A Guide to Coping with Anxiety at Gigs

When you suffer with anxiety, navigating the choppy waters of social situations, events or trips can be challenging, even for the most experienced of sailors. There are people, things and even stuff to contend with. Managing your anxieties at gigs however can be an entirely different kettle of fish.

We’ve whipped up a little guide to prevent you from drowning in the waves of your anxiety during gig experiences. We hope this will help at least some of you who suffer with this type of illness to enjoy events more freely and offer you some kind of support raft.

NB: The advice provided in this article comes from individual experience. It goes without saying that these tips may not be beneficial to everyone, as we all suffer with different types and intensities of anxiety. But we hope that you find even one of the pointers helpful in allowing you to enjoy yourself at these type of events.

For me personally, the number of obstacles or elements included in the gig experience that I would usually avoid is quite daunting. These include, but aren’t limited to crowds and queues, loud noise, higher probability of drunk or loud people, interacting with strangers, small talk, dancing in public, feeling trapped, being too warm and feeling faint.

The combination of all these things packed into one evening with the potential to push me over the edge can be overwhelming. This often leads to me not wanting to attend gigs that I’ve bought tickets to in advance and potentially miss out on seeing artists that I really love.

That being said, I’ve recently been to a couple of gigs two gigs where I was able to adopt a few coping mechanisms to help me stay afloat during both evenings. As a result, I actually enjoyed myself to the full and could appreciate both the music and my surroundings in what I felt was a safe environment for me.

  1. FAMILIARISE YOURSELF WITH THE VENUE BEFOREHAND

If possible, visit the venue before the gig so you can see where everything is and how things will look on the night. For me, I like to know what room I’ll be in, if I’ll be standing or if seats are available in some smaller venues and where the exits and toilets are. I immediately feel more comfortable if the event is at a venue that I know and have been to before.

It helps me to visualise how the evening will look and you won’t find yourself panicked on the night not knowing how to get to the location or where you will need to be. It means that the evening should run smoother for you and that you won’t get lost!

2. PLAN FOR THE EVENT AHEAD OF TIME

One of the main triggers for my anxiety is not being prepared or not feeling in control. To help combat this, I always plan for things ahead of time so I know what to expect: the idea of someone just “popping round for a chat” unannounced is my worst nightmare. I like for things to be well thought-out, organised and agreed beforehand. The expression “spontaneous trip away” actually makes me feel a bit sick. Without any itinerary? Madness!

For gigs, I’d recommend planning things out so they’re won’t be any surprises or confusion on the day. You don’t need to plan out every minute, unless this helps you,  but you can find out who’ll be coming if you’re in a big group, what time you’re meeting, when you need to get to the venue and what times the bands will be on stage.

You can also plan your outfit in advance if this is something that can cause you stress – I also hate being rushed so having things ready and knowing what you’ll be wearing can be a weight off  your mind.

3. GO WITH SOMEONE WHO IS AWARE OF YOUR ANXIETY OR DISORDER

My anxiety means that I’m sometimes unable to function as well in certain settings, usually social situations. I usually feel more comfortable when there is someone with me who is aware of my circumstances. It can be soothing to know that you’re with somebody who is conscious of your anxiety and knows the signs to look out for. Although they can’t completely understand your concerns, at least they know that they exist and what to do if something does happen.

For gigs, I tend to try and go with just one person or a small group, as bigger groups can be overwhelming for me. I always aim to have at least one person there who understands my illness and the effect it can have on me. It means that if an episode or issue does happen, it won’t all be news to them on the night and they’ll know how to deal with it.

4. FIND SOMEWHERE COMFORTABLE TO WATCH THE SHOW FROM

At gigs, the general consensus is to push yourself forward to try and get as close to the band as possible. But for me, the swirling whirlpool of personal triggers in front of the stage is something that I actively avoid. If it makes you uncomfortable or sets off your anxiety to be involved in the long-standing gig tradition of being sweaty, pushed and squashed, then I would encourage you to find somewhere in the room, maybe at the back or sides, where you can watch the show from a place that feels safe to you.

This also means that it’s easier for you to step out if you need to without wading through loads of sweaty, drunk people. Although you won’t be “where the action happens”, you’ll still be able to appreciate the music in your own way. Plus, if you’re near the back, chances are that you’re near the bar – hurrah!

5. FEEL COMFORTABLE WITH LEAVING EARLY IF YOU NEED TO

Being in a situation that triggers your anxiety can be challenging at the best of times, but being caught up in a situation where you don’t feel able to leave can make things ten times worse. Events like gigs can often make me feel trapped as it can feel rude or almost disrespectful to the band to leave prematurely, especially at intimate venues. But sometimes you need to do what’s best for you and if you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s important to know that it’s okay to remove yourself from the situation.

I always try and nip outside between sets to give myself chance to cool down and prepare myself for the next band, which can help me to feel refreshed. Whether you do decide to pop out for a breather or you do feel that you need to leave the gig altogether, it’s better that you go for the sake of your mental health rather than feel that you have to stay and continue to suffer. There will  always be other gigs and events you can attend in the future and it’s so important that you take care of yourself!

Tasha Szoradi

Art by Jess Brown

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