The fear of closed spaces describes a mental disorder accompanied by an exaggerated fear of being in closed or confined spaces. The phobia, also known in colloquial language as claustrophobia, is triggered by negative experiences that vary from one patient to another. Equally diverse are the symptoms of claustrophobia, often leading to many restrictions in daily life and sometimes even to social and professional isolation.
Possible causes of claustrophobia
- Triggers for panic fear of confined spaces vary from case to case. They can be traumatic experiences and negative experiences in social life or a troubled relationship with oneself.
- The symptoms of claustrophobia do not have to appear immediately after a particular event but can also occur suddenly and apparent for no apparent reason years or even decades later.
- In many cases, the causes of claustrophobia are buried in childhood.
- Children and adolescents who have been repeatedly locked in a room or other isolated room by their parents or teachers as punishment often develop claustrophobia in adulthood.
- It is also possible that anxiety disorder occurs because, as a child, the child was locked in a limited space such as a closet or pushed into a corner and threatened by classmates.
- The stress of excessive work or private life can also trigger this anxiety disorder.
- Often the affected person suffers from professional pressure to perform, feels restricted in a relationship, or has low self-esteem but cannot process or communicate this.
- Often such negative experiences are subconsciously transferred into tight spaces as symbols that can be grasped.
Separations, Losses – Traumas
- Separations from loved ones, the death of a loved one, an accident, and threatening situations can also trigger claustrophobia.
- Often the place where the traumatic experience occurred plays an important role.
- For example, if a person is locked in a vehicle after an accident, they may develop a fear of panic of being in a car or bus.
- The development of claustrophobia as a result of a traumatic experience or stress depends, on the one hand, on the individual sensitivity of the person and, on the other, on their genetic predisposition and their lifestyle.
Symptoms and consequences
- Depending on the nature of the anxiety disorder and the mental constitution of the affected person, claustrophobia can manifest itself in a specific fear of confinement to spatially limited places or in panic fear of suffocation.
- A characteristic feature of this disease is that even the mere thought of having to enter a confined space triggers panic.
- This leads to physical reactions typical of anxiety disorders caused by nerves and can manifest in many different ways as panic attacks.
Loss of control
- Affected people often suffer from acute respiratory distress in confined spaces.
- Sweating, chest tightness, sudden nausea, pain, and palpitations are also common symptoms of claustrophobia.
- Many patients experience dizziness or start to shake when in an elevator, on crowded public transportation, on a plane, or in a car.
- The fear can be so intense that the affected person faints, loses control of himself, or feels a specific fear of death.
Evasion strategies and escape behavior
- Most patients react naturally to their fears with avoidance behavior or particular avoidance tactics, leading to considerable restrictions in daily life.
- Those affected try to avoid all stays in closed rooms as best they can.
- This means that they do not use public transport or cars but travel daily on foot or by bicycle.
- The use of elevators, the very idea of which triggers an absolute horror in many people with claustrophobia, is also systematically avoided.
- Many of those affected even find it a great challenge to stay in rooms where the windows or doors are closed.
- Fear not only manifests itself in foreign premises, such as in the professional environment or public buildings, but it can also occur within the four walls themselves.
Social isolation – depression
- Sometimes the fear of confined spaces is so pronounced that affected people can no longer even stay in rooms.
- Under certain circumstances, this can lead to job loss.
- Necessary appointments in public offices or with the doctor become a tremendous psychological and physical burden or are no longer noticed.
- Social contacts cannot be maintained or can only be kept limited if meetings with friends and family in closed rooms such as theaters and cinemas, swimming pools, or restaurants are not possible or cause considerable anxiety.
- Therefore, it is not uncommon for patients to suffer from social isolation, leading to severe depression.
- Antidepressants such as SSRIs or tricyclic drugs are used to treat claustrophobic anxiety, which can escalate to panic attacks, and psychotherapeutic approaches such as behavioral therapy, psychotherapy based on deep psychology, and psychoanalysis.
- In behavioral therapy, confrontation and the discovery of interpersonal behavior patterns play an important role; in psychotherapies and psychoanalysis based on deep psychology.
- The discovery of hidden motives, that is to say, unconscious ones, that have not yet been understood; the symptom is understood here as an attempt to find a compromise.
- Of the aggressive procedures possible within behavioral therapy framework, the so-called graded exposure is usually carried out.
- In addition, virtual reality techniques have recently been experimented with, which have worked in other phobias such as fear of driving.
- This is an exposure therapy that uses computerized programs.
Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.