It’s been a while since we’ve done one of these. Following a bright and breezy June where we spent most if not all of our free time outside, now the summer months are here and social life is roaring. Summer has arrived and with it, the land of the living, the crowds of chaos, the filled to the brim walking spots and the eager faces popping up over hedges crowing hellos at us as we attempt to escape.
If this sounds familiar, you’re probably on the same sort of page as us right now. So let’s use this very page to talk about social anxiety during summer, and alternative ways to enjoy it.
Firstly, we all know that summer is busy. The schools are out, the holidaymakers are arriving in our coastal towns and all of our usual quiet places are suddenly out of bounds. Booking a holiday or even a short break somewhere else is out of the question. Too expensive, too crowded and too noisy. For the next six weeks at least, external life is packed out. It can feel as though there is no escaping it.
For this reason, it requires a lot of creativity to find an alternative way to enjoy summer. You think you’ve mastered it but then it seems that everyone else has the same idea so it’s back to the drawing board. That is something that people often don’t understand about what those of us with social anxiety have to do. When everywhere is busy it isn’t just about avoidance for us, it means that we have to be adept at working out what the alternatives are. But, contrary to the belief that people with social anxiety stay indoors, hibernating until it’s all over, the truth is that we can get out and about and there are alternative ways to enjoy summer.
So, here are five ways that we do it as well as some common things that happen in these situations.
Download the app, put on your walking shoes and get outdoors. It’s pretty much that simple. But, in case you don’t already know, Geocaching is like a real-world treasure hunt where you use GPS coordinates to find hidden containers. Believe it or not, these are hidden EVERYWHERE. You will be surprised just how many are tucked away in your local area. Hidden behind trees, under bushes and magnetically attached to roadsigns in random lay-bys. You can even hide some of your own.
The great thing about Geocaching is that it gets you outdoors, and usually to places you would never consider going. Over the years we’ve found abandoned ruins, hidden beaches and even an old railway cart on an overgrown bridleway. These unusual, and most importantly quiet places, have been a lifesaver for us during the busy summer months.
Things to consider
Geocaching is great for quiet outdoor adventures, but as previously mentioned, the caches can be found pretty much everywhere. And as those of us are all too aware, people can be found pretty much everywhere too. That being the case, we can’t promise you will always find yourself all on your own when out on a treasure hunt. As with any outdoor activity, there is always the risk of bumping into a fellow hiker or over-enthusiastic holidaymaker intent on chatting about the weather. That being said, when planned carefully, many geocaching locations are usually much quieter than your usual tourist hotspots and busy town centres.
It’s also worth noting that rummaging through the bushes or climbing up trees can draw a bit of attention. Who wouldn’t be curious about someone who is neck-deep in the overgrowth with their hand stuck down a hole in the ground? People are bound to ask questions! Fortunately, everyone we’ve come across has been very friendly and are keen to learn more about Geocaching. Someone even tried to help find an elusive container. Our advice would be to use the app to find those more remote locations, enjoy yourself and just be prepared for brief interactions with curious passers-bys.
Cycling gets a lot of flack, but I promise you, it’s worth trying. Life on two wheels has been absolutely transformational for our mental health. Many of us have those fond memories of childhoods spent out on our bikes, whether it was learning to ride or as a means of seeing friends. The problem today is that cycling is all too often perceived as dangerous, frightening or if you see the posts on social media, subject to aggression from other road users.
Whilst these things do exist, there are ways to enjoy cycling in a safe way. We started riding back in 2020, not so much for fitness but because we wanted to find a way to enjoy the outdoors without having to speak to people. With so many out and about walking and hiking during that time (it felt as though our entire village were walking the very same lane!), that is one of the greatest things about cycling. See someone on a walk, they may collar you for a chat - see someone on a ride, however, and at most, it’s a fly-by ‘Hi’ as you ride past.
If you don’t have a bike already it truly is a buyer's market right now to pick one up second-hand. We paid around £90 each for our trusty old hybrids back in 2020 - now the same type of bikes are for sale at just £30-40 - sometimes even less. If you decide cycling isn’t for you by the end of summer, it hasn’t cost you the earth and there will always be someone, somewhere who will be willing to take it off your hands or a place where you can donate it.
Once you’ve got your bike, you might be looking to build your confidence. For this, we’d suggest taking your first rides in familiar locations and an absolute must is to watch GCN videos on YouTube. They are absolutely brilliant and cover pretty much everything you need to know starting from the basics (they are entertaining too - see the epic rides, especially the overnight ones).
Things to consider
When first starting out with cycling, don’t assume that cycle paths are the quietest places to ride. They may be called a ‘cycle’ path but really they are for everyone, often frequented by both dog walkers and general walkers. With them being so narrow we have been ‘brake checked’ on them more than any other place we've ridden. The most frequent risk we come across on cycle paths is dogs off leads. Ring your bell when approaching a human and quite often they appreciate that, but our furry friends don’t understand and if they don’t have a cautious human taking care of them, they’re probably going to inspect our shiny wheels out of curiosity. So from our perspective, road riding is the way forward. Especially quiet country lanes. Fewer people, less interaction and honestly, we find that cars mostly just want to get past and be on their way.
When we have had people show interest when stopped somewhere with our bikes, they are usually very friendly - but it tends to be manageable. If they are starting a conversation about your bikes, chances are they understand cycling. If they don’t, there is always the excuse to leave with fitness activities - staying in those zones is important!
Secondly, another thing to know about cycling is that you can cover more ground at a quicker pace taking you to the quietest of places. Even if you start out from your home town or village, it won’t take long until you are away from the crowds and people on their walks. On a bike, you can move faster, get away from the places you don’t want to be in and enjoy the spaces that help you recharge. Places that are out of the way, often inaccessible on foot or by car.
3. Visit the city
Ok, stay with us on this one. As introverts, and people with social anxiety, thinking about walking into a busy urban space is not an ideal thought. For those of us who live rural, such spaces are completely out of our comfort zones - filled with strange sounds, smells and so different to our usual haunts. But honestly, there is a lot to be said for anonymity in a crowd. Whenever we visit a city, as this is often so far away from home - there is less chance of seeing someone we know, something that is a great source of anxiety for both of us.
We also find that cities or busy towns have less scope for the awkwardness that comes from unwanted conversation. It’s a very different crowd. Where we live in rural Pembrokeshire - a place that is highly sought after during the summer, a simple trip to the beach or walk along the coastal path can result in so many people trying to make cheery conversation, one after another. Saying a quick hello once or twice isn’t so much a problem, but when we get to our tenth it can be overwhelming. From our own experience, this doesn’t tend to happen so much in more urban spaces - it’s an entirely different culture. Of course, if you are someone who already lives in a city then you might want to visit an alternative to the place where you live. But whatever the case, the great thing about being in a city as a visitor is that even if it does become too much, there are always plenty of alternative activities to choose from, as well as the option to go home at the end of them.
Things to consider
Obviously, visiting a city doesn’t come without its challenges when it comes to social anxiety. If you are someone who lives in a quieter location, the noise as well as having less personal space is probably one of the first things you will notice. Simple things like crossing a road, with greater volumes of people doing the same, you’ll likely end up shoulder to shoulder with someone and that can feel very uncomfortable. To help with this, it’s worth checking out exactly where you are going to be to avoid the overcrowded areas, as well as visiting at quieter times of the day.
Whenever we visit a city, we often have a full alphabet of plans set out, because being autistic and living with social anxiety, I know that quite often plans don’t work out. You can visit a place with all the best intentions only to arrive and it’s completely different to how you envisaged it to be.
Venturing into the unknown isn’t easy, so for that reason, it’s definitely a good idea to check out places beyond the official visitor guides - check social media, look at what other people have experienced in these places. It’s not going to be the same for everyone of course, but it’s always good to have a general idea and if you are doing something specific, ring ahead. Many places are happy to accommodate people with sensory and disability needs (shout out to Castell Coch here for their amazing team). So, don’t be afraid to make that call or send an email - even if it is just to say “I have social anxiety, when is the best time to come?”. We know that there’s still a long way to go with society accepting us socially awkward folk, but honestly, we are moving in the right direction and there is greater understanding than there used to be.
4. Rainy day activities
Summer may be wet and wild in the UK this year, but rainy days don’t have to keep us from enjoying ourselves. Firstly, rainfall generally results in fewer people so if you do want to go to that place, those days are probably the best time to visit. We recently did a trip to one of our favourite nature places on a windy, grey and wet Saturday. Arriving in the car park it was like winter. Half occupied, no cosy parkers, and those who did venture out didn’t tend to stay long. It allowed us to fully relax into the place without feeling on edge and needing to move on every few minutes. It was nice.
If the weather is too wild to the extent of danger then obviously indoors is the way to go. It goes without saying that public indoor activities are going to be extremely busy on these days - so approach these with caution or perhaps opt to do them on sunshine-filled days when everyone else is outdoors.
If you decide to stay home, then these summer rainfall days are great for starting something new for you. It might be the perfect time to start a new online course outside of your usual area - or pick up a book by that author you’ve always wanted to read but never had the time. You might even enjoy trying an alternative approach to online socialising, stepping back from social media and taking a slower pace through an online forum such as The ASW Forum (shameless plug)...
Things to consider
These are just a few suggestions, but the main thing to consider with out-in-public rainy day activities is firstly, how many others will be doing the same? For this reason, it’s good to think outside of the box, thinking less about what is the ideal thing to do to keep dry and more about ‘What are people not going to be doing today?’. The answer to that question will usually bring you closer to a peaceful day - as long as it isn’t a dangerous activity of course!
Secondly, another thing to think about is that following a rainy day when many people have been stuck indoors, the first thing we all want to do is get outside, take in the sun, and fill our lungs with fresh air. We are only human after all. But that also means that outdoor places are perhaps going to be exceptionally busier after lots of people have been cooped up inside, especially if they are on holiday and want to get the most out of their time away.
So it might be worth planning any outdoor activities with this in mind and utilising those rainy days for their quieter essence. You might get drenched but you won’t have to do as much peopling, and sometimes, it is those days that are exactly what we need.
5. Watch the sunrise
Here’s a quick and simple one. Get up early, make yourself a flask and find a nice quiet spot to watch the sun come up. It’s a small thing, but it’s worth the early start. Nothing beats the sight of the sun slowly rising above the horizon while the birds wake up all around you. What’s more, watching the sunrise is often a much calmer and more relaxing experience than going out to watch the sunset. People like to gather when the sun goes down, but during sunrise, most folk are still tucked up in bed.
We make an effort to do this a few times each summer and never regret it. We recommend you try it too.
Things to consider
First of all, we need to recognise that not all views are created equal. If you live rural or by the coast, I’m sure you can think of plenty of stunning places to watch the sun come up. But if you live in a town or city, your options might be more limited. Don’t let this put you off though. Even just being outside in the park, your garden or even just sitting inside looking out the window can be a rewarding experience. Those first moments of sunlight are magical, no matter where you are.
Secondly, if you do venture off somewhere quiet, just be aware that you may not have the place entirely to yourself. Dog walkers often take advantage of those early quiet moments when no one else is around. In our experience though most people aren’t up for much interaction. Chances are if they are out that early in the morning, they aren’t looking for a social. Most will say a friendly ‘good morning’ and then be on their way.
Finally, keep an eye on the sunrise times. At this time of year, sunrise is very early (about 5:30am for us), and it usually starts getting light about 45 minutes before the stated time. If you would prefer to get an extra hour in bed, wait until later in the summer for when the sun comes up at a much more manageable time.
For those of us with social anxiety, it’s good to have a few ideas to be able to plan an alternative summer. Because it isn’t always easy and it can be difficult planning things away from the norm, and away from the crowd.
These are just a few suggestions but we hope that this can help you to enjoy your summer in a way that works for you.
Feel free to add your own suggestions over on our forum…