How To Cope With A Fear Of Crowds
Updated February 09, 2020
Reviewer Ann-Marie Duncan
The lure of a concert played by your favorite band might be almost too much to resist…until you remember what being crammed into a roomed with 10,000 other people feels like. You might feel ecstatic at the prospect of attending the food truck festival one town over until you realize that the city expects a turnout of around 3,000 people. You might even like the idea of going to your community's block party, only to turn away, dejected, once you see the long line of cars and throngs of people forming. If any of these scenarios seem familiar, you might have a phobia of crowds.
Coping with a Fear of Crowds
Crowds can be extremely unpredictable; you might encounter a crowd at your place of business, or you might see a crowd forming when you pop out to pick up some groceries, and therein lies some of the difficulty. Crowds can form at any time, anywhere, and can send you into a panic attack or similar reaction at any point in your day-to-day routine. This alone can make your fear of crowds overwhelming and can begin to exert control over your behavior and choices. Fortunately, despite the unpredictable nature of crowds, there are steps you can take to manage and even minimize your fear of crowds.
The fear of crowds falls under the scope of social phobia and is most commonly associated with Agoraphobia (the fear of being unable to escape) or Enochlophobia (the literal fear of crowds). Anxiety disorders are among the most common disorders recognized and treated by the fields of psychology and psychiatry, and perhaps in part due to their prevalence, are one of the most readily treatable mental health conditions in existence.
What Is a Phobia of Crowds?
The fear of crowds, though not recognized as a separate disorder by the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), is either classified as Agoraphobia or Enochlophobia. The motivation behind the fear is usually the deciding factor in determining which type of phobia you are dealing with; Agoraphobia stems from a fear of being unable to escape, while Enochlophobia focuses specifically on the fear that arises from being within a crowd - fears like being trampled, getting lost, or (as with Agoraphobia) being unable to get out of or away from a crowd.
By definition, a phobia extends past a simple fear and moves toward irrationality. While fear is a powerful motivator and can stop you in your tracks, a phobia effectively immobilizes you and usually stems from an unrealistic, unlikely scenario. Phobias, then, are not rational, reasonable fears but are fears that have tipped over into the realm of fiction. They rely almost entirely upon your imagination, conjecture, and supposition.
Signs and Symptoms of a Crowd Phobia
The phobia of crowds is marked by the same symptoms that accompany most anxiety disorders but it arises when you are in the midst of a crowd, or when you think about being in a crowd. These include:
- Trembling and Shaking
- Excessive Perspiration
- Avoidant Behavior
- Chest and Lung Tightening
- Gastrointestinal Distress
- 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 to leave your house, lest you find yourself in a crowd. These symptoms might cause mild discomfort, or they might escalate into panic attacks that can last for hours.
Learning to Cope
Like any anxiety disorder, the fear of crowds carries with it some difficulty in seeking treatment; many people who have one type of anxiety disorder have other forms of the condition and may struggle to reach out for help or to find the motivation or wherewithal to take steps to help themselves. 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. These include:
- Breathwork. Learning how to breathe deeply and carefully can help regulate your nervous system and cue your body's ability to relax. Breathing deeply suggests that you are in a safe space and gives your body and mind both the strength and the will to forge ahead. Breathwork can be done independently or can be done as part of a yoga or meditation practice. This leads us to the second option for coping at home.
- Meditation. Studies consistently demonstrate that meditation has a strong ameliorating effect on anxiety of all kinds and can be a powerful tool in the arsenal of someone hoping to manage their anxiety symptoms. Meditation has an effect on your body and brain in a way similar to learning to breathe deeply and properly and can help your nervous system create a greater sense of balance.
- Practice Exposing Yourself. This particular type of treatment can be completed at home or under the tutelage of a mental health professional. If you do choose to engage in exposure therapy yourself, make sure you have someone you can trust who can help talk you down or keep you safe, as exposure therapy can be quite difficult. In many therapy sessions, exposure therapy is the focus of treatment and it allows you to develop real-life skills in a safe environment. Any time you engage in some form of exposure therapy make sure you have some safety nets in place, such as a friend you can call out to or a place you can quickly retreat to if you find yourself having a resurgence of fear.
- Keep a Journal. Keeping a journal can help you keep your focus and identify any patterns present in your disorder. For some, stress is often the source of a panic outbreak, while others have a childhood trigger that is causing agoraphobia. Writing down your feelings can help you find clarity in your own experiences. Consistently keeping a journal has been linked to greater mental health and general contentment and it can help you not only keep a record of your life, but also analyze the patterns present in your thinking in order to find any habits or thought patterns that might contribute to your anxiety.
- Create and Maintain Community. Anxiety can be alienating and isolating, so making sure that you keep yourself surrounded by supportive friends and family members is an important part of taking steps toward a healthier, happier life. You can build a community online, as well, by visiting anxiety sites and message boards and by sharing your experiences with other people who share some of your concerns. Knowing that you are not alone in your struggles acts as a powerful balm.
- Speak to a Psychiatrist. In some cases, the anxiety brought on by crowds is so severe that additional help is needed - even past the help of a psychologist or psychiatrist. Anxiety medication can help relieve some of the effects of anxiety disorders long-term and can provide relief for people whose anxiety has reached a level beyond at-home management. In order to receive medication for anxiety, though, you must first meet with a psychiatrist, describe your symptoms, and subsequently receive a prescription.
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 healthcare professional in your area or visit a local mental health clinic. You can also consult with the therapists on BetterHelp, an online platform that connects you to licensed counselors from the comfort of your own home (or wherever you have an internet connection). Below are reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.
"Kelly is fantastic! She really gets me and I feel like I can tell her anything. She is helping me work through a lot of my greatest anxieties and fears that were holding me back before."
"Prescilla is honestly so understanding and she takes the time to hear me out when I have a call or video session with her. She listens to it all. I can't wait to get better and to live life fearlessly! I really want to get to know who I really am once I get to overcome this. Prescilla is awesome! Thank you guys so much."
Anxiety can be overwhelming and it can feel too difficult to overcome, but countless individuals with issues similar to yours have sought help and have successfully learned to manage their symptoms in order to live a full, joyful life. With your own diligence, and a bit of outside help, you can learn how to make sure your fear of crowds does not dictate your day-to-day life. You can experience freedom from irrational fears. Take the
first step today.