The fear of closed or confined spaces is colloquially known as claustrophobia or claustrophobia. However, this phobia should not be confused with agoraphobia, in which the fear of certain places or rooms occurs. It is a fear that can have many different causes. Appropriate measures can usually reduce the severity of claustrophobic symptoms.
What is agoraphobia?
Claustrophobia or claustrophobia is a so-called specific phobia ; that is, it is a fear that is limited to certain themes. In the case of claustrophobia, these themes are, for example, narrow or closed rooms or places. See sportingology for Meaning of NMMS in English.
If a person affected is confronted with these topics, they usually react with a pronounced feeling of discomfort or the desire to escape from the situation. Often claustrophobia is related to feeling at the mercy of the situation and helpless.
Such claustrophobia can be associated with physical reactions such as an increasing heart rate, tremors, sweating, dilated pupils or heavy breathing. If claustrophobia is very pronounced, so-called stimulus-related panic attacks can also occur when confronted with frightening stimuli.
There are various models in psychology and medicine that try to explain the causes of claustrophobia. It is likely that in most cases there are several combined causes behind claustrophobia.
A possible causal factor is negative experiences that an affected person has had with Enge in the past. Negative experiences of those close to you who are described very vividly can also contribute to the development of claustrophobia. Claustrophobia can also be developed ‘accidentally’, so to speak; this happens as part of a so-called conditioning:
A negative experience is made while, for example, happens to be in a confined space, and the experience is mistakenly associated with the confined space. In science, a hereditary influence is still being discussed. So it is likely that susceptibility to developing fears such as claustrophobia may also be genetic.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
The symptoms of claustrophobia vary from person to person. How strong and threatening they are felt depends on the severity of the disease. The most common symptoms include heart palpitations, up to tachycardia, which may be accompanied by shortness of breath. Affected people also sometimes complain about a feeling of tightness in their throat or chest, weak knees and an unsteady gait.
In addition, there can be tremors and internal tremors, as well as heavy sweating and nausea, which can go as far as vomiting. Sometimes there is a feeling of numbness, an indefinable tingling in the extremities or severe dizziness. Sometimes they feel a dry mouth, hot flashes or chills. The anxiety can cause chest pain and high blood pressure.
Fast, shallow breathing, up to hyperventilation, is also possible. In extreme cases, this can lead to fainting. Those affected also perceive the feeling of going crazy or losing their mind. Sometimes she has a panic attack, she thinks she is suffocating or about to die. This overwhelming fear can escalate to the point of fear of death.
All of these symptoms can, but do not have to, occur. However, over time, most sufferers develop a massive fear of the situation that triggered these symptoms, so they try to avoid that place in the future.
A claustrophobia can show different courses. For example, sufferers may be able to avoid situations in their everyday lives that trigger claustrophobic anxiety. They rarely come into contact with their claustrophobia. In other cases, frequent avoidance of anxiety-inducing situations can also increase claustrophobia.
It is also possible that various situations that trigger claustrophobia are constantly increasing. Since various therapy methods usually have good prospects of success, starting therapy early can help prevent claustrophobia from spreading.
The complications that result from claustrophobia are mostly of a social nature and thus have a negative impact on the psyche of those affected. Pronounced or increasing claustrophobia leads to a general avoidance behavior, which includes otherwise harmless places (supermarkets with aisles, any room without windows, a corner in a restaurant, etc.).
As a result, sooner or later the affected person becomes socially isolated because they can no longer take part in everyday things. In addition, the entire everyday life is severely restricted, which can be seen in a changed diet, the loss of a job or reduced exercise.
Because of the self-restraint and isolation, sufferers can develop depressive symptoms, each of which has further complications. Another focus is on the substances that sufferers can take to relieve their anxiety. This includes, for example, alcohol, other legal intoxicants and also illegal drugs.
People who suffer from claustrophobia can become dependent on the substance if they use drugs to suppress their anxiety. This, too, not only entails health problems, but also – depending on the substance – is accompanied by serious financial and social losses. Sometimes this can also lead to legal problems.
When should you go to the doctor?
Fear of claustrophobia (claustrophobia) is a disease that comes in different forms. In addition, it is not easy for those affected to recognize, since physical symptoms such as tachycardia or dizziness are often in the foreground and conceal the fact that it is actually an anxiety disorder. If claustrophobia is suspected, the family doctor is the first point of contact due to the similar symptoms of anxiety disorders and cardiovascular diseases. In many cases, he is able to determine claustrophobia or diagnose another disease. In severe cases, he can refer you to a psychologist or psychotherapist.
The cooperation of the patient is essential for the therapy of claustrophobia, as he should seek out the anxiety-provoking situations so that he can determine that they are harmless and not associated with any danger. In mild cases, this can be done by the patient himself. However, if the fear has become too great, professional support is needed for exposure therapy.
Going to the doctor or psychologist is then important for the person concerned. If an anxiety disorder that has been overcome flares up again, it is also advisable to see a doctor. Anxiety disorders can easily become chronic, so early recognition and treatment of the vicious circle of fear and avoidance of the anxiety-triggering situations can be successfully prevented at an early stage.
Treatment & Therapy
Depending on the level of suffering that an affected person feels as a result of their claustrophobia, they may wish to combat their claustrophobia. There are various therapy options for this purpose: The treatment options for claustrophobia include, for example, various forms of psychotherapy.
So-called behavioral therapy has proven to be successful. The content of a behavior therapy can be, for example, to work with a patient on inner convictions and to develop a behavior that is no longer determined by claustrophobia in appropriate situations.
In this way, a behavioral therapist and his patient can question in several sessions how realistic the fears associated with claustrophobia really are. At the same time, it can be a goal of behavior therapy to gain positive experiences: The patient should therefore seek out situations with the therapist in which claustrophobia sets in and not flee; this is the only way he can determine that the dreaded consequences (such as suffocation) do not occur.
Other forms of psychotherapy are, for example, talk therapy or analytical therapy. Depending on the severity of claustrophobia, it can also be useful to combine psychotherapy with drug therapy to relieve claustrophobia. This makes it easier for the patient not to avoid the feared situations.
In order to prevent strong claustrophobia, it can make sense to deal with your own weaker fears relating to this topic. It can also help not to avoid such situations so that claustrophobia does not increase. If claustrophobic symptoms nevertheless increase, early therapeutic measures can often counteract them.
After the therapy, claustrophobia needs consistent follow-up care so that unhealthy behavior and thought patterns do not flare up again. Active cooperation of the patient is very important in this context. Even after the end of the therapy, places that were filled with fear or discomfort should be visited again and again.
The patient should experience again and again that staying in places with many people is harmless and poses no threat. Self-help groups are often a valuable source of support here, since discussions with those affected enable the exchange of experiences and can often offer valuable tips.
Patients who have been treated for claustrophobia often have an unpleasant basic tension even after the end of the treatment, against which good aftercare has a whole bundle of efficient measures to offer. The ability to trust your own body again can be improved with dosed endurance training.
The patient can also achieve the necessary relaxation with yoga, where he learns to pay attention to his body and his breathing. Relaxation and meditation are also part of the yoga class, which can represent a holistic calming of body, mind and soul. Methods such as progressive muscle relaxation according to Jacbosen or autogenic training offer further possibilities for relaxation. Relaxing baths in the evening can also be very helpful.
You can do that yourself
Claustrophobia can have a major impact on everyday life. As a rule, those affected avoid situations that trigger anxiety, which, however, only increases claustrophobia in the long term and reduces the quality of life. In order to overcome claustrophobia, the patient must face his or her fears: For example, if riding an elevator is perceived as frightening, the patient should practice it in small steps until the fear subsides significantly. An accompanying person provides the necessary security before the frightening situation can be mastered alone.
In many cases, behavioral therapy from an experienced psychotherapist is necessary to overcome a very pronounced or long-standing claustrophobia. In addition to confronting fear-inducing situations, the focus is on detecting and changing certain thought patterns that trigger feelings of anxiety and subsequent physical symptoms. The affected person must also practice this conscious mind control consistently in everyday life so that the desired success can be achieved in the long term.
Learning a relaxation technique is helpful to lower the general stress level and to face emerging fears more calmly. In acute stressful situations, conscious deep breathing in and out can bring relief. Many people cope better with their claustrophobia if they can talk to other people who are affected: they can find advice and support in a self-help group.