A packed concert venue. A subway car at rush hour. A Black Friday shopping frenzy. If these scenes make you feel anxious and afraid, you’re not alone. A fear of crowds, called ochlophobia or enochlophobia, is a type of social anxiety.
Crowd Anxiety: You’re Not Alone
According to the National Institutes of Health, 9.1% of adults in the U.S. have suffered from a specific fear, also known as a phobia, within the past year. A little over 12% of adults will experience a type of phobia within their lifetime. Although phobias are common, there are a wide variety of them. A fear of crowds is just one of the many types of phobias, but it can be extremely debilitating.
You may be able to avoid crowds if you live in a rural area and rarely travel. For most of the population, though, that lifestyle isn’t possible. Keeping away from crowds might mean refusing to attend work events, not going to school, or withdrawing from social gatherings. If you live in the city, it may be even more difficult. In a large city, crowds often gather spontaneously (to watch a busker) or routinely (on subways or bars). Trying to stay away from crowds may become a full-time pre-occupation, creating tension in relationships and work or school.
How to Manage Your Crowd Anxiety
If you start to experience an irrational fear of crowds, the following are a few things you can do to manage and overcome your fear.
You could spend your time avoiding crowds altogether, but it’s not practical and it may even make your fear worse. What you can do is try to overcome your fear slowly by starting small.
You can begin by meeting with people in small groups. These groups should be small enough not to trigger your fear, but large enough to cause some discomfort. As you become comfortable in a certain group size, move onto a slightly larger group and attempt to get used to the larger size...and so on. It may take awhile, but slowly taking yourself out of your comfort zone can help to manage irrational fears.
Cut Out Stimulants
Your body responds to anxious feelings by increasing your blood pressure and heart rate. Unfortunately, stimulants like caffeine (in coffee and sodas) or ephedrine (in cold medicines) can cause the same bodily response, making your anxiety worse. Cutting out caffeine can help prevent your body and mind from overreacting to crowded situations.
Be Mindful and Breathe
When encountering a crowd, practice mindfulness or visualization techniques. Focus on your presence in the moment to stay grounded. You can also visualize yourself in a safe space, free from worry. Pick a location that makes you feel peaceful and play that image in your mind — in detail — when your fear crops up.
Relaxing your body by using breathing techniques is another effective method to soothe your fears. Used on its own or with mindfulness or visualization, structured breathing patterns can calm the body and the mind.
If you’re looking for something simple and effective to help practice your breathing technique, CalmiGo’s feedback device is an excellent choice. CalmiGo’s compact design and scented elements are specially made to make relaxation easy and convenient. The next time you find yourself anxious and in a crowd, give CalmiGo a try.