Demophobia (Fear of Crowds)

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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What is demophobia?

In Greek, demo means people or population and phobia means fear. Demophobia roughly translates to fear of people or fear of crowds. Other names for fear of crowds include enochlophobia and ochlophobia. Ochlo translates to crowd or mob. Adding the “en” makes it being in crowds or mobs. All of these names fall under a broader category of agoraphobia. The root “agora” translates to assembly or marketplace.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) classifies phobias as anxiety disorders. Phobias are irrational, persistent and overwhelming fears of an animal, person, object, activity, environment or situation. The phobia stimulus poses little to no danger in reality. People with phobias generally know this, but they can’t stop their reaction.

Demophobia is a simple phobia, meaning it is specific to the situation of being in a crowd. Simple phobias are the most common type of phobia. There are hundreds of simple phobias because the focus can be just about anything. The APA estimates that up to 9% of the American population has a simple phobia.

Demophobia causes an unreasonable fear of crowds or gatherings of people. People who have demophobia know the crowd is extremely unlikely to pose a real threat. But their fear and anxiety about being in a crowd is overpowering.

What are the symptoms of demophobia?

Demophobia symptoms include both physical and psychological reactions. The physical symptoms are the result of a very real physiologic reaction—fight-or-flight. When people sense danger, their body releases adrenaline to help them deal with the threat or escape it. Common physical demophobia symptoms include:

  • Shaking, trembling, sweating and clamminess

Common psychological demophobia symptoms include:

  • Awareness that the fear of crowds is irrational
  • Dread, worry, or sense of impending doom about being a crowd
  • Guilt or shame about fearing crowds
  • Intense panic or anxiety while enduring a crowded situation
  • Lack of control over the fear of crowds
  • Overwhelming desire to avoid crowded situations

Children who suffer with demophobia may not be able to express their feelings. Instead, the fear and anxiety may manifest as inconsolable crying, clinginess, or temper tantrums.

Demophobia symptoms range in severity and can become disabling. If your fear of crowds is disrupting your life, it’s time to see your doctor. Early interventions are often the most successful at helping you reclaim a normal life.

What are the causes of demophobia?

In most cases, it’s hard to pinpoint an exact cause of simple phobias, including demophobia. Sometimes, people can link a specific incident to their fear of crowds. The amygdala—an area of the brain that records reactions and emotions—plays a role in this case. It basically makes a file about the scariness of the incident. When you encounter a similar incident in the future, the amygdala pulls out the file and reminds you about it.

However, not everyone with demophobia can recall any such incident. In this case, the fear could be related to inherited factors, such as personality and temperament traits. People with simple phobias often have first-degree relatives with the same or similar phobia. But it still isn’t straightforward that phobias are inherited. People pick up behaviors and attitudes from their family. So, phobias could be a mix of inherited tendencies and learned mindsets.

What are the treatments for demophobia?

Phobias are real anxiety disorders, which means there are ways to treat them. If you suffer with demophobia, you should know it doesn’t mean you are weak or that it’s all in your head. Naming the problem is the first step in conquering it. The earlier you seek help for it, the more successful treatment is likely to be.

Doctors usually recommend treatment when demophobia disrupts your ability to function normally. This includes work, school, social and personal interactions and relationships. The most effective demophobia treatments are types of talk therapy—or psychotherapy—including:

  • Cognitive behavior therapy, which helps you identify and change negative thoughts, emotions and behaviors. You work with a therapist to develop new beliefs about your reaction to crowds. The goal is to help you see your fear differently and overcome it. Therapists usually combine this approach with exposure therapy for maximum effectiveness.
  • Exposure therapy, which exposes you to your fear in small, controlled increments. You work with a therapist to develop anxiety-reducing strategies to get through the exposure. As you tolerate small exposures, the therapist will help you move to more intense exposures. The goal is to learn to control your reaction and gain confidence in your ability to deal with your fear.

Sometimes, medicines have a role in treating simple phobias. Doctors may suggest short-term use of medications to help you get started with talk therapy. Medicines are also useful for phobias involving temporary situations, such as having an MRI with claustrophobia. Generally, medicines aren’t useful for long-term treatment.

Complications can develop from simple phobias. Potential complications of demophobia include:

  • Social isolation, leading to loneliness and problems with relationships
  • Substance abuse with alcohol or drugs to try to manage the panic of being in a crowd
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 21
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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