminders” app, set yourself up with some little nudges you might need to remember throughout the day, like taking your medication or taking a break at work.

Reminders app

12. Read an article about something you care about — but not something that will stress you out.

While I personally try to stay away from the current news cycle when I’m dealing with my own anxiety, reading one article about a topic you know you’re interested in might be the distraction you need.

13. Tell a friend/family member/mentor how much they mean to you.

While you’re staring at your phone, you might as well use its powers of communication for good. Text a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, reminding them why they’re great. Who knows? They might be on their phone looking for some encouragement too.

What else on your phone helps you with anxiety? Tell us in the comments below.


Originally published: March 28, 2017
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