If you can’t get away from a crowd, transform it inside your own head!

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We introverts know that there’s a tremendous difference in energy expenditure between situations where we’re with strangers and when we’re with people who are in our “inner circle.” Somehow with strangers and acquaintances there is a little tension, even if it’s not especially unpleasant, which can be very distracting and eventually saps our energy. Or if we go somewhere and find ourselves in the middle of a large crowd we may become absolutely desperate to get away. That’s no fun, and it may stop us from doing things we want or need to do. So when I’m doing something that’s important to me and can’t get away from being crowded by others, I’m teaching my body to react almost as if I’m with family and close friends. Sure, it’s just “pretend” and I’m not really “fooled,” but I’m having a lot of success with this technique, salvaging moments when I’d otherwise work myself into a state of being very annoyed and maybe even unable to succeed at what I’m doing.

The Exam

A few years ago, to fulfill one of my annual goals at work, I signed up several months in advance to take a Microsoft exam. Then I proceeded to bring books and practice questions with me everywhere I went, so that I could study questions and explanations during any spare moment I got. I spent many hours studying for that exam, and when the big day arrived, I knew the material but still was a little nervous. I knew that Microsoft might create scenarios and and word the questions very differently than I was accustomed to in the books and practice materials I’d bought, plus of course most of the questions would require a lot of deep thought. I arrived at the test center a little early and was shown into the testing room. There were three testing stations side by side, each with a PC, divided only by thin dividers extending from the desk surface up a few feet toward the ceiling.

I sat at the station nearest the door and started on the test, trying to calm myself and think clearly, when of all things I heard the door open and another person was shown in to sit at one of the other stations and take the test! When I heard his mouse clicking while he answered the initial survey questions, I thought I was about to be too distracted to get into the deep thought I needed to do the exam. I think the main thing I was “dreading” was if he mumbled to himself or did something else to jar me out of the reasoning I was trying to do. He didn’t do anything wrong; the only one distracting me was myself. How could I take this difficult test with a stranger practically sitting beside me!?

Suddenly I thought about Leigh, a sweet young woman who worked in a cubicle near me at the time. I could always hear Leigh’s mouse clicking during the day, and I found the companionship just right. She’s an introvert too, and so we always enjoyed a little talking during the day and a lot of quiet but friendly work time. So I told myself that’s Leigh on the other side of that wall. That’s just sweet little Leigh. And you know what? My body “believed” me and relaxed. Soon I was taking my exam and didn’t even hear the mouse clicking on the other side of that little divider because it was only my nice gentle coworker, after all. By the way, I passed the exam. 🙂

The Video

Just last Friday night I vowed I’d get a good video of my son playing in the halftime show during a high school football game. He’s a senior, and between weather and other things that might crop up in the remaining four games, I found it very important to try to get a good video of him playing his trumpet in the show at this game. He has three solos during the show, and he told me he’d be on the 50 yard line when it came time to step forward and play each solo.

Soon after the first quarter of the game was over, I started making my way down to the fence. No one was standing at the 50 yard line, so I parked myself right there and got my camcorder out of its case, ready to go. I stood there for 10 football minutes, which as we know, is more like at least 20 clock minutes. Then of all things, a woman and three little girls came to stand right beside me, crowding me, and one of the girls was leaning on me! Would they talk during the show? Would someone jostle my arm and ruin my video? Why couldn’t this stupid woman take her kids somewhere else? I’ve been standing here forever! (Yes, I know that’s unreasonable in a public place, but that’s how I felt).

The second quarter was over soon and the band started coming out on the field. I was very tense wishing everyone else at the fence would just GO. AWAY. But then I decided to try my little trick again. The kid leaning on me was just one of my own kids, or maybe my sister’s little girl. No one was trying to be pushy or crowd me out; they were just standing with me and enjoying the show too. As soon as that last thought crossed my mind I relaxed inside. That little girl didn’t jostle me and her mom didn’t even talk while I was trying to make the video. It all came out just fine.

Consciously relaxing

I have a feeling this world is only going to get more crowded, plus of course sometimes the only way to get something you want is to wade on in there with everyone else who wants the same thing. Although I prefer non-crowded places and times, I don’t intend to totally miss out on things because of trying to avoid having others in my space when I don’t want them there. Instead I’m trying to remind myself to relax and tell myself that this is someone I’m comfortable with, someone I can totally relax with (although I’ve never seen them before).

Yesterday my son and I went to a college football game 150 miles from home, including a huge traffic jam waiting to park, a huge crowd inside the place we went for lunch, and of course sitting among tens of thousands of people before getting back into amazing traffic jams to start back home. Since it was a game against a small school, most of the fans were cheering for the same team we were, so I just looked at all those people (and carloads of people) and told myself that they are kindred spirits – and truly enjoyed the whole day even though I was the driver! The human mind has a powerful effect on the body, but of course this is going to take a lot more practice.

My reaction to crowds is still going to be affected by whether or they’re making me late for something or are going to cause a shortage of something I want, but otherwise I intend to stand my ground and even try to enjoy myself when I find the density of humans to be more than what I’d hoped to encounter!

Photo credit: hectorir

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33 Comments

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention If you can’t get away from a crowd, transform it inside your own head! — Introvert Zone -- Topsy.com

  2. Interesting method. I think i practice it unconsciously too.

    When i am sitting with a bunch of people, my mind is elsewhere.
    I receive lots of “Hey, K**. Hellllooooo”.

    About general public, let me tell you one thing. People in general are very nice.
    Regardless of all the crime statistics and the news flashes.
    Pick a random guy of the street. Chances are that he will behave and be nice towards you.

    • Yes, if you can get away a little, if only inside your own head, it works wonders. And yeah, I know that people are very nice on the whole. I think crowds annoy me more when they’re standing between me and something I want to do – either more quickly, more quietly, or in the spot someone else is already taking up. 🙂

  3. This is an interesting method of avoiding that panicky feeling when you’re surrouned by a big crowd os people, I hate that feeling I feel about to lose control and I don’t like it. I’ll definitely try this next time it happens and I really hope it owrks for me.

  4. I’ll have to try this method next time. I’m fine when it comes to crowds as long as I can mentally prepare myself. When I went to a concert last year by myself (it was a great experience and I felt like a true adult) I knew there would be a big crowd and of course, loud music (Daughtry concert). I wasn’t directly in front of the stage so I think that definitely helped because then I probably would have been more uncomfortable and anxious. My seat was off to the side of the stage, no one bumped me or bothered me except for two women who kept going back to get beer, but they weren’t rude and always apologized afterwards. My problem with crowds is when I’m least expecting them and hearing all of their conversations, then sometimes I can’t “tune them out.”

    • That’s my reaction too – I don’t mind people going past me if they at least say, “excuse me” or something. And yes – having to listen to someone’s conversation, every single word, makes me really want to run for the hills. 🙂

    • I’ve developed a bit of an aversion to concerts, I can’t stand a sold-out crowd and you just don’t know who’s going to end up around you. I’ve only ever sucked it up for three big concerts. One as a kid before introversion mattered, a 2nd one a few years ago (which admittedly worked out incredibly well thanks to an aisle seating location), and the third one last year where my luck ran out.

      Let’s just say it’s hard to “tune out” people directly in your line of sight to the stage doing everything short of having sex with each other. Other activities included, but were not limited to:

      – Standing on their chairs, obstructing 90% of my view.
      – The female climbing on the shoulders of the male, again obstructing 90% of my view.
      – Jumping up from their row into my row where their raunchy display continued to my left. Try as you might, there’s just NO parallel whatsoever from everyday life to counter that!

      It was a real shame. There was going to be no reasoning with them as they were loaded drunk pieces of white trash. Security didn’t want anything to do with them either, despite complaints and warnings and heads-ups from others in my little area who were actually really nice and respectful folks. The phrase one bad apple (or in this case, two bad apples) spoils the whole bunch really is true.

      Eventually, I think I’m going to have to suck it up again and try this concert once more, since it really soured the entire experience.

      • Oh that really is a shame! And you’d think security would/could have done SOMETHING about it. I’m sorry they ruined the concert for you but I hope you will get another heavenly aisle seat next time!

    • Sure was! I can really identify. All that screaming inside her head when trapped like that – if she’d allowed herself to scream out loud she would have totally gone nuts and I wouldn’t blame her! 🙂

  5. ——So when I’m doing something that’s important to me and can’t get away from being crowded by others, I’m teaching my body to react almost as if I’m with family and close friends. ——-

    Hmm……Thats good…
    When iam near crowds……I wont look around…I just finish the work for why i was there.

  6. Yeah, I really hate the whole crowds thing too; I can’t stand being surrounded by the painfully loud white noise of hundreds of people talking in the same space, and watching them shuffle around, bumping into each other, and me often times just makes me dizzy. I’ve stopped eating in the school cafeteria because of this; it’s just so loud and abrasive that I can’t concentrate on anything, and end up losing my appetite. Now I just hang out in my favourite teacher’s room during lunch; it makes things much easier.

    • I totally understand Emily – and it really is rough. I’ve also had the wild urge to just LEAVE a pizza place because the noise was so bad, but that’s when I started (trying, at least) to self-calm. 🙂

  7. Hi,

    I think this is a really good article. I’ve posted a link on my forum about it, I hope others can enjoy and learn from it as well. Sometimes I feel a little overwhelmed in a crowd and hope that this will help, I’ll come back and let you know. I’ll also let you know if anyone on the forum has any insight into refining or personalising this method of dealing with social anxiety. Thanks again!

    Kelly

    • Thanks Kelly! I’ll take a look. I’m a member of your forum, but in the last couple of months since my office has started logging (and reporting) all the internet sites we go to, I feel a bit restricted even during my lunch break.

  8. ergh, i know what you mean. not that it really even matters if you want to read a forum for introverts, but just the *idea* that others are able to see what you’re doing is enough to make you want to restrict yourself to the bare minimum. for what it’s worth, i’ve worked in IT for a few years and we really don’t care what you look at, as long as it’s not illegal. still empathise with you though. the site is going really well! i’ll keep linking articles i like to the few readers of our forum 🙂

    regards,

    kelly

  9. I am glad you made or passed that Microsoft exam. This is just one example of having that “mind over body” matters. I mean, if we use our mind to create another environment or surroundings in a certain situation, then we have this really big advantage over something or someone else.
    Ron@Filipino Recipes´s last post ..Baked Macaroni And Cheese

    • Hi Ron,
      That’s exactly what I was trying to do – “mind over body.” I’m sure we can all think of some ways where the mind has a powerful effect on the body – I guess we need look no farther than Pavlov’s dogs, who actually started to salivate when they saw a lab coat or heard a certain bell – even if no food was present. I’m trying to train myself, because I tend to be intense and let feelings overwhelm me.

  10. Yup great blog and the Elaine video was funny. I really like the comments and the information that you share with us and it seems like if a person finds himself trap in bunch of noisy people, so the person should react according to the trapped situation that can relief more than anything…..

  11. “Kindred spirits” — that’s how I’ve come to get around it, too! I was actually at a college football game myself this past weekend, and treating everyone as “of a kind” really helped me just enjoy myself.

  12. I have studied meticulously for university exams before and once in the massive expanse of an exam hall you cant help but observe the other students. Its just plain soothing to just sit there and observe the different people, what way they are thinking, how they align their materials etc. But when it comes down to the concentration and everything is flowing on to the page with ease you are happy but having said that, i have come to several questions at times and momentarily panicked and started to crush my pen with stress and just at that the information would not come and because of this vicious cycle of panicking, acknowledging the stress with crushing of pen you have just shafted yourself. I try to tell myself that the information will come back later but it doesnt till you leave the exam hell. I think a lot has to do with our response to stress as introverts. We zone out. This zoning out helps return our balance but it can be detrimental too.

  13. Heya i am for the first time here. I found this board and I find It truly
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    Gladys´s last post ..Gladys

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