The panic associated with being trapped is similar to what people with PTSD feel when they are in a large crowd.
When in a large crowd, people with PTSD may feel unsafe, or as though there is no easy way to escape the situation. In addition, people with PTSD may have concerns that they could be caught off guard at any moment. As a result, when in a large crowd, people with PTSD may feel constantly on edge, fearful, or anxious.
These negative emotions may prevent people from leaving their homes in the first place, increasing isolation and reducing quality of life.
In today’s society, crowds are difficult to avoid — especially if you live in a city, or during certain times of the year, like holidays. Large crowds may be particularly stressful if you have PTSD, as they can trigger the hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD.
Given this, it is very important to learn ways of coping with large crowds when you have PTSD. Listed below are some basic coping strategies that may help you get through a stressful situation involving a large crowd.
Practice Deep Breathing
Deep breathing is a very simple way of coping with stress and anxiety. Learning how to engage in deep breathing (also called diaphragmatic breathing) can help reduce anxious arousal and bring about relaxation. This can be a particularly useful coping strategy when you are in a situation that you can not readily get out of (such as being stuck in a large crowd).
Use Mindfulness to Cope
When in a large crowd, a person with PTSD may constantly feel as though he is in danger. These feelings may trigger unpleasant and distressing thoughts focused on all the negative things that could happen. “Buying into” these thoughts will only further increase anxiety and fear.
But learning how to take a step back from your thoughts can reduce their power to influence your emotions and behavior. Practicing mindful awareness of your thoughts is a good and simple way of distancing yourself from these distressing thoughts, allowing you to remain in touch with the present moment.
You can also use mindfulness to become more aware of your outside environment. When people are in threatening situations, their attention tends to become locked on frightening objects in their environment. Once your attention is locked on these objects, it is very difficult to disengage from them. Mindfulness of your environment can help your attention become more flexible, and as result, you may be able to more easily direct your attention to less frightening things, such as open areas, friendly faces, or comforting images.
Utilize Social Support
If you know that large crowds have the potential to cause you fear and anxiety, make sure you bring along some social support — an excellent way of coping with stress of all kinds.
Before you go out, talk with your companions about what kinds of situations have the potential to trigger your PTSD symptoms. In addition, let them know what kinds of symptoms they should look out for in you.
This way they can help you catch anxiety and fear early on, allowing them to take steps to help you cope with that anxiety and fear as soon as it arises.
Stick to a Schedule
Set a schedule for yourself. If you know you are going into a crowded place, commit to only staying in that place for a certain period of time. The longer you have to cope with stress, the harder it becomes, thus increasing the likelihood that your PTSD symptoms may be triggered.
Learn How to Cope with Triggers
It is possible that being in a large crowd may unexpectedly trigger your PTSD symptoms: not all triggers can be prevented, and the ones that tend to impact us the most are those that catch us off guard.
Breaking Down Avoidance
Dealing with large crowds is a part of life. They are unavoidable. But it’s important to make sure that fears of large crowds do not contribute to extreme avoidance behavior, such as never leaving your home. Breaking down avoidance behavior is not an easy thing to do, and in fact, it can be a very anxiety-provoking experience. But as you break down your avoidance, your anxiety will also reduce.
If you have a fear of large crowds, try out some of the coping strategies above, but start slow. Start by practicing some of the skills, such as deep breathing or mindfulness, in a place where you feel comfortable. The more practice you have in using these skills, the easier it will be to put them to use during stressful situations. You may even want to first try imagining what it would be like to be in a large crowd.
Then, slowly expose yourself to situations where there may be large crowds. As you experience success in dealing with large crowds, you’ll have more confidence in your ability to manage your fear and anxiety. There are things you can do to cope with PTSD symptoms, limiting the power they have to control your everyday life.