Claustrophobia closing in on you? Here’s how to beat it

Claustrophobia is the fear of being confined in small spaces with no sight of an exit. It is listed as an anxiety disorder and can be triggered by having to stay for any length of time in a small space such as an elevator, a windowless room or in some extreme cases, even wearing tight clothing.

Claustrophobia is usually considered an irrational fear and can lead to panic attacks.

Even though 5-7% of the world’s population suffers from claustrophobia, very few receive professional treatment or even a diagnosis of their condition.

Symptoms of claustrophobia

• People with claustrophobia are terrified of entering into or being confined in a small space since there is too much restriction and the looming fear of suffocation from lack of oxygen.

• A claustrophobic attack can be triggered by a number of seemingly harmless situations such as sitting in a dentist chair, waiting in line at the grocery store or undergoing an MRI scan.

• Claustrophobia triggers the fear of suffocation or the inability to break away when the fear sets in. Most sufferers acknowledge they are not in any real danger in these situations but feel terrified all the same.

In most cases, claustrophobia is the result of a traumatic childhood experience and is usually mistreated as Cleithrophobia, the fear of being trapped.

When feeling tense to a certain degree, claustrophobia manifests itself through these symptoms:

• Feelings of nausea

• Dizziness

• Sweating

• Rapid heart beat

• Light headache

• Confusion or disorientation

• Chest pains

• Dry mouth

• Increased blood pressure

• Chills

• Shaky feet or feelings of unsteadiness

• Feelings of being faint

In most cases, it is not a specific place that sufferers are terrified of but the thought of being restrained, and the possibility of running out of oxygen.

Possible causes of claustrophobia

Most studies show claustrophobia stems from childhood experiences like:

• Being locked in a pitch black room with no shred of light, and no possibility of escape

• Being locked in a locker or a box

• Being separated from parents in a crowed area

• Falling into a pool when one doesn’t have the ability to swim

• Being left alone in a car, van, basement, etc.

How to beat claustrophobia

• Take the stairs instead of elevator no matter how many floors you have to climb

• Check the exit, and open the window as soon as you walk into a room

• Avoid driving during rush hour to avoid getting stuck in traffic jams

• Avoid taking the bus or train during rush hour

• Sit near a door or exit when in a crowded or spacious venue

• Avoid going for an MRI scan

How to treat claustrophobia

In order to identify the severity of a patient’s claustrophobia, the psychologist will ask him or her to describe their symptoms, and what triggers those symptoms most often.

After a full diagnosis, people with claustrophobia are usually recommended the following:

• cognitive behavioural therapy

• drug therapy

• relaxation exercises

• alternative natural medicine remedies

This article first appeared in and was reviewed by Dr Duyen Le. The Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.