How to get over claustrophobia: 4 Helpful tips, causes & symptoms

Heather Campbell
 min read

How to get over claustrophobia is a common question.

How to get over claustrophobia: 4 Helpful tips, causes & symptomsDo you get a suffocating feeling just thinking about an elevator or smaller space?

The first step to overcome claustrophobia is recognizing it for what it is: an irrational fear. If it affects your professional and personal life, then it’s time to tackle it. Understanding the cause and effect will lead you to taking steps to eradicate it with the help of a personalized treatment.

Can’t sleep if you have to spend the night in a mobile home, caravan or tent? Do you always stand near the exit at a party or concert because you’re afraid of getting stuck in the crowd?

Do you panic when a meeting takes place in a room without windows?

Then you may suffer from claustrophobia. Yet you don’t have to live with it for the rest of your life.

This article will explain what claustrophobia is and what symptoms you may experience if you suffer from claustrophobia.

More importantly, it will help you in the right direction to do something about your claustrophobia.

How to get over claustrophobia: Introduction

What is claustrophobia? According to the dictionary, the meaning of claustrophobia is an “abnormal dread of being in closed or narrow spaces.”

It is important to note that it is not so much the small, enclosed space per se that frightens someone with claustrophobia. It is mainly the thought of not being able to leave if something happens in these small spaces.

Claustrophobia is one of the most well-known phobias. Although the symptoms of claustrophobia can be quite severe, this situational phobia is fairly easily talked about.

Claustrophobia is a very annoying condition that can cause you such extreme fear and panic that you avoid certain situations.

Therefore, knowing how to get rid of claustrophobia can be very helpful.

This phobia can take different forms and the intensity of the fear can also be very different. Thus, you can have a claustrophobic attack in a cramped or crowded space and on a crowded highway.

This anxiety can cause an all-consuming panic but can also take milder forms.

People with claustrophobia often avoid small spaces (for example, one takes the stairs just as easily as the elevator), which allows them to live a fairly normal life despite their condition.

How you deal with claustrophobia depends primarily on the nature and intensity of the symptoms you experience.

Symptoms of claustrophobia

How do you recognize a form of claustrophobia? You can compare the symptoms of claustrophobia to those of other phobias.

Using the list below, you can analyze whether you meet the main symptoms and complaints of claustrophobia:

Dizziness due to anxiety

Visiting a public restroom is often a daunting task for someone suffering from claustrophobia.

Of course, the intention is that the door should be closed during a toilet visit.

The thought of being locked all alone in this tiny room can cause a person to become so dizzy that a normal toilet visit is not possible at all.

Also, the feeling that one can get stuck in a crowd such as at a concert or in a ballroom, for example, can cause dizziness in someone with claustrophobia.

The fear of these symptoms causes people with claustrophobia to avoid small, enclosed spaces or crowds.

Excessive sweating

Anxiety causes your heart to beat faster and your blood vessels to constrict.

Because this requires a lot of energy, your body temperature will rise. At that, the body receives a signal that it needs to get the temperature back down.

Sweating lowers the body temperature and it is precisely why people who experience some form of anxiety will sweat excessively.

Do you have claustrophobia? Then you consider a closed or scary space as a danger so one of the symptoms is that you start to sweat excessively.

Trembling limbs

Some people suffer so much from claustrophobia that they buckle at the knees just at the thought of taking an elevator.

Very often people with claustrophobia also get shaky hands or legs. This is especially true if they cling to the idea that they cannot escape outside at any time.

A shaky feeling in the legs can make you unable to move at all, so the fear of getting stuck somewhere becomes even greater.

Panic attacks

Do you have a very severe form of claustrophobia? Then some situations can even trigger a real panic attack.

During such a panic attack, you can become completely exhausted physically and mentally.

You may feel the urge to faint and lose control of yourself at such times.

In a very intense attack of claustrophobia, you may even feel that you will go crazy or die if you have to stay in a certain room for one minute longer.

A panic attack is a terrible thing to experience. Once someone with claustrophobia has had one, the fear of experiencing it again in a similar space is enormous.

A general feeling of tightness

One of the typical symptoms of claustrophobia is a general oppressive feeling that overwhelms you when you enter a small, enclosed space.

Especially if this place has no windows, you may panic and feel very stuffy. You will also immediately get the urge to breathe deeply from the chest.

Although gasping for air is a natural reaction in this case, it will add to the stuffy feeling making you feel like you are in shortness of breath or even start to hyperventilate.

Causes and effects of claustrophobia

Actually, quite little is known about the causes of claustrophobia, yet scientists often see the same recurring causes in claustrophobia:

Traumatic events

Claustrophobia can arise in response to traumatic events, whether during childhood, adolescence or adulthood.

Has your sibling ever locked you in a wooden box or in the dark trunk of the car?

Did your friends ever lock you in the gym’s restrooms at school? Or have your teammates ever locked you in the equipment room for a laugh?

Maybe you were once in a dark crawl attic with inadequate lighting and so on.

If so, this may have been such a traumatic event for you that you are still afraid in small, enclosed spaces.

Also, suppose you have ever been trapped in an elevator, a dark tunnel or a large group of people. In that case, this may have led to claustrophobia.

Growing up with claustrophobic parents

Growing up with parents who suffer from claustrophobia? What exactly does this mean for the children?

While growing up, as a child, you imitate your parents’ behavior. After all, these are your great role models.

Children whose parents have claustrophobia tend to have a higher risk of developing claustrophobia themselves.

So feel free to talk about it with your family members to see if your fear of small, confined spaces is not a result of your upbringing and your parents’ behavior (and their claustrophobia).

Decreased amygdala function (brain function)

Scientific rPesearch has shown that many people with claustrophobia struggle with impaired functioning of the amygdala.

The amygdala is an almond-shaped structure of neurons in the brain that plays a role in processing emotions.

Indeed, people with a smaller amygdala appear to be more likely to suffer from claustrophobia.

Claiming too much personal space

Often, claustrophobes can integrate into and adapt quite well to society and are quite creative in finding solutions to avoid certain situations.

Yet this is not always possible, and in some cases it can have quite significant consequences.

For example, research has shown that people who suffer from claustrophobia often demand a larger personal space (which is not always possible).

Effects of claustrophobia

Suppose you are reading this article after entering a claustrophobia-related keyword into a search engine such as Google. In that case, you are probably already experiencing the effects of claustrophobia at this time.

Claustrophobia is a typical situational phobia where the fear occurs in very specific situations.

In claustrophobia, such situations are small, enclosed spaces or situations where many people congregate such as concerts, soccer matches, movie theaters, gymnasiums, public swimming pools, wellness centers with saunas and steam rooms, and so on.

Avoiding such situations can help you go through life with claustrophobia fairly normally. Unfortunately, this does have a very big impact on your daily life.

Suppose your employer’s office is on the fourth floor of an office building. Then you might as well take the stairs instead of the elevator.

However, it gets more difficult when you have to walk up to the sixteenth floor several times a day.

If you go to the local pub with friends, you can easily choose a table near the door or window to avoid feeling claustrophobic.

However, attending a concert by your favorite rock band will be an ordeal if you suffer from claustrophobia.

Getting an MRI scan done is often a daunting task for people with claustrophobia. Imagine being pushed through a very narrow tunnel and hearing sounds coming at you while your head is in a holder and you are expected to lie as still as possible.

Do you feel the anxiety coming on already? This is quite understandable if you suffer from claustrophobia.

Because of your fear of such an MRI examination, your body cannot be pictured and certain body processes cannot be checked to see if they are functioning properly. You probably understand that this can have major consequences for your health.

You may recognize certain causes of your claustrophobia but it could just as well be that you do not know at all what causes you to suffer from this condition.

Perhaps you recognizeconsequences and realize that they affect how you function.

Whatever the causes and consequences of claustrophobia may be for you, if this phobia severely limits you in your daily life, then it is high time to do something about it!

Treating claustrophobia? 4 Tips

The good news is that claustrophobia is quite manageable. But, of course, you will need to be willing to work on this yourself with the help of the tips below.

It might help if you realize that your social life no longer suffers, which can be a tremendous enrichment for yourself and your friends and family.

Relaxation and shifting your focus

Relaxation has been used for years to control anxiety symptoms.

Do you feel a claustrophobic attack coming on? Then try to think of totally different things that have nothing to do with your anxiety. So think about things that make you happy, focus on things that bring you peace.

Focusing on correct breathing, from the abdomen, can also help you avoid an attack of claustrophobia.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Another solution to relieve claustrophobia is cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT therapy.

You will learn how to manage and change your negative thoughts in doing so. You learn step by step that your fears are not grounded at all.

You will be given assignments to ask yourself questions and begin to think more objectively.

For example, you should formulate an answer to the following questions:

  • Is it really that life-threatening to spend the night in that tiny sleeping space?
  • If I enter this space, is it true that I really can’t get out?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen to me in a crowd?

Because you need to think realistically about these situations, you can slowly change your opinion about them and try to put the imaginary dangers into perspective.

Find your fear with exposure therapy

Avoiding claustrophobic situations makes your life easier but unfortunately this strategy does not solve your problem.

After all, you are not confronting yourself with your fears, and ultimately you cannot make any progress with such an avoidance strategy.

In exposure therapy, you do face situations just now that fuel your claustrophobia. You seek out your fear, as it were, under the guidance of a psychotherapist.

These can be real-life situations, such as stepping into an elevator or entering a windowless room.

Did you know: Even with the help of recent technological developments such as virtual reality, these situations can be perfectly recreated.

The great advantage of such a virtual visit is that the patients’ reactions can be much better evaluated and further work can be done based on these results.

Related post: How to stop being germaphobe? 6 Tips to get over your irrational fear

Acknowledge that you have a problem

With a mild form of claustrophobia you can still live a reasonably normal life.

However, it becomes a problem when the fear of small, enclosed spaces, elevators, tunnels, and crowds starts to rule your life.

Once you recognize that claustrophobia negatively impacts your daily life, the first step toward healing has already been taken.

How to get over claustrophobia: Conclusion

By recognizing the symptoms and where they come from, you have already started your journey to conquering your irrational fear.

The tips offered in this article have proven beneficial with some really good results.

So, grab the bull by the horns and start your trip to a freer and happier you!

Related postHow to clear your mind of unwanted thoughts: 9 Tips to find peace of mind & inner calm

About Heather Campbell

As a dietitian, my field of specialization is science-based nutritional advice but more importantly, it is my goal to share capturing and inspiring stories, examples and solutions which can help plus-size individuals overcome their specific difficulties. Read More