Tips for Anxious Tube Travellers

I hate the tube.

I mean, it’s convenient, it’s efficient (when it’s running on schedule) and it’s really easy to navigate.

But sitting underground in a metal tube whizzing through black tunnels just doesn’t sit right with me.

Despite the fact my anxiety is at a much more manageable than it used to be (when train and car journeys were close to impossible), the tube conjures up many of those old feelings and I regularly have to employ my various ‘stop panicking’ tactics.

Stopping in tunnels in a fun one. Very often, whether it’s because a passenger alarm has been sounded on another train, or one has technical difficulties, or a train has not moved away from the platform in front quickly enough, the tube stops in the middle of a tunnel. Immediately my heart starts racing. I’m trapped. I have no signal so no one knows where I am. Why have we stopped? How long will I sit here? Very often it’s for less than a minute, but every second stretches on and on.
It’s especially fun when idiots nearby start trying to scare each other with all the things that could have gone wrong… Not.

Even when everything is operating normally, there’s no air, it’s stiflingly hot (especially at rush hour), and you’re often packed in with similarly hot, grumpy individuals.

Something I used to forget in between visits to London before moving here was quite how far you have to walk underground! Your actual tube journey may only be ten minutes, but you need to allow for the three escalators and mass of tunnels to get there. Something I find reassuring when I’m panicking is knowing exactly how long a situation I’m uncomfortable in will last, so I’ve now timed these routes to perfection.

Enough of the doom and gloom though; this post is about what I now to try and avoid those feelings of panic. I’m not perfect at it yet, and I think I will always feel a little edgy, especially at rush hour or when I’m travelling alone, but I’ve started doing a few things that make some difference.

Breathe. The most common, and often annoying, answer to panicking, as it’s often easier said than done. But as soon as I feel those thoughts coming on, I try to make sure I’m breathing slowly and deeply, to remind myself there is enough oxygen.

Carry water and food. Water is a must for me, always, and especially when I’m somewhere hot and enclosed. One of my panic symptoms is very often nausea, and I find snacking slowly on something very plain, like crackers, helps remind myself that I’m not physically ill, it’s just a psychological symptom of my panicking.

Wear layers. If I start to panic, the best thing for me is to be as cool as possible. Wearing layers on the tube is a must for me – I remove my coat as soon as I get on, but then also have the option of taking off a cardigan or jumper if I’m feeling panic set in and am getting hot and bothered.

Carry a good book. My commute to and from work is at least half an hour, and I find being lost on a good book helps to pass the time, I’ve become ruthless with my selections, because if I’m any less than completely engrossed then it’s no help!

Count down. I always make sure I know exactly how many stops I’ll be passing through, and how long the journey will take. I find checking off the stops in my mind really reassuring – 4 down, 2 to go, for example.

You can get off. I always remind myself that tubes are frequent; I can get off for a minute if I need to. If I’m feeling too crowded or enclosed, I can simply hop off for a few minutes and then be on my way on the next tube.

Adjust your route. I’ve done this for my commute home from work. I choose to travel for longer to avoid a) Oxford Circus (if you don’t HAVE to be there between half 5 and half 6, I would not recommend it!) and b) 25 minutes on the Central line and rush hour. Small, old trains and stifling heat? No thanks. I now walk 5/10 minutes to Bond Street, travel on the Jubilee to Stratford (bigger trains, better ventilation), then change onto the Central line for the final part of my journey.

Adjust your travel time. In the morning, I now choose to travel earlier to avoid the worst crowds. I’m a morning person, so this was an easy decision for me. Now, instead of leaving at 8.15, I leave at 7.15, and then have breakfast and read my book in a café near work, I can’t describe how much of a difference this has made to my mindset in the mornings.

The combination of altering my route home, and travelling in earlier, means my day now runs from 7.15 am to 7 pm, rather than 8.15 am to 6.15 pm, but that change is worth it to keep me calmer. I think I’d do it even without my history of anxiety: it’s a much more pleasant experience!

I hope some of these tips may help if you’re someone that feels the same way as me. I’d love to hear any more advice on fellow tube commuters who are not at their happiest underground!


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