What is Claustrophobia?
The description of claustrophobia that is generally offered is an intense fear of being trapped or confined in small spaces. The fear is often focused on not being able to escape or not having enough oxygen. A person dealing with claustrophobia often experiences great anxiety and difficulty breathing in small enclosed spaces and may experience feelings of panic or even have a full panic attack. Unfortunately as with many phobias, there is no easy description of claustrophobia.
Individuals with claustrophobia will often enter any enclosed area (such as a movie theatre) and immediately scan their surroundings for the nearest exit. They do their best to avoid small confined spaces such as elevators, basements or cellars, airplanes or even rooms with closed doors. Crowded spaces can also trigger a claustrophobic reaction as exits may be blocked and quick escape may be difficult.
Living and dealing with claustrophobia can be difficult and limiting as the individual often has to avoid certain situations and places. Working on the 10th floor of a tall building means taking 10 flights of stairs each morning to avoid the elevator, air travel may be impossible and big parties might be avoided. The good news is that as with other phobias, claustrophobia is treatable.
Claustrophobia would be diagnosed under the umbrella term of phobia. Making an appointment with a psychologist is the first step to treatment. The psychologist will ask for a description of claustrophobia symptoms, their severity and the situations that trigger them.
As with other phobias, claustrophobia often occurs along with other disorders and so your psychologist will also try to rule out additional problems such as another category of anxiety disorder, depression or substance abuse before a diagnosis is made.
Other Signs & Symptoms Related to Claustrophobia
Since claustrophobia is closely related to anxiety, the symptoms are closely related and may include:
Who Suffers from Claustrophobia? Is there a Cure?
Claustrophobia generally develops in early adulthood and is one of the most commonly experienced phobias, although few people actually seek treatment. This is mostly because people are either unaware that treatments are successful and readily available, or because they have simply learned to live with their disorder. People who are prone to panic attacks are also more likely to develop claustrophobia as they fear not being able to escape or get help should a panic attack occur.
Dealing with claustrophobia is very hard as the condition can be very disruptive and limiting. While avoiding small spaces may work most days, the claustrophobic can never plan for every situation, and may have to endure episodes of extreme anxiety and panic. Claustrophobics often find themselves making life choices to accommodate their phobia.
For example, they may turn down business opportunities for fear of air-travel, or avoid attending movie theatres or live concerts - or they may just live with a constant niggling fear at the back of their minds. Thankfully claustrophobia is treatable and the associated panic need not be endured.
Claustrophobia in Infants, Babies & Children
Claustrophobia in infants, babies and children usually is a result of heredity or environmental factors, or a combination of both.
As children are more easily influenced by their surroundings than adults, they may pick up on learned behaviors of their parents and/or caretakers. Thus, if the adult displays symptoms of fear in certain situations and suffers from claustrophobia, a child may then develop the phobia. Imitation can also lead to the onset of the condition.
However, even if a baby is born with a predisposition to the phobias of his or her parents, just as an adult can ‘teach’ a child to have claustrophobia, the reverse can be taught, too.
Infants, babies and children may also develop claustrophobia as a result of a traumatic experience, such as being confined in a small space, like being left alone in a car or even a playpen for an extended period of time.
Regardless of the cause, it is important not to avoid the phobia completely but rather help a child to confront it, under the guidance of a professional.
Other Conditions Related to Claustrophobia
Being claustrophobic can put an enormous strain on an individual. As a result, these people often develop unhealthy coping strategies such as substance abuse. Other problems also associated with the disorder include additional phobias, an anxiety disorder, or depression (especially if you find yourself turning down longed for opportunities because of your fear).
In addition, claustrophobia can be a symptom of the following:
What Causes Claustrophobia?
Claustrophobia develops as the mind makes the association that small spaces psychologically translate to some imminent danger. This usually occurs as the result of a bad past experience such as being trapped in an elevator during a power blackout, or after experiencing a panic attack and feeling the urgent need to escape.
People with claustrophobia can generally think back to their first claustrophobic experience. They may remember a traumatic event, or just remember an urgent sense of panic and not being able to breathe.
This same fear reaction, all of their panicked thoughts and feelings, become associated with the notion of a confined space that may be difficult to escape. Even though it is obviously an irrational thought, the mind makes a connection that small spaces equal danger, and the body follows the mind’s cue by flooding them with physical symptoms of anxiety.
Help for Claustrophobia
A number of treatment options are available to help you overcome your claustrophobia. Research has shown that phobias respond best to a combination of treatment models. A holistic approach would include appropriate therapeutic treatment by a registered psychologist, as well as the use of natural remedies, relaxation techniques or other treatment methods such as hypnotherapy.
Treatment Options for Claustrophobia
While many people are prescribed scheduled drugs to control the anxiety associated with their claustrophobia, they often have unwanted side affects, and certain drugs may be addictive. While prescription drugs may be beneficial, they may merely mask the symptoms without addressing the underlying problems.
Natural Herbal and Homeopathic Remedies
There are certain natural products that can be taken to help relieve some of the anxiety associated with claustrophobia, as well as to promote a sense of well being and soothe uneasy nerves. The calming effects of certain herbs such as Passiflora incarnata, Scutellaria laterifolia (Scullcap) and Valerian, can help to take the edge off the initial exposure to the feared situation. In addition, herbs such as Hypericum perforatum (St John’s Wort), may help to balance serotonin levels and reduce overall anxiety levels, resulting in a greater sense of ongoing wellbeing, calmness and confidence to face the feared situation. These remedies can be taken without the risk of unwanted side effects and can help to support the body’s natural balance and serenity.
There are also certain homeopathic remedies that are recommended for specific phobias and which can help to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and panic - usually related to the phobia.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Desensitization or exposure therapy is the most common method of treating claustrophobia. This therapy includes gradual exposure to the feared situation at a gentle pace. You may be asked to discuss your fears surrounding small spaces and gradually encouraged to enter situations that make you feel claustrophobic. This may seem like an impossible task but you will progress at a pace that is least distressing for you, while still making steady improvement.
Meditation, deep breathing and muscle relaxation are a few techniques that have been shown to reduce anxiety and clear the mind of unwanted thoughts and concerns.
Tips for Coping with Claustrophobia
- Take small steps towards conquering your claustrophobia. If you attempt to rush into it, you may feel overwhelmed and discouraged. Similarly, if you avoid taking any steps, you may never conquer your fear! Set attainable goals and once you reach them, make the next one slightly more challenging.
- Learn relaxation techniques to help you manage your anxiety and fear. This can be done by consulting a psychologist or by the use of a self help CD (The Calm Within CD), specifically designed for this purpose. Practice these techniques when you find yourself in a small confined space.
- Think positively! Try being optimistic when facing your fear by reminding yourself that you have the power over your fear and that there is no real danger.
- Take steps to empower yourself in other areas of your life. Take up a hobby or sport, join a club or take a self-help course. This often has a ‘spill over effect’ on anxiety in general. If you help yourself to feel more confident, you will feel more in control of your situation and more able to conquer your fears.
- Read as much as you can about your condition. There are many self help books and support that can be very valuable.