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What is Claustrophobia?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Claustrophobia is a common fear. When people have this phobia they become anxious or panicked when they are in enclosed spaces. What can be defined as an enclosed space is different based on the person with this phobia. They could include elevators, small rooms (like doctor’s examining rooms) with the door shut, cars caught in traffic, or others situations. Like most phobias, claustrophobia is irrational, and usually rational thought can’t cure it. Even if a person knows that closed space poses no danger, they can become extremely panicked when in such a space.

Symptoms of claustrophobia emerge when a person is in an enclosed space. These could include feelings of restlessness, anxiety, perspiration, crying, full-blown panic attacks or increased heart or respiration rate. Some people feel they can’t adequately breathe in enclosed spaces, and are deeply desirous to get out of them as quickly as possible.

Those who suffer from minor claustrophobia may be able to manage the condition on their own. They’d opt for using the stairs instead of stepping into an elevator. They might ask for an open cubicle at work instead of a closed small office. Others find the condition is well beyond manageable and they may require treatment in order to overcome it.

Most treatment for phobias follows a similar path. To address panicked feelings, when true panic attacks occur, a psychiatrist might prescribe anti-anxiety medications. These are commonly either selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or a group of tranquilizers called benzodiazepines, which include drugs like Xanax® and Valium®. This is only half the battle because these drugs do nothing to address the fears creating claustrophobia.

The other part of treatment is counseling, usually desensitization therapy. Counselors might first look to identify when the fear emerged, though this isn’t always knowable. They may then work with the claustrophobic person by gradually helping him or her get used to being in smaller spaces while feeling safe at the same time. Another counseling method that may work with people with claustrophobia is cognitive behavioral therapy.

Those suffering from this condition can find that they must avoid so many activities that life becomes difficult to live normally. This is why treatment for the condition is so important. However a lot of people have at least mild claustrophobia, and feel panicked or worried when they are in enclosed small spaces. Size of the space isn’t always that important; sometimes the fear more centers on the fact that the person feels trapped or closed in. Even in a large mall with few windows, a person with significant claustrophobia could feel confined and restricted.

Fortunately, treatment for this condition is often very effective. It can gradually help the person overcome fear of confinement. In the interim, while therapy is in progress, drug treatment may help make panic symptoms more manageable.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By dudla — On Oct 20, 2009

This seems to be the most well known phobia. I wonder if it's also the most common phobia that people have?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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