When you face daily battles of anxiety, especially when it comes to social anxiety and being at risk of overload in a busy place, it feels so much easier just to stay at home, where you know where everything is and no one will come and invade your personal, quiet, calming space.
However, this doesn’t seem to work in the real world, as nice as it would be! We do have to go out and interact with the world a little bit, whether it is for groceries shopping, meeting a friend or going for a walk to get some vital fresh air and some beautiful vitamin D from the sunshine.
This is why it is SO UNBELIEVABLY important to give yourself some tools for self-regulation while you are out and about in the world, for a boost of inner confidence to know that ‘you got this!’ as well as knowing that you have something to fall back on if you do begin to feel overwhelmed or in need of an escape.
This is where ‘safe spaces’ come in to the picture. These are places out and about in the world where you can run to when you begin to feel a little overloaded and in need of some de-stimulating to be able to carry on without risk of a meltdown. This can be anything, and is very specific to the person you are, what you need and the things you find joy in. For me, I love being able to know that I have particularly places where I can retreat to, not be asked questions and just sit there in silence, normally with my sketchbook or journal. I have a few little special cafe’s dotted around that have become my ‘safe space’s’, and I know that I can just head there to regain a sense of centre and familiarity when I am beginning to feel overwhelmed and spinning out of control.
I think familiarity is the key to this, really. It has to be spaces of calm, of centre, of places where we can go and feel safe, not have to ‘be’ anyone, and simply unwind our hectic wired brains and allow our anxieties to gently dissipate and leave our tightly wound bodies.
This can be anywhere from going for a walk along the beach, a calm quiet forest, a small, quirky cafe with beautiful soothing music and great people, finding the sound of a trickling stream or the rolling, predictable crash of waves upon the sea shore, it can be in the midst of a library, surrounded by books that don’t require anything from you, it can be in huge gallery or museum, just so you can become lost in anonymity amidst the silent paintings and brush strokes of the past.
Whatever it may be that you find a sense of relief, a sense of coming back to yourself, begin there, and slowly you will find that you can begin to build up a mental ‘safe space’ list in your head, I actually have one now for most of the towns or places that I visit, just so that you can feel confident in knowing that you can deal with any problems that may arise along your journey outside of the house (which, to be fair, is my number one favourite place to be).
Giving yourself a regular dose of safe space therapy is vital for maintaining a good sense of wellbeing and a stable mental health. It is for me, anyway, but everyone is different, and you just have to figure out what works for you.
I also find that creating safe spaces within unfamiliar situations work just as well, and creativity is fantastic for this – things like bringing a sketchbook to doodle in when you’re feeling anxious has been an absolute life line for me in unpredictable social situations, or perhaps you could bring headphones and listen to soothing music while walking through a busy space, this could help you focus your energy on the calm of the notes rather than risk being overstimulated by the intensity of the noise going on around you (traffic, people, children screaming, etc). Bringing a book with you to read, a journal to write in, something to fiddle with (I have a smooth massage stone that I squeeze and twist around my hands when I’m nervous, I find it calms me down and helps to regulate me when I’m in a social setting without being too obvious to others). Stroking soft material, twiddling a pen around your fingers, doodling, drawing, folding origami, anything that keeps your hands busy helps to keep your energy down in your body rather than floating too strongly up in your head, which heightens the risk of anxiety and feeling spaced out and overwhelmed.
Safe spaces come in all shapes and sizes, and these are just a few tips that I have learned on how to cope with the unpredictable chaos and overstimulation of the world, because whether we like it or not, we have to interact with the world to some extent, we simply have to learn how to manage our sensitivity and be more aware of how the world affects us, and how to calm ourselves down and manage our stress levels.
Have you got any tips on how you self-regulate or manage your stress levels out in the world? Feel free to share in the comments section, I am always open to hearing about things that work for people, as we are all different!
Lots of love, and go gently.