How to Curb Your Crowd Anxiety
One of the most common fears out there is enochlophobia, otherwise known as the fear of crowds or large gatherings of people, and we can understand why. We’ve all read about crowd stampedes at soccer games, audiences being trapped in clubs during fires, or tragic shootings at large gatherings. Aside from the potential disasters that could occur while in a crowd, some people fear the noise, the closeness, or several other factors and avoid events like concerts, games, festivals, or even parties because of it.
If you suffer from enochlophobia but still want to enjoy these types of events, there are several ways you can conquer your fear. Here is everything you need to know about the fear of crowds and some ways that you can minimize your crowd anxiety both before and during an event or gathering.
What is Enochlophobia?
Enoclophobia, which also goes by the names ochlophobia and demophobia, is a type of social anxiety disorder and is defined as an irrational fear of large crowds or gatherings of people. Enochlophobia is more prevalent in women than men and can potentially be caused by a number of factors including biochemical irregularities, genetic history, PTSD, or bad personal experiences that have occurred in a crowd such as getting injured or separated from others.
Some people fear crowds because they are worried about being trampled in the event of an emergency, being touched by strangers, or contracting an illness due to proximity. For others, it is linked to agoraphobia, the fear of being vulnerable or embarrassed in front of others which would obviously worsen depending on the number of people around you. Someone else might fear crowds because of the noise they create, and have an anxious fear of missing out on something they need to hear. Some enochlophobes may only feel this way about a large audience of thousands, while others consider a party of 10 people to be too big of a crowd for comfort.
Much like how the reasoning behind enochlophobia differs from person to person, the symptoms of crowd anxiety are also very different from one individual to another. While some people may only experience mental symptoms like anxiety, racing or negative thoughts, panic, and a strong desire to avoid crowd situations, others can have physical symptoms like shaking, sweating, difficulty breathing, stomach aches, nausea, or a rapid heartbeat. Some individuals with enochlophobia even experience full-blown panic attacks when they are exposed to or even just thinking about crowds of people.
If any of these symptoms sound familiar to you, you may be suffering from enochlophobia. While you could just avoid situations that bring out your anxieties, experts say that this is a bad idea; not only would you miss out on a lot of fun, but you also run the risk of your fear worsening to the point where you may avoid even small groups of people — which is not a healthy way to live.
If you find yourself making excuses to avoid going to events, a mall, a movie theatre, or even avoiding parties due to your phobia, you may want to consider trying some of the following coping mechanisms to help ease your anxiety and overcome your fear.
Identify your triggers
There is a laundry list of reasons that people use to justify their fear of crowds, so you should start by identifying your specific trigger in order to overcome your worries.
Ask yourself what it is about being in a crowd that you fear most. Are you worried about getting humiliated, sick, hurt, or trapped in the middle of a large group with no way to escape? Do you find yourself obsessing about potential disasters that could occur at an event? Or are you more concerned about the potential noise levels that large crowds can generate? By identifying your personal triggers, you can begin to formulate a plan to help you face your crowd anxiety head on.
Ramp up to a large crowd
One of the most effective treatments for any phobia is exposure therapy, because the only real way to conquer a fear is to face it. However, this doesn’t mean that you should go from zero to 100 and thrust yourself into the middle of a huge crowd since you could run the risk of a meltdown, which probably won’t help ease your fears.
Let’s say that your friends have invited you to a music festival and while the thought of standing in a large audience makes you sick with anxiety, you don’t want to miss out on the fun. Prepare yourself by starting with a smaller crowd at a more intimate venue first, then build your way up to larger events until you feel ready to take on a large crowd. By starting small, you can build your confidence and prevent an uncomfortable situation that could set your progress back.
Have an escape plan
Even if you’ve decided to face your anxiety head on and want to try and stick it out at a crowded event, there’s nothing wrong with formulating an escape plan in case it gets to be too much for you. Stay near the edge of an audience, identify the exits or quiet areas where you can take a break if needed, and maybe even come up with a signal so you can alert your friends that you need to leave. Make sure that you have a way home and perhaps don’t rely on a friend unless they are willing to leave when you need to.
Be aware of your plan but try not to obsess over it if you can help it because that will only add to the cycle of negative thoughts. There’s no shame in having to try again another day if your first attempt at exposure doesn’t work out.
While you might feel embarrassed about your enochophobia and want to keep it to yourself, it’s a pretty common fear that you shouldn’t be ashamed of and by sharing with the people around you, you’ll have a better chance of keeping your anxiety at bay.
If you want to try to tackle a crowd situation, bring a trusted friend or family member and inform them of your specific fears and triggers. Let them know how they can help you when you feel anxious or upset, or how they can aid in escape if the crowd gets to be too much for you.
By keeping your companions informed, together you can formulate a plan to help you ease your fears or leave the situation if you get too overwhelmed.
Focus on something else
When you start to feel anxious, your mind can start racing a mile a minute with negative thoughts. By shifting your focus away from negativity and concentrating on something else, you can help calm your mind and your anxiety.
If you’re at a big event, try to think about the reason you wanted to be there in the first place. If you’re at a concert, try your hardest to enjoy the music rather than obsess over the crowd. If you’re at a party, help the host with a task to get your mind off your worries. By replacing the negative thoughts with distractions, you will feel calmer and more at ease in a crowd of people.
Talk to a therapist
If your crowd anxiety is at a level where it is impacting your social, working, or everyday life, you may want to consider seeing a therapist or a psychiatrist. A licensed professional who has experience with phobias may be able to help you unpack and get over your fears through monitored exposure methods, medication, or cognitive behavioral therapy which can help you change your thought patterns in order to better cope with your crowd anxiety.
Whatever way you choose to conquer your enochnophobia, with a little patience, help, and courage, you can eventually overcome your crowd anxiety and feel like you’re controlling your fear rather than letting it control you.