How To Cope With A Fear Of Crowds

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated June 10, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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.

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A fear of crowds can make it hard to live your life fully

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 and a common manifestation of anxiety disorders such as panic disorder. 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, which can include panic attacks when exposed to large 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

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), an individual’s aversion typically must have persisted for six months for a diagnosis of specific phobia. Alternatively, the fear of crowds may be related to conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder or social anxiety disorder.

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. 

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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

  • Excessive perspiration

  • Avoidant behavior

  • Chest and lung tightening

  • Gastrointestinal distress

  • Nausea

  • 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.

Meditation

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. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment approach for fear of crowds. Through CBT, individuals can learn to identify and challenge negative thought patterns associated with crowds, develop coping skills to manage panic attacks, and gradually confront their fears in a supportive therapeutic environment.

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A fear of crowds can make it hard to live your life fully

Navigating Enochlophobia With Online Therapy

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.

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 of 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 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 get useful resources, such as informational articles geared toward helping you learn more about phobias and their treatment. 

Takeaway

The fear of crowds is a serious concern that can significantly impact your day-to-day life and may signal the existence of a mental health disorder. You can also, however, manage this phobia by implementing anxiety-reducing strategies, addressing the sources of your fear, and reaching out for help. If you’re interested in the support of a mental health professional as you address enochlophobia, consider utilizing an online therapy platform. Getting matched with a therapist can be a constructive step toward confronting your fears and feeling more comfortable in crowds.
It is possible to overcome phobias
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