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Claustrophobia: What is it and how to overcome it?

Do you feel uncomfortable and dizzy when you are in an enclosed space? It may be due to claustrophobia. Here are some causes of claustrophobia and tips to prevent it.

Have you ever felt trapped in an enclosed space? Some people have a phobia of confined places such as small rooms, crowds, caves, and many other situations. It is known as claustrophobia. Like any other phobia, claustrophobia may vary in severity from person to person. This phobia is among the most common phobias that can make you feel like you are having a panic attack. For some people, claustrophobia may resolve on its own. However, some may require therapy to manage and deal with their symptoms. Here’s everything you need to know about claustrophobia, its causes, symptoms, and how to prevent it.

What is claustrophobia?

Claustrophobia is a type of anxiety disorder characterised by an irrational fear of enclosed spaces. People with claustrophobia often experience intense anxiety or panic attacks when in situations where they feel trapped or unable to escape, such as elevators, crowded rooms, or small rooms with limited exits, as found in a study published in the StatPearls Journal. This fear can be debilitating and can interfere with daily activities, leading individuals to avoid certain places or situations.

Claustrophobia
Claustrophobia is a fear of enclosed spaces. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

What are the causes of claustrophobia?

Claustrophobia can arise from a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Here are some of the potential causes of claustrophobia as explained by psychiatrist and psychotherapist Dr Jyoti Kapoor.

1. Genetics

There may be a genetic predisposition to developing claustrophobia. If you have a family history of anxiety disorders or claustrophobia, you may be more likely to develop it yourself. Genetic factors can influence the way your brain responds to fear and stress, making you more sensitive to feeling trapped in confined spaces.

2. Traumatic experiences

Traumatic experiences involving enclosed spaces can trigger claustrophobia. For example, being trapped in an elevator or experiencing a near-drowning incident can create a lasting fear of confined spaces. These experiences can imprint on the mind and lead to an exaggerated fear response when faced with similar situations in the future.

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3. Learned behaviour

Claustrophobia can also be learned through observation or experiences during childhood. If a parent or close family member exhibits fear or avoidance of enclosed spaces, a child may learn to associate those spaces with danger and develop similar phobic responses. Similarly, witnessing someone else experiencing a panic attack or extreme anxiety in a confined space can contribute to the development of claustrophobia.

4. Brain chemistry

Imbalances in neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, which regulate mood and anxiety, may play a role in the development of claustrophobia. Alterations in brain chemistry can make individuals more prone to experiencing heightened fear responses in certain situations, including confined spaces.

5. Sensory processing differences

Some individuals may have heightened sensory processing, making them more sensitive to stimuli such as feeling confined or restricted. This hypersensitivity can contribute to the development of claustrophobia, as the sensation of being enclosed in tight spaces may feel overwhelming or suffocating.

6. Other anxiety disorders

Claustrophobia often coexists with other anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder or generalised anxiety disorder. Individuals with a predisposition to anxiety may be more susceptible to developing claustrophobia as a specific manifestation of their overall anxiety response.

What are the symptoms of claustrophobia?

Here are some of the common symptoms of claustrophobia as per a study published in the StatPearls Journal.

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  • Sweating or shaking
  • Tightness in the chest or rapid heartbeat
  • Trouble breathing or breathing fast
  • Chills or feeling hot
  • A feeling of choking
  • Upset stomach or feeling “butterflies” in your stomach
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Dry mouth
  • Feeling confused or disoriented
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Ringing in your ears

How to prevent claustrophobia?

Here are some effective tips to manage the symptoms, as explained by the expert.

1. Early intervention

Addressing any initial indicators of worry or discomfort in enclosed areas can help to prevent claustrophobia from worsening. If you notice yourself feeling uneasy or anxious in confined spaces, it is important to acknowledge these feelings and seek support from a mental health professional. Early intervention can involve learning coping strategies and relaxation techniques to manage anxiety before it becomes overwhelming.

2. Mindfulness and relaxation practices

Practising mindfulness and relaxation techniques regularly can help build resilience against claustrophobia triggers. Techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery can help you stay calm and grounded in stressful situations. By incorporating these practices into your daily routine, you can strengthen your ability to cope with feelings of anxiety and prevent them from escalating into full-blown panic attacks.

3. Lifestyle changes

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, adequate sleep, and stress management techniques can help reduce overall anxiety levels and improve your ability to cope with claustrophobia triggers.

4. Medication

In some cases, medication such as anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants may be prescribed to help manage symptoms of claustrophobia. These medications can be used along with therapy or as a short-term solution, especially during challenging situations.

5. Positive self-talk

Challenge negative thoughts and beliefs about confined spaces by replacing them with more rational and positive self-talk. Remind yourself that you are safe and capable of handling the situation and that the feeling of panic will pass.

woman doing self talk
Self talk may help you overcome the fear of claustrophobia! Image courtesy; Shutterstock

Treatment of claustrophobia

Although there is no specific treatment for this mental health disorder, some therapeutic techniques can help you control the symptoms:-

1. Exposure therapy

It gradually introduces you to circumstances that scare you to overcome your fear. At the start, you might simply look at a photograph of a confined location. Then, with your therapist’s assistance, you gradually progress to being inside a tight place.

2. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

This is a sort of talk therapy in which you work one-on-one with a trained therapist. You discuss the negative beliefs that cause your fear and learn how to overcome them. You can receive CBT alone or in combination with exposure treatment.

3. Virtual reality (VR)

This makes use of computer models of cramped areas, such as those seen in MRI machines or lifts. Experiencing a close area in the virtual world can help you overcome your phobia in a safe environment.

It is imperative to talk to your doctor if you notice any symptoms of claustrophobia.

#Claustrophobia #overcome

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