That ‘Claustrophobic’ Feeling!


Breaking free from confinements is what everyone wants. But think about them for whom even standing in queue at the grocery store seems like a confinement. Yes, that’s the fear of all claustrophobics. Fear of suffocation in a confined area is exactly what claustrophobics fear and their claustrophobia goes to such an extent that at times it even starts affecting their daily life activities. In other words, Claustrophobia is a kind of anxiety disorder that is caused due to fear of suffocation.

Simple things like sitting on a chair at the barber’s or waiting for the dentist becomes impossible as the fear of claustrophobia engulfs the affected individual. Crowded elevators, rooms in the basement or rooms with no windows become threatened spots for claustrophobics. Psychiatrists opine that claustrophobia is caused as a result of classic conditioning, meaning prior experiences which would have left an impression especially in young minds.

Citing examples they say when a child is locked in a dark room or if a child gets lost in a crowded place and spends a long fearful time searching for the parents, then it leaves an impact on the impressionable minds. Any crowded place gets conditioned to the thought of separation from near and dear ones and that leads to the feeling of claustrophobia, which sometimes gets escalated to panic attacks. Similarly for the child locked in the dark room, that fear of being alone in the dark gets conditioned to all closed rooms when they grow up and that triggers the claustrophobic feeling in them. In fact even undergoing an MRI scan can trigger claustrophobia in some cases, because for MRI one has to lie down quietly in a narrow tube like structure for some time. While this experience has triggered pre-existing claustrophobia in some, in others it has even led to the onset of claustrophobia.

These experiences could be from as early as the time of birth. As some psychiatrists opine that even a traumatic birth experience could serve as a trigger to claustrophobia in children or grownups. At times even watching someone at close quarters, getting suffocated could also trigger claustrophobia. For example if you watch someone drown in water in front of you or you watch about miners stuck in dark deep mines, it could lead to conditioning of the brain in such a way that any confinement might trigger claustrophobia.

Studies indicate that roughly around 5 to 7 per cent of the population globally is affected by claustrophobia, but very few actually seek treatment for this. Treatment option for Claustrophobia includes, cognitive therapy wherein they are counseled in a way so that the root cause of their fear is dissected. They go to the depth of the fear and are told and explained several times over about the fear being baseless. The other methods include direct exposure to the fear so that they face the fear in the eye and then try to overcome it, or face the fear in a controlled environment, psychoeducation and breathing techniques.

Symptoms of Claustrophobia:

Fear of restriction, confinement and suffocation in places like:

• Elevator
• Rooms without windows
• Basements
• Crowded places
• Pools
• Any underwater experience
• Tunnels
• Caves
• Small rooms
• Trains
• Airplanes
• Cars
• Locked rooms
• Waiting in a queue
• Sitting on a chair for long

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