Big Shopping Crowds Make You Feel Uneasy? Here’s Why This Happens

You can practice your way out of these panicky emotions
Big Shopping Crowds Make You Feel Uneasy? Here's Why This Happens

The holiday shopping season is a busy time and it’s easy to wind up in the middle of a large crowd. Being in a crowd can make us all hot, stressed, fatigued and nervous. For some, though, being in a big crowd also can bring on feelings of panic and anxiety.

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It may help to know that this feeling is normal. Many people feel this to some degree in the same situation.

If you’re among those who find themselves feeling a bit claustrophobic when out and about, it’s usually best to try and stay put and stay calm, says clinical psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD.

“If you see this coming on, you might just try hanging in there, because we actually will recover from our anxiety or panic if you just stay put and don’t try to fix what you’re feeling,” Dr. Bea says.

Focus on your emotion

Dr. Bea recommends standing or sitting still, and to keep your eyes up and looking out. Focus on maintaining natural breathing. Describe to yourself or your companion any uneasy feelings you’re experiencing, then rate your level of discomfort.

Acknowledge to yourself that being at the store is a choice, and you can leave at any moment. The panicky, anxious feelings should pass fairly soon, he says.

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In addition, repeating this process over and over again should help your level of discomfort begin to decrease in similar situations over time, he says.

Don’t try to fix your feelings

When you feel panicky in crowds, it’s important that you don’t try too hard to talk yourself out of your feelings, Dr. Bea says. Better to acknowledge the emotion, accept it and try to simply sit with it for a few minutes.

“The instinct that many of us have is to escape,” Dr. Bea says. “You might be thinking about trying to get out of that circumstance to alleviate your anxiety.”

When we try to tamp down our emotions, it activates a part of our brains called the limbic system, which is responsible for the fight or flight response. Trying to repair the panic actually can make us feel worse, he says.

Practice getting used to crowds

Feeling panicky and anxious in big crowds is a fear that can be overcome with a little bit of practice, Dr. Bea says.

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Dr. Bea recommends that if you have trouble with crowds, try to introduce yourself to crowded situations a little at a time until you get more comfortable with them.

“The good things are, generally speaking, that crowds aren’t dangerous and the panicky feelings are not dangerous,” he says.

Crowds tend to trigger anxiety because we are in an unfamiliar situation, Dr. Bea says.

“The situation feels odd, and it starts to generate a feeling of dangerousness,” he says. “So we tend to think we’re in a dangerous spot, when we’re not in danger at all.”

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