Claustrophobia You Must Know About Everything - HealthA1

Claustrophobia You Must Know About Everything


Claustrophobia is one of the anxiety disorders. Those affected cannot bear to be in narrow, enclosed spaces or in crowds. Those who suffer from claustrophobia are often severely restricted in their freedom of movement. The phobia can be treated therapeutically very well. Read here how claustrophobia manifests itself and how to overcome it.

What is Claustrophobia

Claustrophobia, also called fear of space, is one of the specific phobias. This means that those affected feel a disproportionately great fear in the face of a specific matter. For example, people with claustrophobia develop strong feelings of fear in narrow and closed spaces (for example in elevators, subways) and in crowds (for example concerts).

The opposite of claustrophobia is agoraphobia, in which those affected are afraid of open, wide spaces. Some experts have now started to group both forms of fear under the umbrella term agoraphobia, as their common characteristic is fear or the avoidance of places and situations.

Claustrophobia can significantly affect the lives of those affected, both professionally and privately, for example, because they have problems traveling or avoid many situations and places that others take for granted – from going to the cinema to the congress.

Claustrophobia – spread

The fear of tight spaces is widespread. According to research, around 7 to 8 percent of the population suffers from it. It often occurs in combination with panic disorder. This means that in fearful situations, those affected panic, which is accompanied by physical symptoms such as racing heart, sweating, and feelings of suffocation.

Claustrophobia – The fear of tight spaces

What does claustrophobia mean?

Claustrophobia – or fear of space – is one of the so-called specific phobias. Those affected experience a disproportionate amount of fear that is limited to a specific situation or thing. For people with claustrophobia, these are narrow and closed spaces such as elevators and subways, but also crowds of people where the escape route is blocked.

The term claustrophobia is made up of the Latin word claustrum (lock, lock, bolt) and the Greek word Phobos (fear, fear).

Colloquially, we often refer to claustrophobia as claustrophobia. This designation is actually not entirely correct. So those affected are not afraid of too much space. But on the contrary. It is the idea or the presence of “too little” space that is scary. In psychology, by the way, claustrophobia means agoraphobia. So the fear of big, wide-open spaces.

How does claustrophobia develop?

From a scientific point of view, no clear cause for the development of space anxiety can be determined. For example, fears can be learned from other people. In doing so, we look at the fear, so to speak, often unconsciously imitate it and, for example, transfer it to narrow, closed spaces. Regardless of what our counterpart is afraid of. Psychologists speak of model learning.

“Attention danger!” – The hazard marking

Another trigger can be a stressful experience associated with tight, enclosed spaces – when you actually got stuck in an elevator or accidentally got locked in somewhere.

As soon as such a situation is assessed as threatening and fear is experienced, the following happens: the brain stores this information, “transfers” it to the room, and marks it with “attention, danger!”. The next time you walk or just think about a similarly narrow space, the brain will recognize the hazard marker and put your body on alert. Like a kind of internal early warning system.

Biological causes are also possible. In claustrophobia, the balance between messenger substances such as serotonin and noradrenaline in the brain is presumably disturbed. This can lead to overexcitability of the nervous system and panic attacks.

The brain then links this to the current situation – in this case, a narrow space – and also marks a danger here. In other cases, claustrophobia develops insidiously and no clear trigger can be determined.

Claustrophobia: symptoms of space anxiety

At the center of claustrophobia is the fear of tight, closed spaces or crowds. Those affected perceive these situations as threatening and typical anxiety symptoms such as palpitations, sweating, tremors, feelings of oppression, dizziness or even fear of death occur.

The head is full of catastrophic thoughts. Even if most of those affected know that they are in no real danger and that their fear is “exaggerated”, it does not seem that they can be controlled. Often, the mere idea of ​​a narrow, closed space is enough to trigger a fear response.

In which situations and in which intensity the claustrophobia occurs is very individual. For example, some sufferers mainly suffer from the idea of ​​being locked in, while others focus on the fear of suffocating. Often the fear of space is so pronounced that the fear of panic attacks increases.

Panic attacks are sudden, clearly defined phases of intense fear. The attacks peak within a few minutes and last at least a few minutes.

The avoidance trap

People with claustrophobia often only survive a subjectively threatening situation with great fear, in the company of others or avoid it completely, for example by taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

While this may be helpful in the short term, we cannot verify that our fears are justified and that we could have overcome the fear. This increases the fear even in the long term and can lead to ” fear of fear ” – a vicious circle develops.

Face the Claustrophobia

One of the most effective strategies for dealing with claustrophobia is going through fear. If you face a space that is (too) narrow for you, your fear will initially persist, but after a certain time, it will subside.

Your brain gets used to the fear, so to speak, and can reprogram its early warning system. It is important that you stay in the room until your fear has noticeably decreased. And that’s sure to happen. Your body automatically switches to relaxation mode after a certain time. Psychologists speak of habituation.

You can slowly, step by step, face the most challenging situation – for example, first the big elevator in the shopping center and then the small, old one at friends’ homes.

Even if you initially have the impression that you can’t help but have to get out of the confrontation, that doesn’t mean the end of the world. Be realistic: “Staying in the situation” is ideal. In any case, facing the fear of space is more helpful than avoiding it entirely. Regularly and as often as possible.

Call fear by its name

Sometimes you quickly get caught in the vicious circle of fear and it is difficult to distinguish between what are legitimate fears and what are unhelpful catastrophic thoughts. It makes sense to get some distance from fearful thoughts and to perceive them for what they are: Thoughts – no more and no less.

For example, you can address fear directly and give it a name: “Well, alarmists. There you are again!”. Or you stick to the facts and write a little “fear checklist” that you tick off internally. Something like “racing heart: ✓ – dizziness: ✓ – fear of suffocation: ✓”. You can also put the fear off: “I don’t have time now. Can we meet again tonight? Then I will listen to you. ”.

In any case, you take the fearful thoughts “no longer so seriously” and weaken them. This helps to gain distance and break out of the vicious circle.

Surf the fear of space

In dealing with claustrophobia, accepting fear without judgment can be helpful. The next time the fear of space occurs, be aware of it and give it a name. For example, tell yourself, “I feel scared.” You probably also know the reason for your fear: “I feel scared because I am afraid I will not get out of the elevator.”

It is important that you do not avoid fear, but instead, consciously turn to it and accept it. Formulate a guiding principle that you repeat until the fear slowly subsides. Something like “I feel scared because I’m afraid I won’t get out of the elevator. And that’s okay. ”. As if you were standing on a surfboard and riding with the (fear) wave instead of fighting against it.

Take your distance and get support

With particularly pronounced forms of claustrophobia, it makes perfect sense to get professional support in coping with anxiety. For example, psychologists can help you understand the causes of your claustrophobia and help you plan your fear of confrontation. Since there can also be physical causes for your fear of space, you should also seek medical advice. For example, an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can lead to nervousness and anxiety.

If you want to deal more intensively with the subject of panic, we offer you HelloBetter Panik, a scientifically based online course with which you can learn effective strategies for preventing and reducing panic attacks within 6 weeks.

Get to know HelloBetter Panic: The online course has been shown to reduce the symptoms of panic attacks and increase the quality of life over the long term.

What is claustrophobia? Like all phobias, this disease manifests itself in an inappropriately strong fear – in this case of narrow and closed spaces or even crowds.

For some patients, the fear of suffocation is in the foreground, for others the fear of being locked in. It is clear to those affected that basically nothing can happen to them and that their fear is irrational. Nevertheless, they do not succeed in mastering them.

The expression of fear ranges from discomfort and anxiety to panic. In addition to the feelings of fear, there are then physical symptoms such as palpitations, sweating, shortness of breath, or hyperventilation. These can be so strong that they scare those affected to death.

For fear of the physical and psychological symptoms of claustrophobia, those affected avoid such situations. As a result, the disease often worsens and the patients are increasingly restricted in their radius of life.

The primal fear of being locked up is an existential human experience. In people with claustrophobia, however, it becomes excessive.

Sometimes claustrophobia arises due to a very scary experience. For example, a child gets stuck somewhere while playing, someone is buried or accidentally locked in, or gets into a threatening situation in a crowd. Why some develop claustrophobia after such an experience, but others do not, is not yet fully understood.

With other sufferers, the claustrophobia develops insidiously without a frightening experience can be determined as the trigger. Here it is even more difficult to determine the cause of the disorder.

Disposition and negative experiences

We know, however, that a person’s personality and thus also the basic fearfulness are shaped early on by genetic predispositions and experiences. Some are therefore particularly vulnerable and more likely to develop mental disorders than others – including anxiety disorders such as claustrophobia.

If you are trying to avoid closed or narrow spaces or crowds out of irrational fear, you should seek help. The first point of contact can be your family doctor. He will ask you about your specific complaints. If the suspicion of claustrophobia is confirmed, he will refer you to a therapist.

Physical examinations

In order to rule out possible physical causes of the symptoms of anxiety, various examinations are carried out in the case of claustrophobia. This includes recording some blood values, an electrocardiogram ( EKG ), or an examination of the thyroid gland using ultrasound.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used to rule out pathological changes in the brain as the cause of the fears. However, such an examination is a considerable challenge, especially for people with claustrophobia. Under certain circumstances, special devices are necessary that are designed to be more open than conventional devices and thus leave more space for the patient.

To determine if you have claustrophobia, there are special questionnaires that record the symptoms of the disorder. The therapist might ask the following questions to help diagnose claustrophobia:

  • In which situations do you feel very afraid?
  • What physical symptoms occur when you put yourself in such a situation (for example racing heart, sweating or hyperventilation)?
  • Do you think your fear response is excessive?

In addition, the therapist will check whether there are other psychological disorders, such as depression or panic disorder, in addition to claustrophobia. In order to restore mental health, these must also be treated.

In most cases, claustrophobia can be significantly alleviated or even completely overcome with psychotherapeutic help. There are currently no drugs that work directly against anxiety disorder.

The most effective way to treat phobias such as claustrophobia is through exposure therapy. To do this, the patients put themselves in situations that instill fear in them. They take the subway, attend a concert or lie in a solarium. In this way, they experience that the fear that arises in them also subsides again at some point without anything happening to them. This experience helps to reduce fears.

Claustrophobia: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

In addition to exposure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy can also strengthen the success of treatment in the case of claustrophobia. But it also works on its own. The patient works with the therapist to find out which thought patterns maintain the phobia and dissolves them.

Applied relaxation is a technique in which patients learn to relax in seconds in fear-inducing situations. Because relaxation and fear are mutually exclusive. This method is based on Jacobsen’s progressive muscle tension.

With the help of exposure therapy, claustrophobia can be treated very well. Up to 80 percent of patients achieve a significant improvement in their symptoms in the first session.

It is crucial for the long-term success of the therapy that the patients regularly expose themselves to the once fearful situations. Feelings of fear can flare up again and again, but it is crucial that you face them anyway. This prevents them from seemingly overpowering again.

In addition, the same applies to claustrophobia as is the case with most other diseases: the earlier it is treated, the better the chances of recovery. If left untreated, however, the claustrophobia tends to get worse and can severely limit life.

Relax and stay tuned

In general, as a counterbalance to claustrophobia, you can also provide stress relief, relaxation, and rest phases in everyday life. And then find the strategies that will help you individually in overcoming your fear of space. We have put together more tips for dealing with your fear on our blog. It is important to stay on the ball and to repeat the exercises regularly. And then make yourself aware: even the highest waves of feeling will get smaller at some point.


According to the Mayo Clinic, claustrophobia is a type of anxiety disorder that causes people to have a fear of being in small or enclosed spaces. It typically develops as a result of an unpleasant experience with tight quarters at some point in their life and can be treated through therapy, medication, or both. Are you currently experiencing symptoms related to claustrophobia? If so, contact your doctor today for more information on how they may be able to help!

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