Claustrophobia is a type of situational phobia (fear of certain situations) where an individual experiences great fear of small or enclosed spaces. A person suffering from Claustrophobia might be afraid of going in elevators. Many claustrophobic individuals are also known to fear being inside tunnels, caves, mines, or airplanes. They typically report seeing images of being trapped or unable to escape from such places and are known to go to great lengths to avoid them.
Causes of fear of small and enclosed spaces
Claustrophobia is a common social phobia affecting nearly 4% people worldwide. Scientists believe that the following reasons may lead to this phobia:
- People with spatial distortion are more likely to fear enclosed and small spaces. They tend to have an exaggerated sense of their personal space.
- Generally, people with higher tendency towards anxiety disorders are also likelier to be claustrophobic.
- Those with a history of panic disorder or prone to panic attacks are likelier to have the fear of small and confined spaces.
- Traumatic past experiences are also known to play a role in the development of the fear of small spaces. For example, children that have been accidently trapped in closets or punished are at higher risks for developing Claustrophobia.
- Some theories also suggest that it could be an evolutionary phobia, which means that the fear of small spaces could have some evolutionary benefit.
Thus, the development of this social phobia is complex but the treatment for it almost always focuses on reducing the sufferer’s anxiety.
Symptoms of Claustrophobia
The essence of this phobia is the fear of being trapped or unable to escape or that of “being buried alive”. Thus, a sufferer might experience both physical and psychological symptoms.
- Respiratory symptoms such as being choked or unable to breathe
- Accelerated heartbeat
- Feeling sick or nauseated
- Thoughts or images of being buried alive or trapped
- Thoughts of death
- Feeling like running away
- Inability to distinguish between what is real and unreal
Treatment for the fear of small spaces phobia
Sometimes, merely the thought of treatment might be frightening to a person with extreme Claustrophobia. The fact that a majority of the treatment options consist of facing one’s fears also makes the individual feel more frightened or anxious. It is important that friends and family members offer utmost support and encouragement to the phobic. Many psychotherapists are known to encourage friends/family members to attend treatment sessions along with the individuals seeking the therapy.
- Flooding/exposure therapy– In this method, the patient is gradually introduced to his fears, in this case, small or enclosed spaces, until s/he realizes that no harm has come despite encountering one’s object of dread.
- Self help techniques– Patients can follow a few self help routines to overcome the fear of small spaces. For example, instead of rushing to get off the elevators, one can stay in them and go up/down several times to habituate oneself to the feelings of anxiety. Gradually, one can also work up to greater/severe fears and learn to control one’s anxiety until it goes away completely. Deep breathing, visualization, meditation and Yoga are also known to help control panic attacks.
- Modeling techniques– In this type of therapy, patients are encouraged to watch people confront their objects of fear with confidence and made to replicate or imitate the behavior.
- Cognitive behavior Therapy– This therapy is known to be effective in treating Claustrophobia by helping the individual confront his fearful thoughts and change his attitude towards his object of fear.
- Drugs– Certain tranquilizers or anti depressants may be given based on severity of the Claustrophobia. However, long term use of these medicines should be avoided as many are known to have withdrawal symptoms.
To normal people, Claustrophobia might seem extreme or irrational, but to the person who suffers from it, it can be debilitating and impact his/her day to day life. However, one must take heart in the fact that with appropriate treatment it is possible to completely overcome one’s fear of small spaces.
If I’m in a room where I can touch two walls that are within my arm span, I pass out. I can’t even go into a bathroom stall. If possible, I go into a larger, singular bathroom, and if that’s not available, I go into the handicap stall. Once, my teacher pulled me out of class to talk to me, and he led me to a smaller room, and after 30 seconds, I passed out. This is disabling to me, and it affects me on a day-to-day basis.
I’m scared of schools because they get crowded but I’m not scared of elevators.
I sometimes feel like im getting choked if im in an elevator
It may not be claustrophobia, but i have a fear that when i get my hand, leg or head into a small space, i fear that it may not come out
I have claustrophobia sometimes i forget to breathe.
Whenever I am in an enclosed space whatever it is rooms, houses or any other enclosed space spacialy which are closed by outerside or locked by other people and he also has the key and I have no idea where is the key I became out of control. I immediately want the key otherwise I think everything is lost.
I fear getting stuck in tight places, whereby the only way to escape is to turn back. But, you can’t and there is no way forward.
This is honestly very relatable.
Neena singh says
I somehow tend to think I am trapped in a small place.. Or imagine some one built in a wall like in the movie Mughal e Azam.. Then I just want to get up can’t sleep…. Walk around to get over that feeling… usually happens at night
you can do it
i will try to help you
im afraid of being in small elevators
I cannot travel in a vehicle sitting in rear seats and without an option to open a window. I have to travel by air but i am much worried i will not be able to sit in airplane but my family is heaping pressure on me to travel. i do not know what should i do.
same here, as per many peoples suggestion i have started meditation lets hope for better.
I have a fear of small spaces like riding in an elevator.
I get lightheaded in enclosed areas and feel the urge to go to a restroom and puke.
I sometimes think about being trapped in either a space only big enough to fit my body or being trapped in a mold of myself.
I hate small and large areas. I faint if someone forces me into an elevator and watching people on TV in small spaces makes me feel like I’m them.
Why are people forcing you into elevators on a regular basis to begin with??
Im suffering same. People dont realize my suffering. Some laugh at me, some take it as irrational but i know how im strugling with this problem.
Is there a related phobia, where the trigger isn’t actually small spaces, but fearing being trapped?
Claustrophobia is the fear of both small spaces and being trapped I believe. I’m not 100% sure on this.
jarrod long says
Whenever I am in an enclosed space I feel like everything is fading away.
i freak out if someone puts a blanket on my head
I can’t ever put a blanket over my head because then I can’t breathe properly. Even if there is a big hole, I still can’t. I start suffocating.
I tend to be irritated and want to move away from a close huge crowd of people, especially in school. I almost want to scream my lungs out “Move out of my way”. When there’s so many people squished next to me, then I can’t breathe. It’s definitely a fear of mine :(
That is called enochlophbia, just so you know
Same here. I can’t even stand being so close to a single person. If I can tell or feel someone close to me, I stay saying ‘move, I can barely breathe’, which is half true. I can breathe but I feel like I won’t be able to breathe and they’re not even that close.
I have a fear of being blind, deaf and dumb, where I would not be able to communicate, won’t know time and place, people around me, won’t be able to end my life on my own. I want to die before that situation arrives.