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Are you afraid of riding elevators or being in other less confined spaces? Then you may be suffering from claustrophobia. Here we explain what it means and how to get help.

What is claustrophobia?

Claustrophobia is a phobia where you have an intense fear or anxiety about being in small, confined spaces. This fear is often disproportionate to the actual risk or danger posed by the confined space. People with claustrophobia may experience panic attacks or severe anxiety at the thought of, or approaching, confined spaces. This can limit the life of the sufferer but can be treated and overcome with therapy.

Why do people get claustrophobia?

The causes of claustrophobia are not fully understood but it is thought to be a combination of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. Some people may develop claustrophobia after a traumatic experience in a confined space, while others may have a more general predisposition to anxiety disorders due to a variety of causes.

According to Beyond Blue, 3 million Australians are living with anxiety. Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. 1 in 4 people will experience anxiety at some stage in their life.

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How common are phobias?

According to research in the field, around 8-12% of the population suffer from one or more phobias in their lifetime. These can range from common phobias such as fear of heights and social phobia to lesser known ones such as ‘hole phobia’ (trypophobia).

Symptoms of claustrophobia

Claustrophobia is a phobia with several symptoms. It can lead to limitations in life, avoiding things that you would really like to do and that could improve your quality of life. For example, avoiding elevators or being in small spaces such as boats or airplanes. Symptoms of claustrophobia are:

  1. Panic attacks: This may include heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, feeling of suffocation, chest pain or discomfort, nausea, dizziness or vertigo.
  2. Anxiety: intense worry or anxiety about being in or thinking about confined spaces.
  3. Avoidance behaviour: Actively avoiding situations such as elevators, small rooms without windows, crowds, airplanes, or being locked up.
  4. Physical reactions: Even if the person remains in the situation, they may experience significant physical anxiety and discomfort.

Claustrophobia is similar between individuals but the symptoms may differ, with some having milder symptoms while others more severe. It is important to have an individual assessment before treating claustrophobia.

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Treatment for claustrophobia

Claustrophobia can be treated and if you have symptoms, you should not be afraid to seek help. The treatment is adapted to each person and the severity of the problem. There are certain parts that the treatment usually contains and these are among others:

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): This is one of the most effective treatment methods for phobia. CBT focusses on identifying and challenging negative thought patterns, managing emotions associated with triggering situations, and changing behaviours that contribute to anxiety. The therapy helps individuals to gradually expose themselves to these in a controlled and systematic process, reducing anxiety over time.

Medication: Some people with claustrophobia may be helped by medication, such as antidepressants (especially SSRIs) or anti-anxiety medication for more severe problems.

It is important to remember that treatment is individualized. It is also important to seek help from a qualified health professional to get effective treatment for your phobia.

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How therapy can improve your life

Seeking professional help can significantly improve your quality of life. As it gives you effective tools to manage phobias and can change the pattern you have developed that causes anxiety. Seeking help for psychological problems can be intimidating, but talking to a psychologist can be extremely liberating and helpful if you are living with a phobia that is hindering your daily life.

Take the first step to booking a therapy session

Life is too short to let phobias limit you. Therefore, therapy is a step in the right direction to help you live a full and rich life. If you or someone you know is living with phobias, professional therapy can make a real difference. Our therapists and psychologists offer a confidential and safe environment to explore and treat your phobias.

12 common questions and answers about claustrophobia

What is a phobia?

A phobia is an irrational and intense fear or anxiety about a particular object, situation or activity. This fear is usually long-lasting and can be very limiting in daily life.

How are phobias different from ordinary fears?

Ordinary fear is a natural reaction to an actual danger, while a phobia is an exaggerated fear that has no rational explanation. Phobias can be triggered even when there is no actual risk.

Are phobias common?

Yes, phobias are one of the most common forms of mental health problems. It is estimated that a significant proportion of the population suffers from at least one form of phobia.

What is claustrophobia?

Claustrophobia is a phobia where there is an intense fear or anxiety about being in small, confined spaces. This fear is often disproportionate to the actual risk or danger posed by the confined space.

What are the symptoms of claustrophobia?

Claustrophobia can cause panic attacks, anxiety and physical reactions such as heart palpitations, dizziness and nausea. This can lead to avoidance of things that trigger the symptoms. It is possible to get help with treatment.

How is claustrophobia treated?

Claustrophobia is treated with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and, if necessary, medication.

What is exposure in treatment?

Exposure is a tool in CBT where you gradually approach what you are afraid of in a systematic and safe way.

Can phobias lead to other mental health problems?

Yes, untreated phobias can lead to other problems such as depression or other anxiety disorders.

Is it possible to get rid of a phobia?

Yes, with the right treatment and support, phobic symptoms can be treated. However, it usually requires the help of a licensed psychologist or qualified therapist.

What causes claustrophobia?

The causes of claustrophobia are not fully understood but it is thought to be a combination of genetic, biological, and environmental factors.

How common are phobias?

Approximately 8-12% of the population experience one or more phobias in their lifetime. These can range from common phobias like fear of heights and social phobia to lesser known ones like trypophobia.

Where can I seek help for my phobia?

If you suffer from a phobia, we recommend that you contact a licensed psychologist or therapist. You can book a first appointment with one of our therapists here at Lavendla. We make the hard things easier.

Treating claustrophobia with cognitive behavioural therapy

This is what treatment for claustrophobia can look like and it can feel overwhelming, but remember that you are not alone in overcoming your fear. There is help available and here is an idea of what treatment might look like:

Understanding and assessment

The first step is to understand that you have a phobia and that it is okay to seek help for it. A licensed psychologist can help you assess your situation and understand what is causing your fear. You may also be asked to complete assessment forms.

Psychoeducation and objectives

You will learn about your phobia and how it affects you both physically and mentally. It is important to understand what happens in your body, thoughts and feelings when the fear occurs. Goals are also set for treatment.

Tools to change behaviours and patterns

This works on identifying and changing patterns of thinking that are linked to the fear. This will help you develop a more nuanced picture and increase your ability to manage the phobia. Exposure therapy can be scary, but it is an effective way to gradually face your fears. Together with your therapist, you will explore situations that trigger your phobia and learn how to deal with them. You will also be given homework to practice between sessions.

Medication (if needed)

In some cases, doctors may suggest medication to help with anxiety symptoms. This is something you and your doctor can discuss if appropriate.

Follow up and evaluate progress

You will have support from your psychologist throughout the process. At the end of the treatment, you will also receive a plan to continue practicing and maintain your progress over time.

Involve specialists (if necessary)

If you have severe symptoms, it may require more specialized care. Your psychologist can help you find the right help if necessary.

Book a first session with one of our licensed psychologists or therapists to see how we can help you.

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Written by melissa

Melissa is a Certified Kinesiologist who focusses on a client-centred, holistic and integrative approach to health and wellness. She has extensive experience in managing stress, anxiety, fears, phobias and trauma in her clients. Melissa uses visual and auditory feedback to directly access and solve the cause of psychological stressors in the body so that optimal well-being and balance is achieved.