How Introverts Can Navigate Crowds With Ease

The noise, activity, and sheer number of people can be overwhelming for us introverts.

The noise, activity, and sheer number of people can be overwhelming for us introverts.

Strangers, overstimulation, no quick escape routes… crowds can be an introvert’s worst nightmare. Not to mention the almost inevitable introvert hangover that typically follows time spent in crowds. (That’s been my experience, anyway.) 

Speaking of crowds, what do you consider a “crowd”? For me, it’s less about the number of people and more about how many people are in a confined space. For example, five people squeezed together in a small Uber feels like a crowd to me, but I wouldn’t consider five people in an open space a crowd.

How a Crowd Triggered My First Panic Attack

A hellish crowd triggered my first panic attack. I was in a hotel lobby, with streams of people coming and going. Deciding to retreat to the bathroom to gather myself, I turned the corner, and that’s when the physical sensations hit me. My mind and body demanded I zone out from the rest of the world and focus on the sensations I was experiencing. My heart felt like it was pounding out of my chest, I couldn’t catch my breath, and I almost instantly felt like I was in an oven.

I knew I wasn’t dying (a feeling that’s often common in accounts of first-time panic attacks), but I realized something was seriously wrong. Having read about panic attacks before, I was able to connect the dots in hindsight.

(Here are some tips on how introverts can deal with panic attacks.)

Unfortunately, avoiding crowds is nearly impossible for most of us. So, how can introverts manage crowds with ease, despite everything happening internally? Here are some useful tips that have worked for me.

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How Introverts Can Navigate Crowds With Ease

1. Set a time limit.

How long can you spend in a crowd without feeling completely drained? This varies greatly from person to person, but it’s important to be curious and notice when your internal warning light starts flickering on. Being aware of how much time you can handle gives you the power to politely excuse yourself, where possible, once you’ve reached your limit — and before you hit complete overwhelm. 

Keep in mind that a lot of introverts are very sensitive to their surroundings, so they might not be able to handle being in a crowd for as long as other people who aren’t as introverted or sensitive. (Are you a highly sensitive person? Here are 27 “strange” things highly sensitive people do.)

Over time, you can experiment with gradually increasing the amount of time you can tolerate in a crowd and track the outcomes. This might be challenging at first. However, the key is to stretch yourself bit by bit. You don’t want to overwhelm your nervous system completely; doing so could make you even more fearful of crowds in the long term.

2. Ground yourself.

Isn’t it fun to know you can do all kinds of things in your mind and body without anyone around you being aware? After all, we introverts are expert daydreamers!

While it has its limitations, breathing can be a very effective way to ground yourself, particularly when your exhalation is twice as long as your inhalation (count to four breathing in, and eight breathing out, for example). But, breathing your way through an experience isn’t going to be helpful if you’re with people and need to continue a conversation.

My go-to in these situations is a somatic experiencing technique called “orienting.” (The word “soma” means body.) Nervous system expert Irene Lyon offers a lot of in-depth content on orienting, but to put it simply, it’s the ability to orient yourself to your surroundings and environment.

For me, this involves looking around the room, and every few seconds or so, resting my eyes on whatever is in my view before moving to the next object. As I do this, my mind receives the message that I am safe, and more importantly, my body does, too. From here, my urge to “escape” gradually subsides.

3. Maintain your personal space whenever possible.

This is a big one for me, although it’s not always achievable in a crowd. There is nothing I loathe more than feeling trapped and surrounded by strangers who are “space invaders.” Having what feels like enough personal space around me helps me feel safe and comfortable. 

After all, it can be quite intimidating when someone invades your space. My general rule is to mentally estimate whether I could comfortably stretch out my arms and hands in front and behind me. If I can, I’m good to go. If not, I start experiencing all sorts of emotions (and not the pleasant ones)!

For me, this need for space developed over time. As an introverted child, I was hardly a social butterfly (surprise, surprise), and the activities I enjoyed, like reading and writing, were usually solitary. Even as a young child new to school, I vividly remember questioning why I had to sit so close to my classmates, often shifting my desk over when I could without getting into trouble.

Do you ever struggle to know what to say?

As an introvert, you actually have the ability to be an amazing conversationalist — even if you’re quiet and hate small talk. To learn how, we recommend this online course from our partner Michaela Chung. Click here to check out the Introvert Conversation Genius course.

4. Focus on other people, especially little details about them.

Remember the panic attack I mentioned earlier? In hindsight, the panic attack started long before I was surrounded by the crowd in the hotel. I felt anxious about being in that environment well before I was actually there. Most of my friends know about my penchant for introspection, which, as defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, means: “Examination of and attention to your own ideas, thoughts, and feelings.”

From my experience, as I’ve matured, this has led to a heightened awareness of my inner world and what makes me tick. (As an introvert, you can probably relate.) This also results in increased self-consciousness and hyper-awareness, which isn’t necessarily helpful when you’re surrounded by strangers.

However, that being said, people-watching is one of my favorite activities. When I’m in a crowd and feel myself starting to become overwhelmed, I shift my attention outward and focus on others. This strategy works best when I hone in on the tiny details I typically ignore: a stain on someone’s clothing, the conversation of people next to me, or the way people carry themselves. Time flies by with this approach.

5. Take advantage of quiet spots.

I’m not particularly proud to admit it, but sometimes in life, you have to do what you have to do. In networking situations for my business, I’ve found myself actively stepping away from the main cluster of people in the center of the room to seek a quieter corner or area. (You can even opt for a nearby empty room.)

Once I find a space to stop and rest, I pull out my phone and pretend to be on a call. Even though the phone is generally not an introvert’s friend, it becomes a great ally in times like these! (Hot tip: Turn the phone to silent, because if it starts ringing while you’re pretending to talk, that would be awkward!) I do this for five or ten minutes, which gives me time to reset. Not to mention, it’s also an effective way to excuse yourself from a conversation that isn’t stimulating.

6. Don’t avoid crowds.

With any challenging experience, avoidance is rarely the answer. When we eliminate things, our lives gradually shrink over time. It’s easy for us introverts to isolate ourselves because that’s how we recharge our energy.

Sure, as introverts, we’re wired differently, but we’re still social beings and need to connect and engage with others. Crowds are part of life, and with practice, being in them is likely to become easier. 

7. Rest, reflect, and recharge.

Any personal trainer will tell you that rest days are as crucial as training days in the gym. Similarly, after spending extensive time in crowds, give yourself ample time to rest and recharge.

Now, this will look different to everyone. Whenever I’ve been around people for prolonged periods, I sometimes need several days to recharge. I prioritize sleep, eating well, gentle exercise (like walking), and spending time alone. Depending on the situation, I also like to set aside time for journaling, to reflect on what happened and consider what I could do differently in similar future situations (especially if things didn’t go as planned).

For Introverts and Crowds, Practice Makes Perfect

When it comes to crowds, the noise, activity, and sheer number of people can be overwhelming for us introverts. Crowds can result in serious energy drain for us. Sensory overload is never fun, making us feel like we’re engulfed in chaos with no option to escape. 

If you’re an introvert who struggles with crowds, it’s important to be compassionate with yourself and focus on small steps. Be open and curious to change, and understand that although there may be setbacks, these challenges don’t define you.

Interested in writing for healing and general health and well-being? Learn more about my Storytelling for the Soul membership here or watch my free embodied writing for healing training here.

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