What to Do if You’re Having an Anxiety Attack in Public

You’re at a busy coffee shop just waiting for your latte and minding your own business. Suddenly, you’re gripped by an inexplicable feeling of dread. You start to feel nervous, and your body reacts accordingly as your heart races and you begin to sweat. You feel trapped, and you worry that everyone can tell something is wrong—all you want is to run out of the coffee shop and find a safe space. You are experiencing an anxiety attack. And not only are you experiencing intense anxiety, but you are experiencing that anxiety in public, which can make it seem even worse. It can be scary, but there are some tools you can use to help you work through the anxiety and come out on the other side.

Signs of an Anxiety Attack

If you are concerned that one day you may have an anxiety attack in public, you should know the possible signs. There are low-level anxiety attacks, the kind where you worry about having to talk to someone new or travel somewhere on your own. These usually stem from situational concerns and are more easily manageable.

Then there are the episodes that seem like panic attacks. With these, you can experience a range of symptoms both mental and physical. An intense anxiety attack can bring on the sudden feeling of crushing fear, the sense that something bad is about to happen or even the disorienting sense of being outside of the situation like you are detached from it. Physically, signs of an anxiety attack include vision problems, nausea, elevated heart rate or palpitations, a feeling of dizziness, shakiness, difficulty breathing, a rush of cold or heat throughout the body, chest pain, and a numb sensation in the arms or legs. Because these symptoms seem to appear out of the blue, that may also heighten your feeling of anxiety. These attacks generally don’t last long, roughly 10 minutes, but it’s still crucial to have techniques on hand that can help you get through an anxiety attack.

Ways to Manage Anxiety During an Attack

One of the best things you can do during an anxiety attack is to stop and breathe deeply. Taking deliberate and measured inhales and exhales can help counteract the rush of adrenaline you feel during an attack and slow your heart rate. Focus on the breath—for instance, inhaling to a count of five, pausing, then exhaling to another five count—can also give your mind something to latch onto, which can lessen the panic. This is also a terrific management technique when you are experiencing an attack in public, as it’s something you can do on your own and doesn’t require any special tools or equipment—and it doesn’t draw attention to yourself.

Another good way to manage anxiety in public is have a guided meditation app on your phone. All you have to do is open the app and put on your earbuds, and you have a soothing, calming method of defusing the fear. Meditation has been shown to be effective at boosting mood and draining tension from the muscles, relaxing the mind and body.

Your phone can also come in handy in a couple of other ways. If you are experiencing anxiety in public, find a quiet spot where you can call a friend who knows what you are dealing with and can talk you through the episode. You can also have a playlist of your favorite music designed to calm your anxiety and you listen to that when needed.

An anxiety attack may also be lessened if you get moving. If possible, walk around for a bit to clear your thoughts. The rhythm of your footsteps can be relaxing, the movement can regulate your heart rate and it gets you out of any paralyzing feeling you may have. If you don’t feel steady enough to move right away, close your eyes while you do your deep breathing or meditation. Alternatively, you can also focus on a stationary object until you get your bearings and are ready to move around.

One of the most important things you can do to survive anxiety in public is to develop a mantra in your head that will help remind you that this is a passing thing. It can just make things worse to worry about whatever other people are thinking about you or to catastrophize and project your worst fears onto the situation. The mantra can be something simple such as “This too shall pass,” or “I’m not alone in this.” Meditating on this by silently repeating it to yourself can get your mind into a clearer place.

The key is to find the best techniques for you, and be prepared when you go out. That way, if an attack does occur, you have the ammunition you need to defeat it and move forward. If you have been struggling with anxiety and wonder if it’s part of a larger mental health concern, Casa Palmera is here to help you. Our programs take an individualized approach with each client, and the professionals who staff those programs are both experienced and empathetic. At Casa Palmera, you will get the tools you need to learn how to effectively cope with anxiety. Don’t wait—contact us today.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.