Claustrophobia is the fear of small closed rooms.However, you can also experience claustrophobic symptoms when you find yourself in a crowd or while driving a small car. Where does this phobia come from? Some situations that cause symptoms of claustrophobia can be avoided, others definitely can’t. Can Claustrophobia be treated somehow? Learn the causes and symptoms of claustrophobia and learn how to deal with fear of closed rooms!
Claustrophobia is one of the most common phobias. According to statistics, up to 7% of the human population can suffer from Claustrophobia to varying degrees. The name of this disorder comes from two words: “claustrum” (derived from Latin and understood as “closing in some place”) and “phobos” (derived from Greek and meaning “fear”).
Classically, claustrophobia associated with the fact that the patient suffers from anxiety when he/she is closed in a cramped room (especially one that has no windows). An example can be an elevator, a city toilet or the chamber of an imaging device (e.g. for imaging by a method) magnetic resonance imaging . In fact, however, it is so that a claustrophobic attack can be provoked by many other situations. It happens that patients experience anxiety associated with this phobia when they find themselves in:
- A crowd (anxiety can occur especially when leaving such a place would be very difficult);
- a small car;
- car wash;
- the tunnel;
- shop fitting room.
In general, the list of situations that can cause anxiety resulting from claustrophobic burden is long – even examples of patients who experience anxiety while standing in a long queue at the store or while staying on a dental chair are given. Basically, claustrophobic symptoms appear when the patient is in a place where it’s difficult to get out of.
When finding himself or herself in a situation that provokes anxiety, a patient with claustrophobia may experience a wide variety of disorders. The most common symptoms of claustrophobia include problems such as:
- hot flashes ,
- Excessive sweating ,
- shaking hands ,
- increased heart rate ,
- acceleration of respiratory rate ,
- shortness of breath ,
- feeling of heaviness or pain in the chest or stomach
- dizziness ,
- nausea .
The somatic symptoms of anxiety associated with claustrophobia are listed above. During such an attack, however, the patient may also be confused, and may think that he will soon die. In extreme situations, a patient may even have a panic attack .
There are at least several different theories regarding the potential causes of claustrophobia. As with many other organic and mental disorders, the genes we inherit are suspected of affecting the development of claustrophobia. We can also get claustrophobic … infected. I’m talking about the phenomenon of conditioning. Related to this possibility is that if our parents have claustrophobia, we ourselves are at increased risk that this problem will occur with us. In the case of such a cause of claustrophobia, a child watching his guardian struggling with this phobia would somehow take over his behavior, learn them and after a while, claustrophobia would occur.
Various unpleasant events that patients experience during their lives are also considered a possible cause of claustrophobia. This can lead to the development of claustrophobia, which – experienced later – lead to the occurrence of claustrophobia symptoms. As an example, a situation where a person (especially a child) was locked up in a cramped room as a punishment, or an event where a person slammed in the toilet and for a long time could not get out of it.
It is also possible that claustrophobia has an organic basis. Such a conclusion was made based on the observation that in some people suffering from this phobia, their amygdala – the brain structure associated with, among others with a sense of fear and involved in the fight and flight response – is smaller in size than in people without claustrophobia.
Stating that a patient suffers from claustrophobia is possible after collecting a detailed interview with him about the situations in which he develops anxiety and how the fear manifests itself (i.e. whether he has the symptoms of claustrophobia described above). Other aspects are also important, such as whether the patient tries to avoid situations that cause him anxiety as much as possible (e.g. he refrains from riding the elevator even when he has to walk to the tenth floor on foot). It is also important whether the patient feels fear not only when he or she experiences an unpleasant situation, but also when he or she imagines it.
However, before claustrophobia is diagnosed in any patient, it is necessary to exclude other potential causes of the ailments that appear. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are primarily considered in the diagnosis of differential claustrophobia .
How to treat claustrophobia?
Sometimes it happens that claustrophobia disappears completely on its own and the patient’s functioning completely returns to normal. However, this does not happen in some people – such people can definitely be recommended to use one of the claustrophobic treatments. You probably do not need to convince anyone that therapy can lead to improved functioning – after all, some situations (e.g. use of an elevator) can be avoided by patients with claustrophobia, but others (e.g. driving a car or being in a crowd) are harder to avoid.
Psychotherapy plays the most important role in the treatment of claustrophobia . Various types of psychotherapy can be used in people with this phobia, one of the most commonly used is cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy . Exposure therapy is another therapeutic method, sometimes recommended for patients with claustrophobia. It consists in the fact that – in controlled conditions – the patient is exposed to the situation causing him anxiety. The person conducting the therapy then indicates to the patient that in a given situation he is absolutely safe – exposure therapy is to somehow “teach” the patient to experience anxiety.
Incidentally, pharmacological treatment is recommended for people suffering from claustrophobia. In this case, antidepressant and anxiolytic preparations are mainly used, however, if they are recommended to people with claustrophobia, only those who have the strongest symptoms of anxiety. It should be emphasized that drug therapy can only be an add-on to the treatment of claustrophobia – the basis is psychotherapy.
How to deal with claustrophobia?
Not all patients benefit from the claustrophobic treatment, and those who undergo therapy may still experience anxiety attacks before it ends. Both of these patient groups can be given some tips on how they can act when they experience an anxiety attack. Techniques such as:
- Deep breathing : it is worth trying to breathe deeply and very slowly during the attack – it can help calm down,
- Focusing on an object : diverting attention from an anxious situation can help restore balance (you can shift your attention to very simple things, such as moving watch hands),
- Thinking about a pleasant phenomenon : like the action described above.
- Telling yourself that anxiety is unfounded and that there really is no real threat in a given situation.