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What is the deal with claustrophobia?

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

Across the World, there are individuals who have a significant phobia for small spaces, confined areas or even a crowded room. The anxiety that builds up as a result of the physical boundaries around them can be overwhelming. Affecting around 10% of the population, this common phobia isn’t just an unease at a lack of personal space, it is much more. Let’s take a look at what it is, some common triggers and symptoms and how it can be treated.

What Is Claustrophobia?

Claustrophobia is the fear of small, crowded, or confined spaces. For those with claustrophobia, being in enclosed spaces causes intense feelings of anxiety and panic. These reactions are often provoked when one feels restricted in their space, or trapped with no way out. Research currently suggests that this phobia is more common among women than men, although it can be experienced by anyone, regardless of their age, gender or background, with the typical onset age around childhood or teenage years

Just like other phobias, claustrophobia is the disproportionate anxiety response that is 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.

What are some common claustrophobic triggers?

Many situations may trigger the onset of anxiety or a panic attack in someone who suffers from claustrophobia. Of course the specific triggers will vary from person to person, but generally, any type of enclosed or tight space can cause anxiety. Other common triggers include:

  • being in a room without windows

  • taking a flight or a journey in a small car

  • being in a elevator (busy or empty)

  • undergoing a MRI or CT scan

  • standing in a large, but crowded room, like at a party or concert

These are just some suggestions, so your claustrophobia symptoms may be triggered by other situations not mentioned above. You may also define a small or confined space differently from other people. This is because people have their own unique sense of personal space. So actually, if your personal space is 6 feet, and someone is standing 4 feet away, you may begin to panic.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of claustrophobia will appear following a trigger, such as those described earlier. When experiencing such effects, it is common to feel like you’re having a panic or anxiety attack. If you have a fear of small, confined or crowded spaces, you are also likely to have some of these physical reactions to such triggers:

  • sweating

  • trembling

  • hyperventilation

  • increased heart rate

  • chest tightness or pain

  • nausea

  • feeling faint or lightheaded

  • feeling confused or disoriented

Everyone’s response will be slightly different, but ultimately the behavioural change that is observed by professionals are remarkably similar across those with claustrophobia. Many people will go out of their way to avoid such triggers to limit their anxiety. Some will always have an awareness of the exits in every space they enter, while others will stand next to, or directly beside the exits to ensure they have a way out.

How can it be treated?

Claustrophobia is a treatable condition, with a number of approaches being so effective that is considered to be a curable phobia. Cognitive behavioural therapy is one of the most common treatment options for a fear of small or crowded spaces. This is where an individual is supported by a psychologist to examine, understand and reframe their emotions around the phobia and triggers.

This approach is even more effective when combined with exposure therapy. This type of therapy slowly exposes the client to their fear so that over time they feel less overwhelmed and controlled by it. Through repeated exposure to the phobia, you can become desensitized to the intense fear previously associated with the situation, or develop very effective strategies to manage the phobia and associated symptoms. This is where oVRcome steps up.

At oVRcome, we are using innovative approaches to improve mental wellbeing. Combining clinical expertise and state of the art virtual reality technology to deliver exposure therapy, we are able to help people manage and even beat their fears and anxieties. Why not take the free online test for claustrophobia and receive a free customized report and actionable insights for overcoming claustrophobia.

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