How to Stay Relaxed in Crowded Places

Today’s topic comes from a search engine query that a new reader did recently that lead them to this site.

With the holidays rapidly approaching, I thought this would be a good thing to discuss as there will be plenty of crowded parties, shops, malls, group dinners, and other places and events in many of my readers’ not-too-distant future.

(Please don’t ask me to explain what’s going on in the photo on the right. I honestly don’t know. It fit the theme of this post nicely, though).

Like many folks, I’m not a huge fan of very crowded places. Large groups of people tend to be boisterous, and it bothers me to be surrounded by so much noise without being able to figure out what any of it is supposed to mean. Loud music is one thing, but hundreds of conversations all blurred together will never be something I enjoy.

I also find it draining to constantly need to weave my way through a crowd. Anatomically modern humans have done a lot of amazing things over the last 40,000 years, but figuring out how to efficiently herd thousands of people who are slowly meandering through the mall on a lazy Sunday afternoon is not one of them. Ha!

With that being said, there are occasions when you need to pick something up at the store during a peak shopping time or attend a holiday party. I have a few tricks for doing what I need to do on these days without spending an inordinate amount of time in a situation that I find unpleasant.

Arrive Before (or After) the Busiest Time

You might be surprised how quiet stores in Toronto can be even right before Christmas if you show up to them first thing and finish your shopping quickly. Many Torontonians don’t seem to begin running their errands until later in the day even when they only have a handful of shopping days left before a big holiday, so getting a head start on them is a great way to avoid the crowds.

This effect is only stronger in smaller communities. I spent a big chunk of my childhood living near or in a town of about 16,000 people, and the stores there barely had any customers in them at all for the first few hours after they opened up most mornings. It was the perfect time to browse peacefully or get help from the store employees.

I’ve also had similar luck when it comes to timing my arrival at parties. It’s simpler for me to get into the festive spirit of a party if I plan it so I arrive a little earlier or later than most of the other attendees. I like warming up to big groups gradually, and it’s easier to do that if I don’t spend the whole time surrounded by a huge crowd.

Have a Plan

One of the many lessons my mom taught me when I was growing up is that shopping requires a plan. Neither one of us are people who ever shop as a hobby or a way to kill time. If she needs to buy something, she adds it to a shopping list and tries to acquire it as efficiently and frugally as possible.

I have the same policy. There’s nothing wrong with replacing something when it wears out or buying something I expect to use regularly, but I do not dawdle during the process. If I can’t find what I need, I stop shopping and go do something fun. There will always be another day to try again.

Mom reads this blog, so she might be smiling by now at how much she affected me in this part of life. Her efficiency really rubbed off on me, though!

Stick to the Perimeter

I don’t know about you, but I prefer being on the edge of a crowd instead of in the centre of it. There’s something comforting to me about knowing that I could quietly slip out a side door if I needed a few minutes of peace and quiet before wandering back into the event or building. In fact, simply having this available to me as an option makes it unnecessary for me to take a breather from the crowd in many cases.

It’s also nice to see who you meet on the perimeter of a party. While I don’t have any scientific data to back this up, it’s been my experience that you’ll meet a lot of likeminded people on the edges. Folks who love the energy of a crowd and want to be the centre of attention tend to wiggle into the centre of the room and more-or-less stay there.

People who aren’t so enamoured with that experience tend to congregate on the perimeter. They’re exactly who I want to start a conversation with once I’ve figured out who they are. As much as I love watching the life of the party do his or her thing, it’s nice to find kindred spirits when I’m feeling a little overwhelmed or want to find my footing in a conversation.

Find a Distraction

This is where I’m going to appear to contradict myself. One of the best things about people who thrive in big crowds is that they can be incredibly entertaining if you’re looking for a distraction.

While I wouldn’t necessarily want to follow them around all day every day, I really appreciate it when they spontaneously start organizing a few rounds of karaoke at a party or amusing bored children with a game or story while sitting in a food court.

They have such a wildly different approach to large crowds that I can’t help but to be fascinated by how their minds work. Would they feel as out of place in a quiet room as I do in a loud one? I’d bet they just might!

If there aren’t any interesting people to observe, I’ve also distracted myself by spotting animals* or by counting the number of people who are wearing an article of clothing that’s a specific colour. There is always something to occupy your mind if you pay attention to everyone around you.

*This is Toronto, after all. Dogs are welcomed nearly everywhere. Sometimes you’ll see a cat, snake, rabbit, or parrot being carried around as well, and this doesn’t even begin to count all of the wild birds in this city who have been known to wander around on the subway, at the library, or in other indoor places.

Be Patient

Anything from walking to the other side of the room to getting a specific goal accomplished will almost certainly take longer than they would if you were in a less busy place.

Breathe. Remain mindful.

Don’t try to tamp down your thoughts. Lots of other people there probably feel a little irritated or overwhelmed as well. Even if you’re literally the only person in the room who feels this way, it is still much better to acknowledge those emotions than to hide them.

Be patient.

It will be okay.

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