Claustrophobia: everything you need to know

Claustrophobia can lead to other phobias, in addition to the fact that it usually has comorbidity with various anxiety and depressive disorders. Learn about this disease and its treatment.

Last update: 25 January, 2022

Prefer to go up 6 floors instead of taking an elevator. Avoid using the bus or the subway. These may be some of the behaviors followed by people who have claustrophobia, due to their fear of closed spaces or to be unable to leave.

At first glance, it may seem that it does not involve separate domains or spheres of our life. After all, the bus can be replaced by a bicycle, and the elevator by walking.

However, not only can the phobia progress and spread to other similar situations, but it is also about the lack of freedom to be who you decide to be. It is the fact of remaining in a passive role, subject to the circumstances. So let’s see what claustrophobia is all about and what can be done about it.

What is claustrophobia?

Like all phobias, claustrophobia is an excessive and irrational fear that triggered by the presence or anticipation of the phobic object or stimulus. In this specific case, it is a situational phobia and the fear of being or staying in a closed place that makes it difficult to leave or escape.

Although we imagine claustrophobia to be limited to closed and compact spaces, such as an elevator or a tanning bed, it can take different forms and express itself in different situations. This is because the person who has the phobia can associate said situation with the feared stimulus. For example, it can be presented in a tunnel, on an airplane or in a dressing room.

One of the biggest difficulties for those who suffer from a phobia is avoidance. They begin to avoid certain situations, directly or indirectly linked to the one that is feared, so their day to day life is affected.

Also the phobia can be maintained from its positive reinforcement. Care is taken to meet dependency needs. In both cases, the idea is installed that there is some control over the situation, but at the cost of depriving oneself of certain experiences.

On the other hand, the person’s fear may be of physical harm or also make a fool of yourself in front of other people. As Badós López (2005) refers, claustrophobia can present as part of the agoraphobic picture.

Claustrophobic patients modify their routines to avoid situations that they consider dangerous.

Symptoms of claustrophobia

Some of the symptoms of the fear of being locked up are the following:

  • sweating
  • Nervousness and anxiety.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Tachycardia or fast heartbeat.
  • Elevation of blood presure.
  • Dizziness and headache.

It is important to consider that phobias usually have comorbidity with other types of disorderssuch as anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. So it is not advisable to ignore its importance.

How to deal with claustrophobia?

There are different techniques and exercises that are applied to address phobias. Within the therapeutic lines, cognitive-behavioral is very successful.

Some recommended techniques are as follows:

  • Of relaxing: Teach the person to breathe and calm down in order to curb anxiety. Exercises of the type may also be suggested count from behind to distract yourself from the awkward situation. Some patients write down calming phrases to relax.
  • Psychoeducation: It is an essential part of any treatment, since the patient is explained what he is suffering from and seeks to strengthen and provide coping resources, based on information. The goal is that people can anticipate and detect when anxiety begins to appear, so that they intervene in time.
  • Participating modeling: It is another of the techniques used and is practiced by showing the person what behavior they should perform, through a step-by-step guide.
  • Live exhibition: this is one of the last steps in the gradual approach that is attempted to treat claustrophobia. It is considered to be one of the most effective techniques. For this, a hierarchy of fears is usually worked on, in such a way as to achieve the acceptance of the patient and not subject him to a situation that is difficult to tolerate from the outset. It can be done in the company of the therapist in charge, in such a way to guide with indications. Subsequently, it is about the person managing to internalize those same guidelines and apply them by himself. The first reaction is usually to flee, but it is important to stay in place, apply the exercises and watch the anxiety begin to subside.
Teaching relaxation techniques to reduce symptoms of claustrophobia is one part of the therapeutic approach.

Working with anxiety is a process

Phobias can present different degrees of progress and complexity. Those who have a phobia of snakes, unless they live in the countryside, will not have major difficulties or impediments in their day to day life.

However, those who have a phobia of blood will see their daily lives a little more complicated. So it is important to give this situation the place it deserves. The earlier you intervene, the better the prognosis.

What it is about is learning to face and manage anxiety; not so much to remove it. Learning to use anxiety as an ally and not see it as an enemy is a key step forward.

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