Anxiety is among one of the most common disorders that individuals face. And while there may be times that you feel like you can manage your anxiety, it can be challenging to cope with symptoms of anxiety when you are outside of the comfort and safety of your home. The therapists at Cohesive Therapy NYC have put together a few tips for subtle ways to manage your anxiety when you are in public.

1. Breathe In and Out To Relax Your Body

As soon as you feel the anxiety creeping in (whether this is a thought that is distressing to you or a symptom in your body) try to focus on your breathing. Begin to take slow, deep breaths. Inhale through your nose for a slow count of three, hold for a count of three, and then exhale through your mouth for a count of three. Notice the cool sensation of the breath coming in through your nose, and the warmth of the breath leaving your mouth.

As you take these deep breaths, try to imagine a balloon in your belly, beneath your belly button, rising and falling. Try to send the air down to your belly, filling up that balloon each time you inhale. Slow, deep breaths send a signal to your brain and body that there is not a threat and that you are safe, making it easier to respond to your anxious thoughts and handle the rest of your day.

2. Acknowledge and Challenge Your Unhelpful Thoughts

When you start to notice that your thoughts are racing, you are worrying about all of the “what ifs”, or you are thinking about worst-case scenarios, take a moment to reframe and re-evaluate your thoughts.

  • First, acknowledge that the thoughts you are having, while very distressing, are just thoughts. Your thoughts do not define you.
  • Next, add some “content and context” to your thoughts. While this thought may be stressful, I can handle this by ____. Or I can turn to ___ for support. Or I have handled something similar before by ____.
  • Finally, ask yourself some questions to challenge these anxious thinking patterns. Are these worries based in fear, or in fact? Could you be overestimating what will happen? Are you underestimating your ability to cope? Have you had thoughts like this before, but been able to cope with whatever is making you anxious?

Challenging your thoughts in this way can take some of the power away from them and help you feel more control of your anxiety in public.

3. Be Mindful

When we are anxious, our minds and bodies are reacting to a perceived threat. The concept of mindfulness is to focus on small details in the present moment, to ground ourselves and bring our attention back to the here and now. By doing this, we are telling our brains and bodies that we are safe in this moment.

A discreet mindfulness technique that can be used in a subtle way while out in public is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique

  • First notice five things that you see. Pay attention to a few details of each thing that you are noticing. The shape, the color, the texture.
  • Next notice four things that you feel. This may be the fabric of your clothing, the feeling of the chair beneath you, the sensation of your feet heavy on the floor.
  • Now pay attention to three things that you hear. Really notice the details of these sounds. Are they loud? Soft? High pitched? Repetitive?
  • Next note two things that you smell. This may mean smelling the shampoo in your hair, the perfume on your wrist, the food on your desk, the nature around you.
  • Finally observe one thing that you taste. You might take a sip of water, or notice the taste left over in your mouth from your snack or lunch earlier.

This exercise is honing in on the five senses in your surroundings, to bring your attention back to the present.

4. Be Kind to Yourself

Our internal dialogue can have a big impact on our experience of anxiety. Instead of trying to suppress, control, or judge the anxiety you are experiencing, acknowledge and accept what you are feeling and be compassionate, kind, and patient with yourself. 

Remind yourself that this will pass, think about instances that you have felt anxious and have been able to cope with it before, and give yourself some self-love and kindness in a way that you would for a friend or a family member if they were feeling this way.

All of these subtle techniques can be used in public to respond to and manage your experience of anxiety, without anyone being able to notice that you are doing them. If you or a loved one is interested in learning more tools for managing anxiety in public or in any other setting, contact us today to set up a free 20-minute phone consultation. We would be happy to see how we are able to help you reach your goals!


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    About the author(s)

    Karen is the founder and Clinical Director of Cohesive Therapy NYC. She earned a Masters in Social Work from New York University and has extensive training in Hypnosis, Anxiety, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Brainspotting, and DGBI. She is a member of the Institute of Certified Anxiety Treatment Professionals, The Rome Foundation, the National Association of Social Workers, The Crohn's and Colitis Foundation, and the American Social of Clinical Hypnosis.

    About Cohesive Therapy NYC

    At Cohesive Therapy NYC, we believe that you have an immense amount of inner strength and resilience, even if it is yet to be discovered. Cohesive Therapy NYC is a private group psychotherapy practice in New York City that focuses on treating adults who struggle with Anxiety, Trauma, Chronic Illness, and the adult impact of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). Cohesive Therapy NYC therapists see clients all throughout New York State (Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island, Westchester, and statewide) using online therapy and are also available for in-person visits in their NYC offices, located at 59 East 54th Street, New York, NY 10022. We specialize in helping people who are dealing with anxiety, relationship issues, chronic illness, and digestive and adult trauma related to childhood family dynamics. We all deserve a chance to be well and have support.