The fear of confined spaces and situations

              What is Claustrophobia?

Claustrophobia is a type of anxiety disorder, and one of the most common types of phobia. This type of phobia refers to the “fear of confined spaces”. Claustrophobic individuals experience irrational, extreme, and intense fear being in tight, packed, confined, crowded, small, and enclosed spaces. They might feel like having a panic attack, but Claustrophobia is not a panic disorder. Though, claustrophobic people may experience the symptoms of panic attack. 

While being in tight, confined and enclosed spaces, individuals with claustrophobia might:

  • Get extremely nervous
  • Feel scared, trapped, stressed, and dreaded
  • Start panicking

Claustrophobic people try their best to avoid those places and situations that can trigger their phobia, such as crowded rooms, elevators, cars, packed spaces, being locked in a windowless room, being in a room with closed doors, etc. The severity of this type of phobia varies from individual to individual. Some people may display claustrophobia symptoms while being in all types of confined and closed-up spaces. Whereas, some individuals may feel fear only while being in specific enclosed & cramped spaces, for instance an MRI machine or an elevator. For claustrophobic people, the definition of a small and cramped space may vary from one another depending on the severity of their phobia. 

Symptoms of Claustrophobia

In claustrophobic individuals, the anxiety & dread caused due to confined spaces can range from mild nervousness to an intense & extreme panic attack. Being in a confined and cramped space can trigger the symptoms of panic attack in claustrophobic people, such as:-

  • Racing & pounding heart (rapid heartbeat)
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Feeling numb
  • Hot flashes
  • Breathing issues (shortness of breath)
  • Hyperventilation
  • Choking
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Feelings of faintness
  • Feeling confused or disoriented
  • Irrational fear of being harmed

The above symptoms can range from mild to severe. There are certain noticeable and observable signs & symptoms of claustrophobic people, such as:-

  • They avoid triggering places and situations as far as possible like elevators, cars, subways, tunnels, airplanes, etc., as such triggering spaces cause them to feel intense and extreme fear, anxiety or panic.
  • Automatically their eyes search for the exits in any confined and cramped space they enter. 
  • Any room without windows or with closed doors will cause feelings of fear and anxiety in them.
  • They will stand close to the exit points while being in a crowded place.   

Places and situations that can trigger claustrophobia include:-

  • A small room without windows or closed doors.
  • Travelling in a small car or an airplane.
  • Crowded or packed elevator
  • MRI machine or CT scan
  • Crowded spaces
  • Caves
  • Tunnels
  • Public restrooms
  • Revolving doors
  • Trial rooms/store dressing rooms, etc.

Causes of Claustrophobia

Little research is done on the causes of claustrophobia. Typically, claustrophobic individuals develop this type of phobia in their childhood or teenage phase. Environmental factors might also play a huge role in developing claustrophobia. Dysfunction of the amygdala could be one of the causes of claustrophobia. Amygdala is the brain part that controls our processing of fear. 

Claustrophobia can also be caused by any traumatic event or incident, such as:-

  • Being stuck in any tight and confined space, accidentally or intentionally
  • Being stuck in a tight or crowded space for a very long time
  • Punishment by being locked in a small and enclosed space, like a windowless room or a bathroom
  • Bullying, abuse, etc.

 Dealing with any other anxiety disorder can also raise your chances of having claustrophobia. A claustrophobic parent or family member can also be one of the causes of claustrophobia, as a child may begin to associate & relate fear and anxiety with small, confined and enclosed spaces & situations when they observe their known one becoming scared or dreaded by a confined and enclosed space. 

Diagnosis of Claustrophobia

If you experience the symptoms of claustrophobia, then you should go for a diagnosis as early as possible. An early diagnosis can be a lot helpful in managing your phobia; don’t wait till your claustrophobia becomes too severe. A severe phobia can create obstacles and hindrances in your everyday life, regular activities and functioning, personal and professional relationships, etc. During the diagnosis, the doctor will review your symptoms and health history, and will give you a physical exam. 

Treatment of Claustrophobia

Treatment of claustrophobia depends on the severity of your phobia. In order to deal with your phobia, you might avoid those places and situations that may trigger your fear and anxiety. But, the avoidance of such spaces and situations is not an appropriate solution to manage your phobia. Take the first step by consulting a psychologist or any other mental health specialist. Treatment via different types of therapies can be a lot helpful in overcoming your fear of confined spaces & situations, and managing your triggers. Various types of therapies include:-

  • Exposure therapy – This is commonly used in order to treat phobias and anxiety disorder. In this therapy, the person in question is placed intentionally in such space or situation that triggers his/her phobia, so that he/she overcomes his/her fear.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Relaxation and visualization – With the help of different relaxation and visualization techniques suggested by your therapist, you can calm down and ease your panic in any claustrophobic space or situation. For example, counting down from 10 or visualizing a safe space.
  • Medication

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