• Claustrophobia is the fear of small, enclosed spaces; those who suffer from it often go to extremes to avoid encountering such spaces.
  • Symptoms include a racing heartbeat, dizziness, hyperventilation, shaking, headaches, nausea, and chest tightness.
  • While symptoms are often brought on by simply entering a small space, the actual phobia is rooted in the fear of what might happen in that space.
  • Those who struggle with high levels of anxiety are more susceptible to developing claustrophobia, as are those who experience trauma related to small spaces.
  • Fortunately, claustrophobia is treatable: both therapy and medication have proven to help those who suffer with it.

Have you ever watched a movie or TV show in which the main characters climb through air vents? This happens far too often, in my opinion. For example, think back to the “Stress Relief” episode of The Office. With the intention of demonstrating proper safety protocol, Dwight locks everyone inside the office and lights a fire in a trash can. The employees essentially freak out: they scream, panic, break windows, and—yes—even seek solace in the air ducts.

In this case, crawling through the air vents might be safer than staying put. However, the chances of you or I voluntarily squeezing ourselves into an air-tight space are slim to none. Why? Because people don’t like small spaces—especially those that are hard to escape. In fact, some of us have a severe fear of such spaces, also known as claustrophobia.

What Is Claustrophobia?

Claustrophobia is essentially the fear of small, enclosed spaces. Claustrophobic individuals often do everything in their power to avoid such spaces, and if/when they do encounter them, suffer from extreme anxiety. This anxiety disorder is characterized by the following symptoms, which are triggered by the individual’s entering small, tight spaces:

  • Accelerated heart-rate
  • Dizziness
  • Hyperventilation
  • Hot flashes
  • Shaking and trembling
  • Headaches and nausea
  • Tightness in the chest

While these symptoms are triggered by one’s being in a small enclosed space, the anxiety disorder is actually rooted in the individual’s fears of what might happen in the confines of this space. Often, they fear that they’ll get stuck or run out of air, say, in an elevator, basement, tunnel, plane, or crowded area.

Who Suffers from Claustrophobia? Am I At Risk?

The fear of small spaces is a common one, especially in those who suffer from heightened levels of anxiety. These increased levels put one at a greater risk of developing this phobia and others. Additionally, those who have had traumatic experiences related to small enclosed spaces are more likely to develop claustrophobia. For example, someone who was stuck in an elevator or locked in a closet has a greater chance of developing claustrophobia thanks to the trauma. Finally, genetics can also play a role in the development of claustrophobia. In any which case, the good news is that claustrophobia is a treatable anxiety disorder.

How Do You Treat the Fear of Small Spaces?

If you are experiencing symptoms of claustrophobia and you need help managing this problem, working with a therapist can help. They can help to determine which type of therapy is best for you, of which might involve the following approaches:

  1. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT):

Your therapist can use cognitive behavioral therapy to teach you how to control the negative thoughts associated with small or tight spaces that bring on your claustrophobia. Altering your thoughts can prove to then change your behaviors and even your physical symptoms associated with this anxiety.

  1. Exposure therapy:

This approach to therapy is often used to treat anxiety disorders and other phobias, as it involves confronting your fear in a non-threatening way. Your therapist will guide you in properly addressing and overcoming your fear, as you are exposed.

Medication is also often used in addition to therapy to treat disorders rooted in anxiety—more specifically, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications prove effective. To begin treatment today, reach out to Thriveworks. Our counselors and therapists are ready and eager to help.