Do you avoid situations in which you might be surrounded by people? Have you ever experienced intense discomfort at a crowded event? If so, you may be living with an anxiety disorder that makes being around large groups of people challenging. The fear of crowds is a common phobia that can significantly affect an individual’s mental health, relationships, and ability to function. For those who live with this phobia, knowing how to address its complications can be crucial. Below, we’re providing an overview of the fear of crowds and discussing coping strategies that can help you keep it in check.
What Is The Fear Of Crowds?
Large groups of people can be unpredictable, and at times they can create dangerous situations. Crowds can restrict our movement, making exiting situations difficult and presenting numerous other undesirable challenges. Because of the problems crowds can produce, many people find them overwhelming or threatening and avoid them. For some people, though, this aversion can be irrational, leading them to experience severe nervousness, worry, and tension.
The fear of crowds is often called enochlophobia, a type of specific phobia. Specific phobia is an anxiety disorder marked by an irrational fear of an object or situation. This diagnosis may apply if an individual experiences a general, unspecified fear of crowds. An aversion to crowds can also be related to the fear of situations that may cause panic or make escape difficult. In this case, the fear would likely not be a specific phobia, but another anxiety disorder known as agoraphobia.
However, an aversion to crowds does not have to rise to the level of—or be related to—a mental health disorder to affect you.
The fear of crowds can significantly affect an individual’s ability to get things done, connect with others, and participate in society. It may cause them to experience isolation and serious mental and physical health challenges. Despite these complications, though, the fear of crowds can also be managed, and its effects limited.
Signs And Symptoms Of Enochlophobia
Based on the DSM-V diagnostic criteria, enochlophobia may be categorized as a situational specific phobia. This means it is characterized by a “marked fear or anxiety” of crowds. Specific phobias have many of the same symptoms that other anxiety disorders feature, in addition to some unique signs. The following are symptoms of enochlophobia:
Trembling and shaking
Chest and lung tightening
Increased heart rate
Increased blood pressure
You might also feel overwhelmed or experience feelings of dissociation when in large crowds of people, and you may fear leaving your house, lest you find yourself in a crowd. These symptoms might cause mild discomfort, or they may escalate into extended anxiety attacks.
Coping With Enochlophobia
As with most anxiety disorders, a phobia of crowds is treatable with the right approach. Happily, there are small, even seemingly infinitesimal steps you can start taking to reduce your anxiety and set yourself on a path toward managing your phobia. They are as follows:
Focus On Your Breath
Learning how to breathe deeply and carefully can help control your nervous system and cue your body's ability to relax. Breathing deeply can help you alleviate physical tension, quiet your mind, and focus. Breathwork can be done independently or can be done as part of a yoga or meditation practice, which we’ll discuss further below.
Studies consistently demonstrate that meditation has a strong ameliorating effect on symptoms of various anxiety disorders and can be a powerful tool in the arsenal of someone hoping to manage their anxiety symptoms. Meditation can affect your body and brain in a way similar to breathing deeply and can help your nervous system create a greater sense of balance.
Consider Exposure Therapy
Psychotherapy is typically the first-line treatment for specific phobia, and exposure therapy is one of the most commonly utilized therapeutic modalities. The goal of exposure therapy is to help the individual gradually become accustomed to interacting with their fear so that they associate it less with anxiety and discomfort. This may be done by exposing oneself to the fear in person, through visualization, or by using virtual reality. For example, you may start exposure therapy by imagining yourself moving through a large group of people; then, in later sessions, by navigating a crowd through a virtual reality headset; and eventually, by putting yourself in the middle of a real crowd.
Keep A Journal
Journaling can help you process your feelings, learn more about the source of your fear, and track your progress. Writing down your feelings can help you find clarity in your own experiences. Consistently keeping a journal has been linked to improved mental well-being, including reductions in anxiety symptoms. It can help you not only keep a record of your life but also analyze the patterns present in your thinking, so you can find any habits or thought patterns that might contribute to your anxiety.
Reach Out For Support
Enochlophobia can lead to isolation for some, making social interaction even more important. If you’re struggling with the fear of crowds, your friends and family can provide support, advice, and care. Try reaching out to your loved ones and others in your support system. You may also look for support groups in your area for people with similar phobias.
At-home strategies and remedies can be wonderful, but there are also times when seeking additional help is necessary. In these cases, you can speak with a licensed in-person or online therapist. A therapist will help you explore the root of your crowd phobia and teach you techniques for how to, step by step, face your fear.
Navigating Enochlophobia With Online Therapy
Research suggests that online therapy can be a beneficial form of care for individuals experiencing a mental health concern like enochlophobia. In a study published in the journal Cognitive Behavior Therapy, researchers found that online therapy led to a significant reduction in symptoms, with 35% of participants no longer meeting the criteria for specific phobia. Additionally, the study notes that the improvements—which also included decreases in anxiety symptoms—were sustained for three months post treatment.
If you’re living with enochlophobia or a related concern, online therapy can be a convenient and accessible form of care. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can connect with a licensed therapist remotely, which can be helpful if the fear of crowds makes leaving home difficult. Your therapist can also help you access useful resources, such as informational articles geared toward helping you learn more about phobias and their treatment.
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