How I Stopped Letting Anxiety Control My Commute


Illustration by Maia Grecco.

CW: Violence, mental illness.

In early grade 12, a big group of my friends and I bought tickets to see Hollerado at the Danforth. I was excited but had never seen a show at that venue before and anticipated some confusion about how all fifteen of us were getting there. I looked it up on Google Maps as soon as I bought the tickets and freaked out – the subway? I’d never taken the subway. I am not someone who leaves things to the last minute. I mean, I leave essays and stuff till the last minute, but if I know I have to get somewhere, I need to know The Plan with lots of advance notice.


I didn’t want to seem like a control freak for trying to bring up travel plans for the concert so I waited for someone else to do it. Suddenly, it was the night before the concert, and no one had discussed The Plan. We needed a Plan! I don’t remember how it happened, but I called my friend out of a nervous panic and cried to her on the phone for about fifteen minutes because I was so terrified that we had to somehow get to the Danforth, but there was no Plan.

Of course, everything ended up being totally fine. Some of our friends drove to the train station and we all took the same train to the city; from there, I just followed the group. The concert was a blast and getting home was easy too.

Anxiety shows itself differently in everyone who has it. My fear of public transit is almost totally irrational, I know – that’s actually the most frustrating thing about it. I know it’s irrational, but it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with the anxiety. I worry about missing my stop, that it’s almost always crowded, and that everything moves so fast. Everyone wants to get on and off the trains and subway and quickly as possible. They don’t stop for anyone. What if I forget something? Did I forget something? I’ll never see it again. My school days are long so I get hungry and tired, which makes it even tougher to remain calm. All these little fears have built themselves on the foundation of already existing and always-present anxiety, so even the thought of taking public transit can sometimes still make my stomach turn.

Another big reason I’m terrified of transit is all the horror stories I’ve heard about people getting assaulted on the subway or even pushed onto the rails. After the Paris attacks, Islamophobia manifested itself in lots of very tangible ways all over the world, and I heard lots of stories – even local ones – about brown women getting attacked on the subway. I had nightmares about it and I still do. When the subway is approaching, I’m the girl hugging the wall at the back of the platform.

It took me a very long time to become comfortable in public transit, but now that I’m kind of good at getting places, here’s what I can tell you:

  • Give yourself a reason to go through with the commute. Plan to meet up with a friend after work/in between classes. Check out what fun local events are taking place soon. Take yourself out for a nice dinner that you can only get in the city. I try to remind myself that missing out on things and skipping lectures feels a lot worse than putting myself through the commute.
  • Account for bad weather, delays, and other obstacles and give yourself a comfortable amount of time to get to your bus/train/subway. If you’re using Google Maps, leave 5 minutes before it tells you to. There is no worse feeling for me than knowing I’m going to have about 30 seconds to catch my train when the subway gets to the train station. Plus, where I live, the only predictable thing about the transit system is how unpredictable it is, so I try not to cut it too close.
  • There are ways to stay safe. Take the trains with a friend on days that you feel too anxious to go alone. Also, the presence of a friend will calm your nerves immensely and the time will pass a lot faster.
  • Don’t carry too many things with you. If you commute to school like me, only bring what you absolutely know you’ll use that day. If you know someone who lives where you commute to, ask if you can keep some things at their place every now and then.
  • No one cares if you take too long swiping your transit pass/putting in a token/buying a ticket. The person behind you might grumble for half a second, but they’ll forget about it right away. I always keep my wallet out and ready when approaching the subway so I can move quicker, but you don’t need to worry that you might be moving too slowly. If there’s a problem, find somewhere to stand that is out of the way of all the people rushing and pushing; breathe, collect your coins or find your transit pass, and move forward.
  • A distraction is key. I like to listen to music when I’m commuting, and I’ve made playlists of music that calms me down. If it’s reading that relaxes you, then bring a nice book. If you have cell service, call someone to chat with until you feel better.
  • Get a portable battery. I own this one, and there are lots of less expensive ones out there that will juice up your phone/iPod/tablet if it dies in the middle of your commute. My days are often very long, and I am completely reliant on my phone when I’m commuting, so portable batteries have made it astronomically easier for me to get around.
  • Keep snacks in your bag! I always have a water bottle and a granola bar on me for those nights that I’m only halfway through the train ride and about three seconds away from passing out onto the businessman sitting next to me.
  • If you have a transit pass, put a recurring reminder in your phone based on how often you have to reload or renew the pass. I hate getting to the station and realizing there’s no money on my pass, so I check my balance at the end of every week and add more money if I need to.
  • Finally – missing your train or getting off at the wrong subway stop does not mean the world is about to end. If you want, you can save the train schedule, subway map, and anything else relatively constant like that on your phone so you know what to do if you end up nowhere near where you needed to be.

Commuting used to be one of the most terrifying everyday tasks in my life, and now, it’s just another part of my day. I went from clutching the overhead rail on the subway as tightly as I could to standing with my hands at my sides, and learning how to shift my weight from foot to foot so I don’t fall over. Instead of obsessively triple and quadruple-checking that I’m at the right bus stop at the right time, I remember where to go to catch bus 3 at 12:26 PM and don’t find myself checking the schedule even once. I notice familiar faces on my morning commute and funny correlations in the way that people dress and what stop they get off at (you can always tell an OCAD student before they get off at St. Patrick station.) A few days ago, I even taught my little brother how to take the bus.

You have more control over your anxious fears than you think you do. Have a little faith in your ability to get used to your commute. I promise it gets easier.

The best part about beating commute anxiety is that now I’ll never ever have to learn how to drive. Nope, screw that – too scary.

Written by Shailee Koranne.