What is claustrophobia?

What is claustrophobia?

Claustrophobia is defined as the fear of enclosed spaces. As with any phobia, the severity of claustrophobia varies from person to person. You may experience symptoms in small rooms, crawl spaces, crowds, and many other situations.

Some claustrophobic people feel uncomfortable in elevators, use of safety-constrained amusement park rides (such as roller coasters), public toilets, and even revolving doors. If you are claustrophobic, MRI rooms and other medical tests may also be difficult or impossible.


If you are claustrophobic, you may feel mild anxiety in a confined space, or even have a severe panic attack, and the longer you stay in place, the symptoms may worsen. You may cry, yell, and try to get out of trouble in any way possible.

Although not everyone responds to claustrophobia the same, symptoms may include:

  • Uncontrollable urge to urinate
  • Chest pain
  • Chills or feeling hot
  • Suffocation
  • Puzzled
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dry mouth
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Feel the wall is closing
  • Headache
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nausea
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Sweating
  • shake

Eventually, you may begin to fear activities that might make you feel closed. In addition, severe claustrophobia can lead to fear of fainting, loss of control and even death. You may skip crowded parties or other activities, avoid riding with a shoulder restraint, leave the door open when entering a small room, or make many other concessions to your fear.

Although these moments may seem fleeting, repeated panic attacks and feelings of fear and anxiety can lead to continuously elevated stress, which can be harmful to the body.


Knowing that you have a fear of enclosed spaces may seem sufficient to formally diagnose claustrophobia, but like other phobias, certain diagnostic criteria must be met. If your symptoms interfere with your life and cause severe pain, be sure to talk to your doctor.

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Over time, anxiety conditions such as specific phobias tend to get worse, so early intervention can help you control your symptoms so that they don’t have a serious impact on your life.

In the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM-5), claustrophobia is not considered a unique disease. It is a tool used by doctors and mental health professionals to diagnose mental health conditions. However, if your symptoms meet the following criteria, you may be diagnosed with a specific phobia:

  • Your fear of small spaces hinders your ability to engage in daily activities.
  • You make a special effort to avoid situations involving enclosed spaces, such as taking stairs instead of elevators.
  • When you may encounter this situation, anxiety will increase.

Your symptoms must not be caused by other diseases and must last six months or more. A mental health professional can evaluate you and determine whether your symptoms are caused by phobia, panic disorder, or other problems. A similar specific phobia called claustrophobia (fear of being restricted or trapped) is sometimes mistaken for claustrophobia.


Researchers are not yet sure which factors may cause claustrophobia. Many people speculate that this may be due to bad childhood experiences. Others believe that this may be a remnant of an evolutionary defense mechanism, related to the danger of being unable to escape.

Other underlying fears, such as fear of injury, fear of losing control, or fear of death, may also play a role in the onset of claustrophobia.

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Researchers at Emory University concluded that people who mistakenly perceive distances beyond their arms are more likely to experience claustrophobia. Either way, the history of tension in enclosed spaces seems to eventually lead to more severe claustrophobia.

The effects of claustrophobia

Claustrophobia can severely limit your life, cause you to miss things you can enjoy, and even put excessive stress on your health. For example, claustrophobia can be a challenge when traveling.

  • The flight quickly ends the trip, but it forces you to limit yourself to a small seat surrounded by strangers.
  • Train travel provides spacious and comfortable seats, allowing you to move around, but it takes a long time and may make you feel trapped.
  • Driving may feel restricted, but you can stop at any time for a stretch and rest.

Once you find yourself in one of these situations, the expected vacation may become negative, or these concerns may prevent you from booking a trip in the first place. In medicine, claustrophobia can be dangerous because it may cause you to avoid necessary MRI tests or other important medical procedures.


The treatment of claustrophobia depends on the person and the severity of the symptoms. There are a variety of treatment options to choose from.


Your doctor or therapist may prescribe anxiolytics or antidepressants to help control your symptoms. If you travel by plane, cruise, or other common travel method that can cause claustrophobia, low-dose anti-anxiety drugs may be an option for upcoming travel.

It is important to pay close attention to the dosage and medication instructions, as you may need to start taking the medication a few days before travel, or follow other procedures, such as taking it with meals or avoiding alcohol.

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In particular, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has proven to be very successful in the treatment of claustrophobia. Exposure therapy is another effective treatment method.

Behavioral skills

System desensitization, anti-adjustment, modeling, and flooding are often combined with cognitive methods such as Stop! Technology. These methods work together to help change your behavior and fear.


Although avoiding enclosed spaces is one way to avoid experiencing symptoms of fear and panic, avoiding coping often makes fear and anxiety worse. When you encounter a situation that triggers claustrophobia, it may be helpful to find ways to reduce panic and fear. You can try:

  • Take a deep breath
  • Imagine a peaceful scene
  • Use distractions to keep your mind away from fear
  • Remind yourself you are safe
  • Practice meditation to help calm your mind and body

Some people find relief through hypnosis and other alternative forms of treatment. Others have found that self-help methods such as visualization can help them survive claustrophobia. If you decide to try other treatments, be sure to get approval from your mental health professional.

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Although estimates vary, some believe that as many as 12.5% ​​of people have claustrophobia. If left untreated, claustrophobia can be debilitating. However, treatment is usually successful.

If you experience any symptoms of claustrophobia, be sure to contact a mental health professional or your family doctor as soon as possible. With help, you can work hard to get rid of this fear and enjoy life more.