Learning ways of coping with large crowds during the holiday season is important for people with PTSD. Shopping is often a major part of the holiday season, and many retail stores offer deals that only come around once a year. However, with these sales come large swarms of people trying to take advantage of these great deals. Dealing with large crowds is stressful for most people; however, large crowds may be particularly stressful if you have PTSD.
Large crowds can trigger the hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD. When in a large crowd, you may feel unsafe or as though there is no easy way to escape the situation. You also may have concerns that you could be caught off guard at any moment. As a result, you may feel constantly on edge, fearful, anxious, and/or irritable when in a large crowd. These feelings may eventually lead you to avoid going out of your home for fear of encountering large crowds.
However, there are ways of coping with large crowds so as to reduce the likelihood of experiencing high levels of fear and anxiety.
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 they are 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.
However, learning how to take a step back from your thoughts can reduce the power of these thoughts 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.
Utilize Social Support
If you know that large crowds have the potential to cause fear and anxiety for you, make sure you bring along some social support. Social support is an excellent way of coping with stress of all kinds.
Before you go out, talk some with your companions about what kind of situations have the potential to trigger your PTSD symptoms. In addition, let them know what kind 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.
Break Up Your Shopping
There is no need to do all your shopping at once. This can be quite taxing. Instead, make a list of all the things you need to get and then break up that list. Only do a portion of the list at a time. This way you can limit the amount of exposure you receive to large crowds at any given time.
Do Some of Your Shopping Online
Good deals are no longer just found in stores. You can also find these deals online. See if you can limit your contact with large crowds by doing some of your shopping online.
Learn How to Cope with Triggers
Breaking Down Avoidance
Dealing with large crowds is a part of life. They are unavoidable, and this is especially true during the holiday season. However, it is important to make sure that fears of large crowds do not contribute to extreme avoidance behavior, such as never leaving your home.
If you have a fear of large crowds, try out some of the coping strategies above, but start slow. Practice some of the skills first, such as deep breathing and mindfulness. 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, the more confidence you will have 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.