Overcoming panic attacks on train journeys

Overcoming panic attacks on train journeys

So this past weekend I’ve been in Birmingham with my best friend, Victoria. It might not seem like a big deal to others, but it was a pretty big deal for me to get on a train, alone.

The last time I had been on a train was in October when I had travelled to Boston to visit my friend, Lauren, who was in hospital there. It was a lovely trip (in the end), but I got really, really lost and ended up crying on a random street pavement miles away from the unit wondering a) why I hadn’t brought my portable charger and b) was I ever going to get home?

But it’s not so much that I’m scared of going places on my own. It’s just that being on a train is a really draining experience for me because it’s difficult for me to stay calm. Stuck on a train, surrounded by sweaty strangers, with the doors locked until each stop, I always feel like I’m trapped. And if there’s anything that sends my anxiety into Beast Mode, it’s feeling trapped.

Here are my top 8 tips for surviving a train journey with anxiety:

  • Get to the platform well before departure time 

This isn’t so ideal when the train isn’t beginning its journey from your station, but it’s always sensible to avoid a rush if you can. Check the board for updates, and try to get on the train as soon as possible so that you can get a good seat.

  • Have your tickets to hand 

I always worry about losing my tickets and having the embarrassment of being escorted off the train by an angry ticket collector. This is an unlikely possibility, but I always make sure I know exactly where in my purse the ticket (not to be confused with the collection receipt or seat card, which are conveniently the exact same shape and colour).

  • Choose some calming music to listen to on the journey

I always make sure I have space on my phone to download a good set of tunes off Spotify to listen to on the way. ‘Calming’ music can mean different things to different people – sometimes listening to badass songs makes me feel more confident.

  • Try to sit in the Quiet Carriage 

On all trains, there should be a Quiet Carriage. This one is usually next to First Class, but it can differ. In this carriage there won’t be (or shouldn’t be) any noisy families or aggressive bunches off to a football match. This is the place where I feel most comfortable, and where I don’t feel pressured to talk to the strangers around me (sorry).

  • Keep texting your friends and family

Like I wouldn’t be anyway. Just talking to my friends about they’re up to or something completely random really distracts me from the fact that I am stuck and can’t get off the train until it stops.

  • Download some fun games on your phone 

Recently Victoria has introduced me to a really fun app called ‘Episodes’, where you basically ‘play’ a character in a TV series (my favourite is Pretty Little Liars) and get to make different choices in order to twist and turn the outcome of the story. I love these kind of simulation games and find them a good way to detach from reality for a short while.

  • Don’t be afraid to talk to the station staff 

When I was struggling on Friday, a kind member of station staff approached me and really helped me out. She helped me to calm down and assisted me onto the next train, putting me in a quiet area near the front of the train. She explained to me that they treat anxiety like a physical disability, and if you talk to a member of staff before you board the train, they will do their best to make you feel more comfortable.

  • Take medication as a last resort 

It’s tempting to ask for PRN (emergency medication to calm you down – usually diazepam) from the GP in order for me to be able to go on trains, planes and ferries, but it’s not a long-term solution. If anything, it reinforces it. I become dependent on it and feel like I can never go on any journey without taking it. If pushed to the limit, I would take it as a way of completing my journey, but I try to avoid being dependent on benzodiazepines.

      Me and Victoria spending time with her puppa, Harlyn 

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