Anxiety and Waiting- Why Does This Freak Me Out?

Waiting in lines- at the post office, the grocery store, to go to communion, for the traffic light to change. Anxiety and waiting is one of the most common and frightening experiences for anxiety sufferers. Today we’ll look at anxiety and waiting, both why it freaks us out, and what we can do about it.anxiety and waiting

I used to absolutely dread buying my textbooks at the beginning of the semester when I was in college. The line would go all the way to the back of the bookstore and waiting there for over an hour was what it took. What stunk even worse was you had to have the books, and the supply always ran out quickly. There was no way around it. So I would stand there and have one massive panic attack after another.

In my 20’s I remember I hated going to the post office because I couldn’t stand that damn line! I would stand there and have horrible feelings of depersonalization, palpitations and even full blown anxiety attacks. Sometimes it was too much and I would just say forget this and bolt out the door.

When my daughter was younger, I remember I had to wait in a huge line to sign her up for winter basketball. It took over 2 hours to stand in that dreaded line. I remember feeling like my legs were going to give out and I would fall to the floor. I remember turning to run out the door about every 2 minutes. But I *had* to sign her up, otherwise what kind of a mother would I be? It was an excruciating and exhausting 2 hours.

I had such anxiety about waiting in lines over the years, and if you are anxious, you probably have too.

(FYI–Fear of waiting in lines is a symptom of social anxiety. See here for a comprehensive list of social anxiety symptoms.)

Anxiety & Waiting: Why it Freaks Us Out

Well first, We feel trapped. Anxious people have to have a clear path to the exit- just in case! Standing in lines makes us feel corralled in. All our anxiety symptoms are triggered. We feel lightheaded, jittery, off balance, can’t breathe right, our heart is racing a million miles a minute.

And what’s worse, we are even more trapped as we check out. We may feel we’ve used up every ounce of strength just to be in the line or queue and then, once it’s our turn to check out, we actually have to squeeze in through the counter. We have to interact with the salesperson, and this may be enough to put us right over the edge. Maybe we had a severe panic attack or anxiety symptoms so intense, that once we actually make it through, we feel like a sweating, quivering ball of jello as we weakly push our cart out the door…

We feel like the people around us are watching our every move. When I was having severe anxiety, I could actually feel people’s eyes searing through me, so sure was I that they were all honed in and watching my every move. Surely they could see my hands were shaking and that my breath was coming in quick gasps. They could see me wobble and sway as my jelly legs threatened to give out altogether and leave me helpless and sprawled out on the floor.

We know this is the perfect storm for having a panic attack. It is just the perfect set up for us to make a complete and utter fool of ourselves. I would stand in those lines of my youth armed with Tums and seltzer water and chewing my mint gum and still I could feel the bile rising in my stomach. One of these days, I just knew I would projectile vomit all over the place. Why not today? Panic attack, panic attack, panic attack….

Waiting And Anxiety- Ways to Make it Easier

No matter what we think of them, lines are a fact of life and waiting in them is a skill you really want to have. Here are some tips for waiting in lines that decrease anxiety.

1. Start small. You knew I was going to tell you that in order to get over any fear or anxiety about lines, you would have to practice doing it, right? Right! πŸ™‚ But that doesn’t mean you can’t start small. Going to Wal-mart or the grocery store early in the morning or late at night is a good way to set yourself up for success. You will be able to choose a really small line and just get the hang of going through it.

You can do the same thing with communion. Go to an early mass where there aren’t as many people, and just practice. You might have to do a little thinking outside the box, but you can find ways to wait in lines that aren’t so scary.

2. Practice practice practice. Once you get the hang of being in a small line and being ok, it’s time to graduate onto bigger lines.

3. Be prepared to fully accept any weird feelings you might have while you stand there. Remember, if you have hated and feared standing in lines for any length of time, you’re going to still feel anxious for awhile. The feelings won’t just disappear. So accept that you feel anxious, but don’t make it a big deal. Know that you can choose to leave the line at any time, but that you can also choose to stay and float through the fear. You can let the fear and the anxiety symptoms just wash over you. This is how you win πŸ™‚

4. Check your breathing. You can help diminish anxiety symptoms – do diaphragmatic breathing, nice and slow. Focus on breathing in calm, soothing, healing breaths, and exhale any stress and fear that you may still be holding onto. Mentally relax into each breath, and allow yourself to let go of your feeling that you have to fight. Instead, breathe and float, float, float….

4. Listen to a helpful recording while you wait. If waiting and anxiety is too much to bear, you can even listen to a healing mp3Β (on headphones) while you are in the line. I actually had to do this at one point, and it really helped me. I focused on my voice telling me that I was safe, reminding me not to exaggerate the situation, reminding me that no one was really focused on me, etc. And this is different than just listening to music, which is just a distraction. This is a way to actively practice your anxiety recovery while you are in the real life trigger situation.

With practice and persistence, you will be able to stand in any line with calm confidence. Good luck!

I wish you peace,
Jill G.

PS. When you set yourself up for success BEFORE you leave the house, you put yourself in the VERY BEST POSITION to master anxiety while in waiting in line. I HIGHLY recommend you tryΒ The Triple A program as explained in The 60 Second Panic Solution. I’ve used this program since 2014 and have had excellent results. It works like a charm! πŸ™‚ Do check it out here.

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10 Responses to Anxiety and Waiting- Why Does This Freak Me Out?

  1. zoe says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this Jill! I have a terrible time with lines πŸ™ I am going to try taking my mp3 player with praise music on it next time I need to go to Walmart!

  2. zoe says:

    Also, you said:
    “Know that you can choose to leave the line at any time, but that you can also choose to stay..”
    This got me today. Yes, it is my choice to be there or not. I can choose to stay! That puts a positive spin on it! Thanks πŸ™‚

  3. Lauren says:

    I have officially begun avoiding the grocery store ( asking my husband to go instead and making excuses why I can’t make it) because of a panic attack I had at the check out. The clerk actually looked at me and said, ” you look pale are you going to faint?” I the. Had to ask for a chair because I was so freaked out that she noticed (if someone else notices, then it must be real, right?)
    This article is hopeful for me. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Maz says:

    Great post. I’m actually having this trouble at the moment. Great tips. We can all do this guys. Practice is the early

    Maz xxx

  5. Veronica says:

    I have to fly soon and although am dreading the security line and jetway boarding line…both potential meltdown areas I’m going to carry a folding cane/seat just in case and am planning to request pre-boarding accomodation on a/c of potential problems having symptoms in the boarding tunnel. It’s problematic this condition but I think that finding effective ways to cope is a key factor which gives one a more secure feeling. I may even put the folding seat/cane in the supermarket cart and stop worrying about what others think if I feel the need to sit. Diaghramatic breathing is a new one for me. Will try it.

    • JillG says:

      Learning to synchronize your breathing so the in breath and out breath are slow and steady will definitely help. Start practicing right away, the more you do it, the more you will remember that this is how we’re supposed to breathe. Remember, anxiety makes us hold our breath, and that makes it worse physiologically. So breathe, it is your body’s natural way to regulate itself.

      As for your folding cane/seat, good for you. Whatever it takes for you to feel more secure in that brief but frightening situation. Sounds perfectly reasonable to me. Good luck to you Veronica! xx

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