Do you find yourself uncomfortable or panicked in crowded spaces? Sometimes this feeling is labelled ‘Agoraphobia,’ which translates from Greek to ‘fear of the marketplace’. Agoraphobia occurs when you become anxious about being in places or situations where you might have a panic attack. It’s best not to avoid social situations, as it’s not helpful for your mental health when we become isolated or disconnected. So, we’ve put together a short list of strategies that you might be able to use to help you cope if you become uncomfortable or panicked when there are lots of people around.
- Make sure you have a breathing exercise that you can rely on. Some people like to think about blowing out candles. Personally, I like to just count my breaths and make sure that I am breathing out for more counts than I am breathing in. This one is my number one go-to strategy when I’m panicked!
- Have a poem or song lyrics that you are in the process of memorising so you can focus on it when you need to distract yourself when you’re feeling uncomfortable.
- Look out for early warning signs in your muscles – you might become tense in your jaw from clenched teeth or you might have tension in your shoulders. Scan your body for it when you are in a crowded place and actively try to loosen those muscles. You could try to learn techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation.
- Every time you interact with someone face-to-face, imagine that you are that person. Imagine that person is having personal difficulties that you could actually help resolve just by demonstrating gentle respect. I find this helps me focus on their concerns rather than my own panic and I actually end up feeling really good about myself because I have tried to help them!
- Carry around your iPod or headphones for your phone! The number of times this has helped me! If I need to enter my own little world or calm my headspace, I pull out my headphones and listen to my favourite calming songs. If you forget it, sing your favourite songs quietly to yourself, or in your head. Music is such a great escape tool.
- Sometimes panic can give me a lot of energy. If this happens to you, try some rhythmic walking. Take like three long steps and then one short step and then two long steps and five shorter steps. Find your own rhythm. This gives you something to focus on and gain the release benefit of movement. Also – counting can be a really calming activity!
- This one isn’t an option for all social situations, but sometimes I have found that a camera can be a good tool for focusing on things other than your panic. Take one along to a wedding or a party and spend time capturing the event. It’s also a good way to say hello to unfamiliar people without feeling the need to introduce yourself! Alternatively, you can focus on photographing the environment, which will help you to anchor yourself in the moment and remain present by observing the things around you rather than focusing on your panic.
Our Psychologist recommends taking note of what works what doesn’t work for you in a journal or notebook or on your device and creating your own list of strategies that will help next time you find yourself panicked or uncomfortable in a crowded space.
Sometimes anxiety is something that we need a little extra help to manage. If you find that none of these strategies are helping you, or if you want some extra support or some more information, book an appointment with our resident Registered Psychologist Danielle Copplin today.