Claustrophobia is one of the most common phobias. It is a situational phobia triggered by an irrational and intense fear of tight or crowded spaces. It frequently results in a panic attack and can be triggered by things such as being in a crowded elevator, a small room without any windows, or driving on a congested highway.
Symptoms: For some people, claustrophobia may disappear on its own. Others may need therapy to manage and cope with their symptoms. Symptoms of claustrophobia vary. However, some common symptoms include: sweating, increased heart rate, dizziness, hyperventilating, inability to breathe, headaches, and trembling.
Causes: Claustrophobia is generally the result of an experience in the person’s past (usually in their childhood) that has led them to associate small spaces with the feeling of panic or being in imminent danger. Examples of these kinds of past experiences are:
• being stuck in a tight or crowded space for a long period of time
• being punished by being locked in a small space.
• being stuck on crowded public transportation.
• being left in a tight space, like a closet, by accident.
• crawling into a hole and getting lost/stuck.
As the experience will have dealt some kind of trauma to the person, it will affect their ability to cope with a similar situation rationally. The mind links the small space to the feeling of being in danger and the body then reacts accordingly (or how it thinks it should).
You’re also more likely to develop claustrophobia if you grew up with a claustrophobic parent or family member. If a child sees their loved ones becoming scared of a small, enclosed space, they may begin to associate fear and anxiety with similar situations.
Treatment: If you experience any of these symptoms, you should see a doctor. Don’t wait until your claustrophobia becomes too overwhelming because an early diagnosis can help you better manage your symptoms. Claustrophobia is most commonly treated by psychotherapy. Different types of counseling can help you overcome your fear and manage your triggers. Counter conditioning and exposure therapy (gradually exposing people to situations that trigger anxiety) can help people build a tolerance and learn coping mechanisms. Others can benefit from therapy or medication.