Claustrophobia: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

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Have you ever met or experienced someone who is terrified about confined spaces? Someone who experiences symptoms of anxiety when they are locked up in a room, or finds themselves in a contained area? If you have, then that is probably a classic example of claustrophobia.

Let’s delve a little bit into this condition and how, when, and why it occurs. The word claustrophobia comes from the Latin word claustrum which means “a closed-in place,” and the Greek word, phobos meaning “fear.”

Webmd defined claustrophobia as an anxiety disorder that causes an intense fear of enclosed spaces. Additionally, Healthline describes it as a situational phobia triggered by an irrational and intense fear of tight or crowded spaces.

Like many fears, claustrophobia is neither rational nor irrational. It is relative. It is not real or imagined; logical or illogical; rational or irrational; valid or invalid. Fear is just an experience.

Causes of claustrophobia

You may be wondering what causes claustrophobia. How do you just start being terrified of being in an enclosed space? Well, there are a number of reasons.

1. It may be genetic

For some people, claustrophobia is actually caused by genetics. Your genes may play a role in claustrophobia. Researchers have found a defect in a gene called GPM6A that they suspect may cause it. If one of your parents has claustrophobia, you’re more likely to have it, too.

2. Traumatic childhood

Some of the experiences that we go through as children may be to blame for our phobias as adults. For example, someone locked you up in a room for hours, the fear may develop and follow you into adulthood. Sometimes, the fear of enclosed spaces starts after you’ve had a traumatic childhood event, like bullying, abuse, and being stuck in a tight place like an elevator.

3. Other forms of anxiety

One form of anxiety can easily develop into multiple other forms of anxiety. According to WebMD, having another anxiety disorder raises your chances of having claustrophobia, too. Any confined area can set off your fear, including things like elevators, aeroplanes or subway trains, tunnels, revolving doors, car washes, bathroom stalls, or changing rooms, or cars with automatic door locks.

4. Triggers

Like many other mental illnesses, triggers can loop you back into a pattern of fear. One group of researchers suggested that people who experience claustrophobia perceive things as being nearer than they are and that this triggers a defence mechanism.

Symptoms of claustrophobia

How can you tell somebody who suffers from claustrophobia? It’s a condition just like any other, and more so a mental health issue. Here are some of the symptoms of claustrophobia:

  1.  Accelerated heart rate
  2.  Dizziness, fainting, or light-headedness
  3. Hyperventilation
  4. Tightness in the chest, chest pain, and difficulty breathing.
  5. A choking sensation
  6. Chest pain
  7. A need to go to the toilet
  8. Hot flushes or chills
  9. Fear of dying or losing control


It is important that you get a proper diagnosis of claustrophobia if you experience the symptoms above. This can help you to explore the treatment options or coping mechanisms. Your healthcare provider will want to confirm that your fear is indeed a phobia versus a normal fear and that it’s not the result of a medical condition or psychiatric disorder. The difference is that phobias significantly interfere with your ability to live a normal life.

Your provider may give you a questionnaire to fill out or ask you directly how your claustrophobia has affected your daily life, how intense your fear feels and how often you feel it, and how it affects you.

Treatment of claustrophobia

Claustrophobia is extremely terrifying. It can take over almost all aspects of your life. Because of this, you may need to seek treatment in a situation where a professional diagnoses claustrophobia. Here are the treatment options for claustrophobia:

1. Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy is a form of therapy where the victim is gradually exposed to the feared situation. With gradual, repeated exposure, the goal is that they will feel comfortable in the specific feared situation. It involves facing your feared phobia directly, in real-time, and recalling and describing your feared experience. Exposure therapy may also involve looking at pictures or using virtual reality to get close to the real feared experience yet be in a safe environment.

2. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

This form of therapy focuses on managing your phobia by changing the way you think, feel and behave. It seeks to isolate thoughts that come with the fear response. In turn, therapy helps individuals replace these thoughts with healthier, practical thoughts.

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