A phobia is an intense and irrational fear towards someone, something or a situation. There are different types of phobia, such as phobia of spiders, planes, or darkness, among others, the list could be endless. However, today we will talk about one in particular: claustrophobia.
What is claustrophobia?
We understand claustrophobia as the fear of enclosed spaces, although in reality this fear is caused by the anticipation of catastrophe, or in other words, by the thought of what may happen if the dreaded situation occurs.
For example, if a person suffering from claustrophobia uses an elevator, their fear does not lie in the fact itself of entering the elevator. What really happens is that this person will be mentally anticipating the hypothetical situation of confinement or suffocation; they will even think that they can never get out of there again.
It should be noted that before entering any place, the person suffering from claustrophobia thoroughly analyzes the place, looks for the exit, and locates near it as a precaution, in case any of their fears come true.
In general, and according to data from the NHS (National Institutes of Health), women are doubly prone to suffer from this disorder, which can influence to a greater or lesser extent in the social and working life of the affected person.
There are several causes why a person can get to suffer from claustrophobia:
- Due to direct experiences: Those are the experiences we live in first person.
- By observation: As its name suggests, it is caused by the observation of another person’s bad experience.
- Due to information: Either written or oral.
This disorder is accompanied by typical symptoms of anxiety, such as increased sweating and heart rate, the feeling of shortness of breath and hyperventilation, dizziness and palpitations.
These symptoms may increase as anxiety builds up with negative thoughts of danger.
Luckily, claustrophobia can be treated in several ways by exposure as a fundamental technique. This technique is recommended to face situations that position the affected person in an intense anxiety response, and are classified as:
- Exposure in imagination: In this case, people who suffer from the disorder are exposed to imaginary situations that can generate in them expectations of anxiety and danger.
- Gradual live exposure: For this, patients are exposed to situations ranging from lower to higher levels of anxiety.
- Flood: This is a type of exposure without any graduation, unlike the previous one.
These exposures are usually combined with psychoeducation or relaxation techniques, although it is also common to use drugs that do not affect or influence exposure exercises, such as antidepressants. Another technique that is very helpful with this type of phobia is Virtual Reality.
It is important to remember that, if claustrophobia is not treated, it can gradually increase, as I mentioned earlier in this post, and if so, fear could appear in new situations, places, and experiences. In this way, the claustrophobic person who was previously afraid of small rooms and the subway, for example, could be developing a new fear for underground parking lots or even diving under water, which will be adding up to the previous fears.