Home » Online Therapy » Phobias and fears » Claustrophobia (cellular fear)

Are you afraid of taking elevators or being in other confined spaces? You may be suffering from claustrophobia. Here we look at what it is and the treatment available.

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.

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How common are phobias?

Phobias affect about 10 million people in the UK so they are a fairly common anxiety disorder. 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 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.

Symptoms of claustrophobia are similar in most people, but their intensity can vary, ranging from mild to severe. It is important to have an individual assessment before treating claustrophobia.


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Treatment for claustrophobia

Claustrophobia can be treated and you should not be afraid to seek help. Treatment is adapted to each person and the severity of their problem. Treatment usually incorporates the following:

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): This is one of the most effective treatment methods for phobia. CBT focuses 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 individualised. 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 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 by booking a therapy session

Life is too short to let phobias limit you. 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 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 used 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?

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?

Very common, about 10 million people in the UK suffer from a phobia. 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 you contact a licensed psychologist or therapist. Simply book an online session with one of Lavendla’s therapists. We make the difficult easier.

Treating claustrophobia with CBT

Below are typical steps for treating claustrophobia. It can feel overwhelming, but remember that you are not alone in overcoming your fear. There is help available:

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, helping you develop a more nuanced picture and increased ability to manage the phobia. Exposure therapy can be scary, but it is an effective way to gradually face your fears. 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 evaluation of 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 specialised 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 dominic

Dominic is a Cape Town-based copywriter and editor with a background in psychology.