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.