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13. Anxiety in Unfamiliar Situations

Anxiety is an emotional response that’s been hardwired into our brains over millennia to keep us safe. While many experience occasional nervousness or worry, for some individuals, particularly those on the autism spectrum, anxiety in unfamiliar situations or environments can be profound and debilitating.

Why It’s Challenging

The unfamiliar often represents unpredictability. And unpredictability, to the brain of someone with autism, can often mean a heightened state of alert. This can be due to sensory overloads, fear of the unknown, or difficulties in adjusting to sudden changes – leading to feelings of anxiety that are often more intense than what neurotypical individuals might experience.

Supporting Ourselves and Others

Empathy is a cornerstone in supporting ourselves or those with anxiety. Recognising the challenges faced and providing a reassuring presence can create a safe environment, which is often the first step towards alleviating anxiety.

Practical Steps to Mitigate Anxiety

  • Preparation: Giving a heads up about what to expect can reduce the anxiety of unfamiliar situations. This can be especially useful for those who find it challenging to cope with unexpected changes in their daily schedule.
  • Mindfulness and Meditation: These practices can help centre the mind and manage anxious feelings. It’s also a great way to develop a sense of predictability in one’s thoughts and reactions.
  • Safe Spaces: Creating a designated calming zone in unfamiliar settings can offer respite from overwhelming situations.
  • Gradual Exposure: Slowly introducing unfamiliar situations can reduce the intensity of anxiety over time.


  • Role-playing: Practicing unfamiliar situations through role-play can provide a preview, allowing individuals to strategize responses and thus, feel more prepared.
  • Comfort Items: Carrying a familiar item can serve as a touchstone of comfort in new or unfamiliar settings.
  • Soundscapes: Using noise-cancelling headphones or listening to calming sounds can help minimise sensory overload in crowded or noisy social settings.

Self Drive Psychology Summary

Anxiety, especially in unfamiliar situations, is not just about feeling nervous. It’s an intricate interplay of emotional, cognitive, and physical responses. By understanding its root causes and being proactive in offering solutions, we can help pave a more tranquil path for those who grapple with such challenges.

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