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Claustrophobia Symptoms

Claustrophobia Symptoms

Claustrophobia is a fear of closed places and confinements. Let's look at some typical claustrophobia symptoms to determine what parameters elevate a simple, instinctive repulsion for traps and confinements to the magnitude of a persistent, all-engulfing paranoia.
PsycholoGenie Staff
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
Does the thought of entering a packed storage area bother you? Would you rather take the stairs to reach the eighth floor than enter the elevator? If you have answered any of these questions in the affirmative, chances are that you have some amount of claustrophobia programmed into your psyche! Before getting down to the specifics of this particular fear of confined places, let's first understand what the term Phobia implies. Not all fears qualify as phobias. You see, the fact that you're freaked out by insects and bugs doesn't necessarily mean that you suffer from entomophobia! You see, most people get jittery by insects and bugs - the creepy, crawly, lesser creatures of Nature - unless you throw up a racket (I mean a serious one, which may include blacking out or getting into fits of paranoia or taking extreme steps to fortify your abode against even the slightest invasion or infestation by insects) serious enough for the entire neighborhood to get into a RED ALERT mode!

What is Claustrophobia?

Claustrophobia is the excessive, irrational fear of closed and confined places. A person suffering from this fear disorder is acutely averse to the idea of finding himself/herself at a place where he finds himself "shut in" or confined and from where "breaking out" or escaping seems difficult to say the least, if not impossible. The fear of not being able to break out or escape may take such great magnitudes that the person experiencing such fear may display physical as well as emotional signs of fear of mortal danger such as sweating, shivering, fainting (from prolonged confinement) and temporary inability to move. Claustrophobia is prominently characterized by the victim's morbid fear of restriction and suffocation - he/she feels that a confined space would eventually suffocate him/her unless he/she is able to escape to an open space.

Symptoms

Most common claustrophobia symptoms in children and adults include the following:-
  • Fear and avoidance of small rooms, locked places, cellars, tunnels, elevators, caves, airplanes and places without adequate ventilation.
  • Hyperventilation
  • Fainting
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Unnatural aversion to crowded places
The fear of these places and situations do not arise out of the subjects of fear themselves - rather, the fear is rooted within the concern of what might happen if the victim gets confined to such a place and is unable to get out. That way, the fears of a claustrophobic are not primary, but secondary or derived in nature.

Causes

The common causes behind the onset of claustrophobia may be neutral, conditioned, as well as unconditioned stimuli. An unconditioned stimulus that may have occurred in the past, which had a very strong impact upon the individual's psyche, may express itself as a conditioned response on encountering a similar stimulus in the future. In case of claustrophobia, the fear of confined places may have taken root in a person who may have once been accidentally locked up in a small, suffocating room and was unable to get out for a long time. This incident got etched in that person's subconscious mind so strongly that every time he encounters a closed-space situation, the only response he, conditioned by his unpleasant, subconscious memories, is able to elicit is fear and aversion to confinements.

Treatment

Mild to moderate cases of claustrophobia can be cured while severe cases may be treated considerably to keep the anxiety attacks under control. Common methods of treating claustrophobia include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), In Vivo Exposure and Interoceptive Exposure. Under CBT, the distorted perceptions regarding what might happen if the patient gets into a confined place are modified to rid him/her of such anxiety disorder. In Vivo Exposure is a method of treatment by which the subject is forced to face his/her fears by deliberately exposing him/her to the objects of his/ her fears - confinements. The treatment is conducted progressively by initially exposing the subject to lesser magnitudes of confinement and then gradually increasing the degree. Interoceptive Exposure method is a toned down version of In Vivo Exposure and the subject is made to face his fears in a controlled environment.

The above pointers on indications and treatment of claustrophobia provide a generalized picture of how this anxiety disorder can be identified and what are the therapeutic methods that can be used to bring one's irrational fears under control. Ultimately, it is up to the patient to decide whether he/she wants to live with these fears for the rest of his/her life or whether he/she is going to make the effort to fight them off! Based upon the degree of severity, different steps can be taken to manage this condition. Mild cases can be tackled with the help of family and friends who can help the sufferer face and overcome his/her fears by being supportive and encouraging. For instance, a mild phobia of the elevators can be overcome by the following exercise - enter elevators on a regular basis, accompanied by close friends. This way, the patient gets a sense of security and is not likely to be as scared as when he/she is surrounded by strangers in a packed elevator. Also, owing to such frequent exposure, the patient may be able to realize the irrationality of his/her fear and make peace with the elevator to a certain extent. Moderate to severe cases need to be referred for professional management and counseling. Psychiatric therapies and exercises may be prescribed to manage the condition itself while medication may be prescribed to manage the symptoms. Claustrophobia is an insidious psychological condition and can be extremely restrictive, depending upon the degree of its severity. The sooner it is tackled, the better it is.