How to cope with crowd anxiety
“There are too many people. I need to get out NOW!”
This is a thought that I have often carried in my life. In the midst of a party, in the depths of the underground, even sometimes in the queue of a supermarket. The sudden panic that grips us when we are surrounded by groups of people is known as crowd anxiety.
I don’t really care why this happens. What's important to me is how to cope, which is what I would like to share with you today. With Guy Fawkes Night on our doorstep and an array of winter-y events going on around us, please don't feel like certain social situations should be avoided.
You might feel like the world is closing in on you, but this is only what is going on in the mind. The reality is that you can still breathe. When we panic, our breathing becomes short and irregular, which tells the body that we are panicking and only makes us panic more.
By consciously focusing on our breath, we a) persuade ourselves that we are very calm and b) give ourselves something to focus on.
TIP: Exhale longer than you inhale. This slows the heart rate while inhaling too much makes you dizzy.
2. There is more space than people
Admittedly, this may not apply in situations such as being on the Tube, but outside there’s one BIG sky above you. You can’t fly off into it, I know, but this gives you something to focus on.
A lot of the time we can reduce fear just by shifting our perspective. So if you concentrate on the space around you, you're less likely to panic about the lack of space – in fact, you might even able to forget about it.
3. Focus on people’s hearts
We panic when we believe we are under attack. Unless someone is running at you with a knife, however, there is actually no threat. We might feel that the people swarming us are out to smother us. In truth, they are simply humans, like you and me, who are trying to get out of the crowd as quickly as they can.
Next time you are surrounded by people, imagine you can see their hearts and know that they are nothing to fear.
I’m not saying start belting out your favourite tunes (though this may indeed part the crowds). Just hum under your breath and feel the vibration release tension in your chest.
(Don’t worry about people hearing you, in my experience, they won’t.)
I have a thing for mantras and affirmations. I find it comforting to say the same thing again and again, like a prayer. The sentence ‘I am safe’ is short, sweet and, said repetitively, can induce a calming effect on your mind.
If you're thinking 'really?', yes, really. Plus, it's yet another focus-point you can use. An anchor in the flurry of chaos.
You don’t need to use all of these. Don’t pressure yourself more by trying to find the ‘perfect solution’. Simply choose the first one that pops into your head and practice that.
Remember: You will get out of the crowd. After all, nothing lasts forever.
Written by Victoria Hodder.