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What is the impact of claustrophobia?

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

While most people have fears that make them uncomfortable, phobias can prevent a person from living their life safely, effectively and to its fullest, happiest potential. Tight spaces can make people squirm or feel uneasy, and for most, these situations are simply inconvenient. However, for someone who experiences claustrophobia, these daily situations pose a significant risk to their mental health. Since researchers have found that learning more about what challenges us is an empowering step, it can help increase understanding, de-stigmatise mental health conditions and prompt people to get the treatment they need. Let's take a closer look at a phobia of some spaces.

What is Claustrophobia?

Known to be a persistent, intense fear of confined spaces, it is fundamentally an anxiety based condition. This fear is far greater than the threat, whether perceived or real, as many phobias are. Some researchers believe that it affects 5-7% of the World’s population. While claustrophobia statistics can give us an idea of the prevalence of a condition, they don’t necessarily do justice to the severity of the impact on a person’s life.

What is it’s impact?

Being claustrophobic can severely limit your life, causing you to miss out on things you would otherwise enjoy and even place undue stress on your health. For example, claustrophobia can be a challenge when it comes to travel.

  • Flying gets the trip over with quickly but forces you to confine yourself to a small seat surrounded by strangers.

  • Train travel provides large comfortable seats and allows you to walk around, but takes a long time, perhaps leaving you feeling trapped.

  • Driving can feel confining but gives you the ability to stop for stretch breaks whenever you like.

An anticipated holiday can become negative once you find yourself in one of these situations, or further still, these concerns may prevent you from even booking a trip in the first place. And that is just considering transport. Medically, claustrophobia can be dangerous because it could cause you to avoid having necessary MRI tests or other important medical procedures which may find you in confined spaces.

Is there really a difference?

So, when we consider the impacts that claustrophobia can have on an individual’s life, it is perhaps important to recognise the difference between simply being uncomfortable in small spaces, and suffering from this phobia. A feeling of uneasiness in tight spaces is different from claustrophobia, which involves a physical panic response. Furthermore, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders, or DSM, recognizes claustrophobia as a phobic disorder.

The DSM provides evidence-based diagnostic criteria for psychiatrists to accurately diagnose and treat mental health conditions. For example, the definition of claustrophobia requires psychological distress, panic attack symptoms when exposed to the phobia and extreme avoidance of the phobia. These may include:

  • Sweating

  • Rapid heart rate or palpitations

  • Shortness of breath

  • Nausea

  • Flushes or chills

  • Headaches

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

  • Chest pain

As an additional example, someone who has a minor discomfort of tight spaces would not avoid an airplane bathroom if they have to use it, but someone with claustrophobia would have significant trouble in this situation. So it is safe to say that yes, there is a distinct difference between uneasiness and a phobia.

What can I do?

While overcoming claustrophobia may seem like an impossible task, treatment and support channels are available in a range of ways. With the expertise of clinical psychologists, and utilising exposure therapy, you can manage your fears, your reactions and develop coping strategies which can ultimately help you to rid yourself of phobia. At oVRcome, it is our mission to be the facilitator of that journey. Using 21st century technology to deliver virtual reality exposures, alongside professional support, our approach can be completed from the comfort of your own living room. Why not get started by taking our free Claustrophobia test on our website today? You’ll receive a personalised report straight to your email inbox with valuable information for your journey to beating a fear of small spaces.


If this article has you thinking about taking control of your own phobia, then have a read of our recent blog post, best year yet, about how we can support you. Instead of resolutions, why not make the commitment to being phobia and anxiety-free in 2022? oVRcome can help you there!

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