Fear of Crowds: Understanding Enochlophobia

There are so many different phobias out there, and some more well known than others. But, have you ever heard of enochlophobia? Even though the term is a bit of a mouthful, it actually refers to a fear that many of us actually deal with on a regular basis… the fear of crowds.

What Are Phobias?

At their core, phobias are just very intense fears. While there are only two that have been specifically recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (more commonly known as the DSM, which is the book used by mental health professionals to make a diagnosis), there are many others that psychologists and psychiatrists help with on a regular basis. 

Social phobia and agoraphobia (the fear of not being able to escape or get help in certain situations) are diagnosable as their own disorders, but all other phobias are grouped together in the “specific phobias” category. It is estimated that over 12 million people will deal with at least one phobia in their lives.

Common criteria for diagnosing a phobia include:

  • Being “life limiting” - The phobia must significantly impact the person’s life, including stopping them from what would be considered normal activities (if the fear is involved)
  • Avoidance - Although some with specific phobias can be around their fears, attempts to avoid the source is a criteria to receive a diagnosis
  • Anticipatory anxiety - The sufferer dwells on future situations that may include their fear, to the point that it causes anxiety or even potential panic attacks

The phobia usually will need to have been present for at least six months, and unrelated to another disorder like post-traumatic stress disorder or social anxiety disorder.

Types of “Specific Phobias”

As specific phobias involve fears of specific situations or objects, they are often divided into five different types.

  • Natural/environmental specific phobias -Water (hydrophobia), heights (acrophobia), storms (astraphobia).
  • Injury specific phobias - Needles (trypophobia), dentists (dentophobia) 
  • Animal specific phobias - Dogs (cynophobia), spiders (arachnophobia), snakes (ophidiophobia)
  • Situation specific phobias - Driving (amaxophobia), public speaking (glossophobia)
  • “Other” specific phobias - Choking (pseudodysphagia), loud noises (phonophobia)

Enochlophobia falls into the situation-specific phobia category. It can commonly be confused with agoraphobia, but the triggers are not the same. 

What Is Enochlophobia?

Enochlophobia is an intense fear of crowds. While many people feel uncomfortable in crowds, someone with enochlophobia will experience fear that is unbearable and unexplainable. 

Many people with this phobia will do everything they can to fully avoid situations in which there might be crowds. This often significantly impacts their lives and their ability to do day to day activities. Women also tend to be more likely to have a fear of crowds then men, but that also may be due to the fact that they are more likely to seek treatment and discuss it openly.

If someone with a fear of crowds encounters a crowd situation they can’t get away from, they’ll likely respond in a variety of different ways -- physically, cognitively, and behaviorally. They’ll also not have a lot, if any, control on the way that they respond no matter how hard they try. 

Many of these symptoms are common to all anxiety disorders.

Physical symptoms of enochlophobia include:

  • Shaking
  • Increased heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • A feeling of being suffocated
  • Sweating
  • Muscle tension
  • Dizziness
  • Blacking out
  • Full panic attacks
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dilated pupils
  • Headache

Cognitive symptoms of enochlophobia include:

  • Brain fog
  • Negative thoughts
  • Feeling desperate
  • Depersonalization
  • Feeling angry

Behavioral symptoms of enochlophobia include:

  • Clinging to someone
  • Crying
  • Avoidance of crowds
  • Escaping the situation

What Causes Enochlophobia?

There hasn’t been a single cause of phobias that has been identified, biological or otherwise. In general, phobias are thought to come from a combination of factors -- genetic predisposition and biology combined with specific trauma. In the case of enochlophobia, most individuals dealing with the disorder can cite a specific traumatic event involving crowds. 

A few of the examples people have cited as likely causing their crowd-related trauma include being lost in a crowd as a child, experiencing being trapped or injured in a crowd, or watching someone else be trapped or injured in a crowd.

It may also be as simple as growing up with overprotective parents who wouldn’t let them go into crowds at all. Therapy can often help people to figure out what triggered their enochlophobia. 

When Should I Seek Help For Enochlophobia?

While the answer to this is incredibly personal, it may sound cliche to say that “you’ll know” when you’re ready. Some people have become very adept at being able to avoid crowds and feel comfortable with their life the way it is, with the exception of the occasional anxiety they feel around crowd situations they didn’t anticipate. Others do okay simply using mental wellness supplements that can help to provide a little extra calm to avoid feeling of overwhelm.* But neither of those are really long-term solutions that address the cause of the problem.

If you’re ready to make change in your life, reach out to a trained professional for more assistance and advice. There are a few common ways that enochlophobia is treated, and a professional can help you to go through them and decide what the best course of action for you will be. It takes a lot of courage to admit that you may need help, and it should never be anything you feel ashamed of. 

What Are Some Common Treatment Options For Enochlophobia?

Much like other forms of anxiety, enochlophobia is treated with therapy, medication, or a combination of both. 

The most effective therapy to help treat a fear of crowds is cognitive behavioral therapy (more commonly referred to as CBT). CBT is a two-pronged therapy approach, looking for the root cause of your negative thoughts and helping to turn them into a more positive approach. In some cases, CBT can also include desensitization to crowds in small, managed steps. It is an incredibly effective therapy, not only for phobias, but for anxiety and depression in general. 

Some people may also benefit from more direct exposure therapy. While this can significantly increase anxiety temporarily, it also helps to desensitize people more quickly than other forms of therapy. However, this therapy is not for everyone and can be incredibly hard mentally and emotionally.  

Anti-anxiety medication may also be prescribed by a licensed professional if the phobia has gotten to a point where therapy alone can’t help reduce the symptoms. This may be either short-term or long-term, depending on the progression of therapy. It should always be prescribed and monitored by a professional.

What Can I Do For My Enochlophobia?

In many cases, in between therapy sessions, people who suffer from enochlophobia may be given “homework” to work on their phobia by themselves (if they feel up to it, of course). This usually includes trying to go where you know there might be crowds, with a sufficient exit strategy and a support person to help make it easier to work into. 

Some people may also find it helpful to take a mood supplement prior to encountering situations that may include crowds. These supplements may help to promote a sense of well-being while you put in the hard work and face your fears.* Every positive experience you have with crowds can help you take steps toward beating what can feel like an insurmountable mental health obstacle. 

It may also help to educate yourself about the differences between a “stable” crowd and an “unstable” crowd. Unstable crowds generally include crowds that are all moving toward something, like Black Friday or at a concert. If you can avoid situations like that that may potentially get dangerous, you’ll take a little bit more of your power back while still staying safe. 

Also, like with most anxiety disorders, meditation can be very effective at helping to manage these types of phobias. It can help you learn to live in the moment and let go of things that you’re worried might happen in the future. Meditation also teaches you useful breathing techniques that you can take with you if you encounter any stressful situation, not only crowds. Being able to center yourself when you’re feeling large amounts of stress is an incredibly useful skill to develop.

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As so much of our lives involves being around potential crowds, like weddings, birthdays, and even commuting to work, dealing with the issue head on is a good step to take to help you live a happier, more comfortable life. 

Therapy is an essential tool to help get to the root of the issues. Other people choose to take anti-anxiety medication to manage their symptoms. There are also mental health supplements out there that may help to relieve feelings of overwhelm when the crowd gets to be a little too much. 

No matter what you choose to do, know that you have more power than you think, and you’ll always have tools to help and people to support you along the way.

*FDA Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Sources:

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/specific-phobia.shtml 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/cognitive-behavioral-therapy

https://youcanpym.com/products/original-mood-chews

https://www.mindful.org/how-to-meditate/