The London Underground is undoubtedly one of the best ways to travel the city, for locals and tourists alike. But there is are many things about the Tube that invoke stress and anxiety; it’s hot, it’s crowded, it’s noisy.
Tube stress can be categorised as a type of environmental stress; a psychological response to varying environmental factors, usually stemming from temperature, noise and pollution. The human body reacts to changes in temperature and cases of high or low temperatures can have demanding effects on the body. On a larger scale, there is a noted increase in anxiety, depression and other mental illness with rises in temperature beyond which the body is comfortable with.
Similarly, the over stimulation of our senses can lead to irritability, fatigue, anxiety and sensory sensitivity has been linked to various other mental illnesses. This means, basically, that when we bombarded by sights, sounds, noises and smells, we struggle to process them all and effectively ‘shut down’. Being on the Tube, with exposures of noise and sights, with risen temperatures and close proximity to other people, it’s easy to become stressed.
How to Deal with Stress:
It can be difficult to relax in situation like these and the methods you take when you’re stressed at home or work most likely aren’t doable on the Tube, unless you have no qualms with unrolling a yoga mat on the Central Line. Managing a certain overstimulating factor to decrease the environmental stresses surrounding is a good way to reduce stress.
- Listen to music, an audiobook or podcast. It doesn’t have to be loud, if you still like to be aware of your surroundings, but by removing the noise of the Tube, you give your senses room to breathe, allowing you to focus on your surroundings. Taking away sound, and leaving yourself with sight, reduces the stimulation.
- Read a book, a magazine, an article (maybe you’re reading this on the Tube). As with above, by focusing your sights on one thing, losing your attention into words or images, takes away a sensory awareness, easing the overstimulation.
- Fiddle with something, I like to play with my rings when I’m overly stressed somewhere public. There are several studies that suggest that fidgeting is a cognitive response to being stressed, and that fidgeting with things is a way of regulating our stress, helping us focus or be distracted depending on the situation. Take a pad and pen and doodle away, get an interactive keychain, get a stress ball, whatever works. Try avoiding displacement behaviours (nail biting, scratching, hair pulling) and give yourself something to do that you can do easily squashed into a seat.
- Breathing exercises. A classic technique, useful for Tube stress, anxiety and a variety of other problems. Work on slowing your breathing down. Accelerated breathing rates can increase feelings of stress and anxiety, so listen to a meditative tape or some chill music, and take some deep, easy breaths.
- Keep a bottle of water with you. Keep one anyway, but in the hot stuffy Tube, a cold drink can make the world of difference. Take slow sips to ease nausea, keep your temperature down and keep you hydrated. The air is dry down there, darlings.
Another major stress inducer on the Tube is claustrophobia. I have several memories of standing up on the Tube squished in a like a sardine and hating every minute of it with sweaty, shaky hands. Claustrophobia can range from mild anxiety to severe panic attacks, so in some cases you might seek help from a behavioural therapy expert might be the best route. Claustrophobia symptoms can include shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, rabid heartbeat, dizziness, headaches and numbness or pins and needles. Dealing with mild claustrophobia can be done with the above steps, but if its particularly severe, don’t hesitate to seek further help.
One of the biggest things to remember on the Tube, is that nobody cares. Nobody cares if your drawing, fidgeting, listening to music, staring at your shoes. They don’t care who you are or where you’re going and often, reminding yourself of that, that you’re not being watched or judged, that everybody is in their own headspace, is a great way of taking away stress.
If nothing else, walk. London a great city to explore by foot and pigeons are easier to deal with than people.