It often happens, that we feel uncomfortable among strangers and there is nothing abnormal about it. However, some people feel afraid of crowds and cannot muster courage to visit such places. This fear of crowds and people is known as enochlophobia or demophobia, wherein people with this phobia experience severe panic attacks or other symptoms when faced with crowded places. What may be termed as crowded may vary from one individual to another, as what may seem like a room full of people to someone may feel like an overbearing crowd to another.
What is Demophobia?
Experts believe that this fear maybe specifically related to behavioral and personality traits of certain individuals. The basis of this argument is that mostly introvert and shy people are the ones who suffer from this fear. Not all introvert and shy people are afraid of crowds and people, instead they simply prefer seclusion and one-on-one communication. Some people prefer their own space, privacy, and solitude, which cannot be assumed to be the basis of some disorder.
The other argument seems a bit more logical, wherein it is contended that people who suffer from the fear of crowds, may have gone through some traumatic experiences at some point in their lives. These experiences could include, having lost your way in a crowd as a child, where the child couldn't find his parents in the crowd. This can be a very scary experience, and can leave its wounds on a child's conscience even after growing up. Some people may have witnessed a stampede or an event wherein, many people lost their lives because they could not be evacuated on time.
Even though the symptoms may not be the same for all individuals who suffer from this phobia, here are some that have been observed:
- Fear of being stomped to death, because of being stuck in a huge crowd.
- Fear that they may catch a deadly infection or disease, due to close proximity to other people.
- Feeling mistrust towards people in general and therefore not wanting to visit crowded places or even small gatherings, such as weddings and prayer meets.
- Excessive sweating
- Experiencing panic attacks
- Breathlessness and palpitation symptoms.
- Feeling feverish, wherein the person's entire body trembles with fear.
- Feeling sick and nauseous.
- Feeling extreme disgust and wanting to run away from that place.
- Feeling inferior to others or feeling like they are not good enough to be there in that crowd.
People suffering from this phobia are made to speak to a professional therapist, about why they feel afraid of crowds. During therapy, they are made to feel secure enough so that they can talk about their past experiences freely, without feeling ashamed. Following are some methods of therapy that may help reduce the gravity of this condition or fear.
Desensitization therapy imparts certain relaxing techniques, which the patient needs to practice in stressful situations in order to calm down. These relaxing tips include breathing exercises, mediation, positive affirmations, music therapy etc. This therapy follows a step-by-step process, and targets the smallest of fears first and scales up towards the main phobia. The therapist asks the patient to formulate a hierarchy of potential fears, wherein the fear of being among unknown people would be considerably lower, as compared to the fear of being crushed to death in a stampede or attacked by a mob. Following this hierarchy, the therapist helps patients deal with the fear of crowds, by making them interact with extremely small groups of people. Once the initial shyness has been alleviated, the patient begins to interact with the people in the group, which is made to increase in number gradually. This therapy also requires that the patient visualize or imagine the consequences of being trapped in a dangerous situation, and thereafter compare the imagination with immediate reality. The patient is gradually made to realize that the possibility of an extreme and dangerous situation to arise are highly unlikely and unreasonable.
Cognitive Behavioral therapy
This therapy tries to change the thinking of the patient in order to induce a more positive approach to a stressful situation. In the case of dreading crowds, the patients are made to visit public places when the crowd is lesser, so that the exposure therapy does not backfire. The patient is made to talk about past traumatic experiences that may have triggered this fear, and tries to find a way around the phobia. The therapist and the patient work on reducing the extent of fear in a slow and steady pace, so that the patient doesn't feel pressurized or judged in any possible manner.
If you do not wish to go to a therapist, you may always try to reduce your fear with the help of a trusted friend or family. Try going to small gatherings once you begin to feel comfortable,or try visiting places that have smaller crowds, such as museums or less crowded malls. This process may take time to yield results, but it will eventually help you not fear crowds so much.