So – while we’re on the topic of triggers, let’s talk about crowds. From what I gather, most of you are not big fans of crowds.
Like I keep saying, PTSD is basically your brain’s threat-alert system, kicked into high gear without an “off” button. So – you’re constantly trying to size up all possible threats.
Say you’re in a room with one door, one window, and one other person. That’s not bad; you can scan window-door-person, to look for possible threats.
Now say you’re in a bigger room, with ten people. Keeping track is much harder, and it’s easier to get overwhelmed.
It goes up to a whole new level if you’re in a grocery store, a mall, or a football stadium. Now, there’s just no way to keep track of it all. Just thinking about it, you might start to feel your heart rate speeding up a bit – that’s your reflex, getting ready to fight or flee.
Take a moment. Breathe. You’re not there right now.
See what just happened there? That feeling started, even though you were just thinking. Thinking is not dangerous – but your survival reflex is so strong, that just thinking about it makes the danger feel SO real.
When we start to feel like that, we interpret that feeling itself as a sign that there’s danger. If we can’t quickly scan our entire environment, we start thinking the danger must be real, only we can’t see it.
Feeling tense/nervous/uneasy does NOT mean that you’re in danger – it just means that your threat-detection system is reminded of danger.
…That little fact right there folks – that is the key to the universe.
When you’re dealing with PTSD, having that feeling that tells you, “Oh no, major danger is coming” does NOT actually mean that anything is coming.
It just means that your threat-response system was reminded of danger.
Remember Dave the Zebra, and his red flowers? Well – crowds are sort of like your red flowers.
So – how do you cope?
Remind yourself that, as soon as you start to think about crowds, your PTSD will start to act up. This is not because thinking is dangerous, or because crowds are dangerous; it’s because PTSD reacts to reminders of danger.
Heading into a crowd, you’re going to feel anxious/tense/wound up. You may even start imagining all kinds of horrible things that could go wrong, and all those things might feel very, very real. Feeling and thinking this way does not mean that you’re in danger, or that awful things will happen. This is a normal part of PTSD; it is to be expected. This is unpleasant, but not dangerous.
Repeat this information to yourself frequently; with consistent practice, it will get easier. (You’ll probably still not like being in crowds, but it will get easier to cope with it.)
I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…
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~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.
*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.
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3 thoughts on “PTSD Triggers: Crowds”
I gradually worked my way up to be able to go christmas shopping, which I can do as long as it isn’t too crowded. I pick times where I will have smaller crowds.. I hd a severe setback at an Alice Cooper/Rob Zombie where I was supposed to have front rows seating . WhenI got into the venue there were now eats in thefront and ended up second row left centre. I was fine for most of Alice unti his sct started giving away beads, in the stage rush I wsa pushed crowded and then kicked in the head by a crowd surfer that was the final straw and had to leavecould not get out abd was starting to get a bit panicy until I saw the security guard 2 rows away from me so I fought to get to himand then lifted out over the baracades to a safe passage area. I left the building to calm down don’t have clue how long I was gone but when I finally was able to return near the back in the bleachers but I do know that he only played 3 more songs and the night was done. I feel sorry for my wife that night she missed the concert staying with me and lost most of the night sitting up with me. Wrote Alice Cooper and the producers as well as the prduction company about this just asking that they not advertize seating if there isn’t going to be any. Never heard back from any of them. Still havent worked my way back to concerts but can now go to the theater as long as I have my own seat. Took me 10 years to work up to rock crowds and 15 min to destroy 10 years work. Back at it for 3 years now and starting to heal now
I think I would have a hard time in the front row of much of anywhere, John. I hate crowds (an issue I didn’t know was related to PTSD until a few years ago), but I find I can handle it to a degree if I have the ability to see what’s out in front of me. Not leave my back exposed. So, I find myself stationing myself in the back corner in a restaurant, back row at the movie theater, etc. I think I’m probably the only person so have an anxiety attack at Disney. isn’t this supposed to be the Happiest Place On Earth? I’ve been trying to conquer it, though. I went to a ballgame in a park of about 30,000 over the summer. Back exposed, and all. it was tough, but I made it. I allowed myself the knowledge that yes, this was going to cause panic, and yes, it would suck for a bit. But the threat isn’t real, and it will subside, if I can just ride it out. And if I can’t, that’s okay. I don’t have to stay there. I wouldn’t say that you “undid” all your hard work. It’s a process, not an all or nothing, black or white thing. You WENT to a rock concert. You were right up front, no less. And even if you only stayed for 15 minutes into the concert, I would count that as a degree of success. Maybe down the road, it will be a little longer.
I knew I had ptsd, but I didn’t realize crowds was a ptsd trigger until I recently returned home the day before thanksgiving and got a bit of a layover in Chicago, one of the busiest airports, and even more so around thanksgiving. I’ve always been a bit anxious in big crowded places, but it only just hit me after this recent experience that it must be linked to the ptsd. I came close to a panic attack and there was nowhere for me to flee to. It was an awful experience, but I tried breathing and I just told myself that soon I would be on the plane and it would all be over. Never have I ever come close to a panic attack like that, but I felt my face burning up and I could hardly breathe.
I hate these triggers. Whenever I go to a restaurant I can’t even sit in the centre of the room. It’s so bad that we have to call in advance to make sure our table is in the corner somewhere. It affects your life when you’re constantly checking on things like that, while most people live their life with ease. If I have a glass of wine I relax, but I refuse to be one of those who turns to alcohol to numb it out.
Claire – you’re not the only one!! I too struggle at disney world, especially those long lines of people where my back is exposed and I’m surrounded. It’s crazy to remember that I was gripping to my spouse’s arm the whole time, so tense and scared in this situation. That was great that you braved it out in a crowd. I have to travel for work, so I’m constantly exposed to crowds, whether I like it or not. It’s embarrassing and I hope no-one notices my awkwardness. But I can’t help but wonder if exposing myself to this all the time is good, or whether it gets me more worked up, because it’s a regular thing and not a one off attempt.
I came across some useful videos on youtube the other night, worth watching. The username is “Gift from within – ptsd resources” and if I can share the link here: https://youtu.be/sAwUK1-2eSo?list=PLv5Vw9xESPqPPthWZ8QDvlRjdIZQQlyOU