How do you know if you have Claustrophobia?
Updated: Oct 7
Ever found yourself panicking in an elevator? Does being on an aeroplane give you a stressful sense of being trapped? These are a few signs you could suffer from claustrophobia. It’s a relatively well-known phobia that affects around 7-10% of the population. However, there is a difference between a general dislike of confined spaces and a phobia of them. This post takes a look at some common symptoms of claustrophobia and what causes the onset of this phobia.
What is Claustrophobia?
Claustrophobia is a specific phobia of confined spaces, where the feeling of being unable to escape arises. A specific phobia refers to the anxiety symptoms that are brought on by a specific object or situation. These phobias are irrational fears where the person experiences extreme panic or dread when coming face to face with the trigger.
The person suffering from claustrophobia will often understand they are not in any immediate danger but still react adversely to being in these spaces they feel are inescapable. Being trapped in these places causes a large amount of stress and can lead to a panic attack. In general, it means the fear of confined spaces and feeling unable to escape but what triggers claustrophobia will vary from person to person. If you suffer from claustrophobia you will likely avoid going to places where you experience this panic. It might be public transport, the elevator, tunnels, revolving doors, public toilets or being in a car with locked doors. These are often things that we encounter on a daily basis so someone with claustrophobia will regularly feel the effects.
When being enclosed in a space which triggers claustrophobia, those who suffer from this phobia may experience:
Shaking or trembling
These could occur in the physical situation or thinking about the traumatic situation. Severity and range of the symptoms will differ from person to person.
Being in unescapable spaces might trigger overwhelming senses of catastrophe like the world is going to end. Even though you’re not in any present danger when faced with these consuming thoughts it can be hard to look past them.
Someone who suffers from claustrophobia might experience a panic attack which can be extremely frightening. Panic attacks last anywhere between 5-30 minutes and present similar symptoms to a heart attack including a tight chest and breathing difficulty. Again, even though there isn’t any immediate danger it becomes very hard to overlook when suffering from a panic attack.
There is a range of explanations as to what causes this specific phobia. It means you have developed a fear response to situations, which could have been brought on by a variety of reasons.
One is a traumatic experience in your youth which you may or may not recall. It could have been a result of bullying where you were trapped in a confined space you didn’t want to be or perhaps an elevator broke down and you were stuck inside. These experiences that occur in our youth can have a lasting effect and could be the cause of why you might experience claustrophobia. If you have a parent that suffers from claustrophobia you might pick up on this when you’re younger and develop the same fear as them.
Research suggests that it might be an evolutionary response too. Being trapped in unescapable spaces thousands of years ago would have lowered our chances of survival, therefore this innate instinct could still be with us today. Even though being in confined spaces no longer hinder our chances of survival, this instinct could remain with us.
Some studies believe that having a smaller amygdala may contribute to claustrophobia. The amygdala is the part of the brain that controls how the body processes fear. Having a smaller amygdala might distort how we view fear and lead to developing phobias such as claustrophobia.
Another theory believes that claustrophobia is due to some people perceiving things to be closer than what they actually are. This could contribute to claustrophobia as their surroundings would appear closer giving a feeling of no escape.
Claustrophobia can cause a large amount of distress in everyday life. If you or someone you know is suffering from a fear of confined or inescapable spaces it could be time to reach out for help. Virtual reality treatment can help with slowly desensitising you to your phobia while being in a safe situation.