Overcome Claustrophobia: Treatment for Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Learn How You Can Stop Being Claustrophobic

Woman inside a cardboard box

Two of the most well known diagnosable fears are claustrophobia and arachnophobia. But while arachnophobia had a movie named for it, claustrophobia owes its fame solely to the simple fact that a great many people suffer from it. The phobia ranges widely in its severity; some feel a non-debilitating sense of unease, but in the most severe cases, the fear prevents people from necessary activities of life. Though you may be frightened to confront the anxiety disorder, you can most definitely overcome claustrophobia. Here's how to stop being claustrophobic.

  1. Understand the fear. Claustrophobia is an anxiety disorder in which a person experiences fear in confined places. Most people consider claustrophobia to be a fear of small places themselves, but many claustrophobes describe their fear as being more a result of a perceived inability to escape. This is perhaps one reason why many claustrophobes can cope in a particular room until someone closes the door.
    • Claustrophobia can develop due to past experience. For example, my coworker's brothers locked her in a food pantry when she was very young, but then couldn't find the key to unlock the door again. Though the experience was somewhat traumatic, it did not cause her to develop claustrophobia. However, others with similar experiences do suffer from that fear as a result.
    • Being confined in a tight spot while experiencing a panic attack can lead a person to associate the location with the panic. Those who suffer from panic attacks often develop claustrophobia because of this power of association. For these people, fear of having another panic attack is perhaps more central to their claustrophobia than a fundamental fear of an actual small space.
    • Others develop claustrophobia as a result of a beloved authority figure (such as a parent) who also suffered from the fear.

    But regardless of the origin of claustrophobia, nobody is born with this fear; it must be learned. The good news is that any learned fear can be un-learned as well.

  2. Common symptoms of claustrophobia are typical of a panic attack.
    • Noticeable unease.
    • Elevated heart rate and subsequent rapidity in breathing.
    • Tight sensation in the chest.
    • Hyperventilation.
    • Perspiration.
    • Nausea.
    • Wooziness or fainting.
  3. Talk to a counselor or therapist. These professionals can guide you in overcoming your fear far better than any article. Their expertise and advice will help you tackle the following anxiety treatment strategies. Though you might be reluctant to pay bills, professional help is worth the expense if it allows you to function fully and comfortably in society.
  4. Flooding. This treatment method involves deliberate exposure to what frightens you. Claustrophobia is an irrational fear, in that danger is perceived but not truly present. Deliberate exposure to the fearsome conditions with no adverse effect can help a claustrophobe come to terms with the fact that the danger is only perceived and the fear, therefore, unnecessary.
  5. Start tackling your fear in areas that aren't over-stimulating in other ways. Stressful settings can raise anxiety levels even if you're not claustrophobic. Once you have confronted a confined space and emerged unscathed, you will be one big step closer to overcoming panic attacks from claustrophobia.
  6. Target the perceived triggers of your fear specifically. There are many different specific triggers that prompt a claustrophobic episode. For some, it is the elevator door shutting; for others, a room with no window. Still others must be by a door in order to stay in a room; the inner depths of the room are out of bounds. Some claustrophobes can't build up the courage to drive midday or during rush hour because of the possibility that they'll be stuck in their cars for long periods. Envision your worst claustrophobic scenario, and then work up to it in your flooding treatment.
  7. Learn relaxation techniques. This treatment for anxiety involves deep-breathing, visualization and other meditation exercises can be powerful weapons against panic. (Learn to meditate and relieve stress here.) Grow accustomed to a particular relaxation method as your treatment for panic attacks and then gradually expose yourself to a claustrophobic setting.
  8. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy wherein a patient learns to recognize thought as the driving force behind emotion and action. Though the three feed off of one another, thought should be the dominant member of the trio. Therefore, overcoming claustrophobia becomes a matter of allowing rational thoughts to replace the negative thoughts currently causing us to feel needless fear.
  9. Learn from examples. Since it is a common, yet manageable disorder, you can derive inspiration and strength from those who have overcome their fear already. In local support groups, you can hear accounts of people like you who have enjoyed successes and setbacks. Let these experiences guide and strengthen you as you attempt to overcome the fear yourself.
  10. Beta-blockers and anti-anxiety medication. If panic (or anticipation of panic) undermines anxiety treatments, a doctor may prescribe the conjunctive use of beta-blockers or anti-anxiety medication. If these medications help you recognize that no harm will come to you through being in a confined space, then their use will be worthwhile.
  11. Hypnosis as an alternative treatment for anxiety disorders. Many claustrophobes don't wish to take any medication when treating an anxiety disorder. For them, hypnosis can provide the level-headed, relaxed state necessary to confront and overcome their claustrophobia.

Nobody ever grows accustomed to an anxiety disorder that interferes so much with daily life, but some grow discouraged and conclude that their fear is insurmountable. You can overcome claustrophobia. Seek professional help and the support of friends, family and fellow claustrophobes in your community as you explore and commit to treatment options that put you on the path toward full recovery.


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