We’ve all experienced spells of anxiety on crowded buses and busy trains. Our writer, who’s visually impaired, knows all about it – and has some practical advice
As a 20-year-old, my friends regularly swap stories about
owning and driving their first car. Being visually impaired, I will never be able to drive. But like one in six in the UK, I experience travel anxiety. Mine, of course, is a little trickier to manage. My disability is invisible ('scuse the pun), so getting out and about can sometimes be daunting. Thankfully, my parents always encouraged me to push the boundaries, which has helped me to navigate busy airports, bustling railway stations, and crowded public squares, often on my own.
The reality is, current events on London’s public transport can send our commuter anxiety into the stratosphere. When facing strong emotions, sometimes you just have to prepare, breathe and accomplish. Here’s some practical advice on how to handle four typical situations:
The horror we know and love as “Christmas shopping season” is just around the corner, which means your local town centre is going to be jam-packed for the next four weeks. If you feel anxious in crowds, having a “second pair of eyes” is crucial, particularly when shopping somewhere unfamiliar.
Major cities can be more challenging. Thankfully, there’s an army of apps – including the omnipresent Google Maps – that help you to weave through the mazes of Birmingham, Manchester and inner London. Time is crucial, too. I usually give myself a “break in case of emergency” hour, just in case I get totally lost. The result? I don’t always need it!
Let’s be frank, airports are no longer part of the holiday vibe. Increasingly, you’ll be met with long queues, computer glitches, overpriced food and troublesome security checks before you can finally relax. It’s also easy to get overwhelmed by the array of boards and signposts. If you’re alone and starting to feel anxious, I suggest a set of headphones to drown out the white noise, plus a good book to get lost in while you’re waiting. A well-crafted Spotify playlist of your favourite tunes also works wonders.
For me, buses are the hardest of all. The last time I hopped on a bus alone was a year ago. I don’t use them for personal reasons. Namely, buses make me feel stupid because I can’t read their numbers, even when they pull up at the stop. I’m conscious that my confusion makes my disability obvious, which only further heightens my anxiety. But I know the answer: ask someone for help! If you’re in a strange place and a bus draws near, it’s fine to flag it down and ask the driver, politely, if they’re going to X or Y. If they’re not, kindly apologise. You haven’t broken any laws.
If you’ve planned a New Year’s city break, chances are you’ll visit the local tourist attractions. This can turn into a long afternoon of walking down blind alleys, making wrong turns, and doubling-back on yourself. Plus, there’s nothing worse than being lost and unable to speak the lingo. Once again, technology is important. There’s a slew of apps that ofter translation services, and taking time to learn the basics (asking for directions, food, a taxi, the loo, etc.) works a charm on the residents. Remember, it’s the journey that counts, not the final destination.