Holidays are a great time for fun, festivities, and friends. However, what happens when the fear of crowded places is overwhelming? How do you overcome isolation brought on by frightful feelings of open places? With St. Patrick’s Day around the corner, partying with friends may feel like a mixed bag.
Most people experience a fear of crowded or open spaces to some degree.
When social life and work life are impeded by these emotions, addressing the fear and its cause is essential for improving the quality of life.
Past experiences are often contributing factors to these fears and result in difficulty leaving home, attending crowded places, or using public transportation.
People with a history of panic attacks are more likely to experience an intense fear of crowded or open places.
Establishing short and long-term strategies will promote freedom from fear and improved quality of life.
So what can you do when you want to go out with friends but feel immobilized by frightful emotions? The fear of open or crowded places is common. Keep reading to learn how to overcome these emotions and live life to the fullest.
Agoraphobia – anxiety before a party:
Stress and anxiety are a normal part of everyone’s life. However, when stress and anxiety grow to the point where they affect your everyday life, your world often becomes smaller than you want it to be.
Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by an intense fear of open or crowded spaces. Often this phobia is associated with stress over leaving a location perceived as the person’s “safe zone.” The individual may feel scared to attend events where they fear escape will be difficult.
Symptoms of agoraphobia
Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder where the sufferer's fear is disproportionate to the actual danger of the situation. Someone suffering from agoraphobia intensely fears the following:
- Leaving home
- Attending crowded places
- Being trapped in enclosed spaces
- Being exposed in open locations
- Using public transportation
Who's at risk for agoraphobia?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 2% of US teens and adults are diagnosed with agoraphobia. Many more experience the symptoms in varying degrees of severity. Of this percentage, more than a third had experienced a previous panic attack.
Typically, people diagnosed with agoraphobia have a history of panic attacks, which reinforces the person’s desire to avoid certain situations. In severe circumstances, this anxiety disorder can cause the person to be completely home bound.
How to identify a panic attack
People who have experienced a panic attack often feel intense vulnerability. They worry about being embarrassed in public, being at the mercy of strangers, or losing control. The symptoms of a panic attack are similar to a heart attack, so it is easy to understand why people with a history of panic attacks often think they are dying.
These symptoms may indicate a panic attack:
- Rapid pulse
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Uncontrollable shaking, numbness, or tingling
- Inappropriate sweating
- Flushed or chilled skin
Ways to overcome the fear of crowds
Imagine that the party planning is happening, friends are texting and anxiety is mounting. You want to be a part of the St. Patrick’s Day festivities, but fear is causing you to reconsider. Sounds familiar? Here are some tips and tricks to overcome the fear of crowded places.
Addressing the “safe zone”
Confronting fears can be challenging, but vital to a quality life. It is important to address fears before a panic attack. The war over anxiety is won in the mind, but the weapons are built before the battle.
Most people who experience an overwhelming fear of crowded places can identify their “safe zone.” This so-called safe zone is where they consciously or unconsciously believe they are free from vulnerability, harm, or panic. It is important to acknowledge valid and invalid safety concerns. Otherwise, myths about safety can gradually form psychological prison walls. Here are some questions to consider.
- What am I afraid will happen if I leave my safe zone?
- Are these fears valid?
- What would it take to move slightly outside my safe zone?
- How can I confidently participate?
- Is there a friend or medical professional who could help?
Strategies to cope with fear
Feeling trapped in a personal prison because someone fears leaving their safety zone can be debilitating. So instead of giving in to living with a sense of helplessness and embarrassment, we have accumulated some practical ways to help people with agoraphobia cope with their condition.
- Establish a strategy. Learn how to respond to a disproportionate fear to empower you to take the first step toward freedom. A personal fear-fighting strategy equips you to deal with anxiety rather than avoid it.
- Recognize the signs. If you can sense an incoming panic attack, you can respond appropriately. If you feel your anxiety level rising, find a place to sit and take slow, deep breaths. For example, restrooms are great places to catch your breath and regroup.
- Use a gratitude journal or coloring book. This is a technique for purposefully and intentionally relaxing the mind. Gratitude journals help people to remember the positive things in life. The power of positive thinking is real and begins by learning to appreciate simple pleasures and to reflect on the truth. However, try a coloring book to relax the mind when words are hard to come by.
- Play calm, relaxing music. Music therapy has been used for centuries and continues to be a time-tested method of overcoming fear, anxiety, and even pain.
- Pet a dog. If a dog or cat is nearby, take some time to pet or play with the animal.
- Phone a friend. Let your friend or your medical professional know that you are struggling.
Remember, the mind is a battleground, so proactively engage the mind with positive, truthful speech. The words we speak to ourselves will either pave the way to wholeness or reinforce negativity. When your mind is a bit overstimulated, having a few phrases prepared is helpful, such as the following:
- I am thankful for [your personal input].
- I am having a panic attack; I am not dying.
- Panic attacks are common, so there is no need to be embarrassed.
- I am a competent individual; I will implement my plan and I will not let fear win.
Preparing for a party
Once you have established a strategy, you need to make sure you have the tools to implement the plan:
- Purchase a pocket-size journal and/or coloring book with markers.
- Organize a playlist of relaxing music.
- Talk to a trusted friend or medical professional.
- Plan transportation that is flexible, so you can leave when needed.
When to talk to a medical professional?
There is no specific timeline for talking to a medical professional. However, medical providers have understanding and access to resources that are not available outside a doctor's visit.
Antianxiety medication is a very helpful tool. However, many people want to know how to deal with the fear of crowded places with a more organic approach. If you are interested in learning more about cognitive behavior therapy, the sooner, the better. If the fear of crowded places is intensifying and is affecting your work and social life, talk to your medical professional.
St. Patrick's Day festivities are a great time to hang out with friends and do a little dancing, but fear of crowded places can keep you from participating. You may find yourself missing out because the list of fears outnumbers the positive possibilities.
Overcoming fear is something everyone has to do at some point. Addressing nervous anxiety and strategizing a plan for fighting fear is the path to freedom. Remember, the war over anxiety is won in the mind, but the weapons are built before the battle.
- Mayo Clinic. Agoraphobia.
- Harvard Health Publishing. Agoraphobia: Has COVID fueled this anxiety disorder?
- National Institute of Mental Health. Agoraphobia.