With the ‘wedding season’ almost behind us, we all have sore feet, full tummies and happy memories. But some people, no matter how hard they try, feel a bit panicked at the thought of a crowd. These are the same people who don’t prefer concerts or packed restaurants, avoid public transportation as much as possible and always say no to any plans that involve a large party.
While one could write them off as annoying or high maintenance, the reality is that several people have anxiety at the thought of a crowded place and feel claustrophobic. It is a leading and often misunderstood disorder that ends up crippling one’s social and professional life.
What is Claustrophobia?
Claustrophobia is an anxiety related to not being able to move or be in control. While the literal meaning is ‘fear of enclosed spaces’, doctors have expanded to fear of crowds or flying, any situation where one doesn’t have complete control over all the variables.
It is not the actual event that is frightening; rather it is the anticipation of something going wrong. Depending on different factors such as history of a traumatic experience or a nervous disposition, each person reacts differently to the same situation, thinking of numerous scenarios that are negative in nature.
Specifically, fear of crowds is known as Ochlophobia, termed as ‘maananeey vidvesh’ in Hindi. Most people who suffer from this affliction complain of:
- Mild anxiety that may lead to a full-blown panic attack. Therefore, most Demophobes (people who have a fear of crowds) will try to avoid all kinds of gatherings.
- Feeling of people closing in, violating your personal space, having no way to get out
- A feeling of choking or breathlessness
- Excessive sweating, trembling or shaking
- Upset stomach
- Nausea & light headedness
- Palpitations (a racing heart sensation)
- Clenching your jaw or teeth
- Changes in appetite
What to do if I feel the above symptoms?
As is with any medical issue, claustrophobia should be treated with scientifically backed treatment. Ignoring it or ‘toughening up’ are not conducive to make you deal with this condition, neither in the moment or in the long run.
If you’re feeling any of the above symptoms, try the following:
- Controlled breathing: Inhale forcefully from both nostrils, count to 3 and slowly exhale, concentrating on your breath. Try to block out all the ambient noises as you breathe in and out. Keep doing that till you feel sure footed with your pulse back to normal.
- Gradual desensitizing: Try getting used to crowds by starting off small. A small family or close friends gathering is the optimum first event. Slowly but surely, build yourself up for larger events.
- Keep support around: Have a family member or friend as your anchor. Teach them the breathing technique you use so that in case you feel overwhelmed, they can coach you.
- Focus on one person at a time: In events where there is a large crowd, experts recommend that you should focus on one person at a time. Concentrate on that person, listening intently to their conversation. If it is too loud for a conversation, try to just absorb their physical appearance.
Most importantly, seek professional help. Mental health issues are health issues. The patient might require a doctor, a treatment plan and continued support. It’s time to conquer the crowd!