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Claustrophobia: definition, causes, symptoms and treatment

Claustrophobia: definition, causes, symptoms and treatment

June 18, 2024

Phobias are anxiety disorders They can develop with some frequency, and one of the most common is claustrophobia. Scientific studies say that between 2% and 5% of the population suffers from this type of phobia, which is the intense and irrational fear of being trapped in a closed place and from which the person thinks that he will not be able to leave.

Phobic disorders can cause great discomfort in the person who suffers, and can affect their daily lives in different ways. For example, not being able to climb the elevator, not taking the subway to work or not being willing to undergo a CT scan. People who suffer from this condition avoid the situations that trigger the phobia and that cause them intense anxiety.


In this article we will analyze claustrophobia by the hand of Ignasi Llorach, general sanitary psychologist at the Mensalus Institute of Barcelona, ​​one of the most prestigious clinics in Spain, and experts in the treatment of phobic disorders.

  • Related article: "Types of phobias: exploring the disorders of fear"

What is claustrophobia?

Claustrophobia belongs to the group of specific phobias , among which there are also other irrational fears such as aerophobia (or fear of flying) or arachnophobia (or fear of spiders).

"It is an anxiety disorder that affects the person when exposed to closed spaces: small rooms without ventilation, elevators, basements, tunnels, and so on. In general, people suffering from claustrophobia experience irrational fear in any situation that involves closure, restriction or confinement, because they think that they will not be able to leave or they will be left without air, that is, they will not be able to breathe. People with claustrophobia can also feel great discomfort in places where there is a large crowd of people, "explains Llorach.


While some specific phobias are not necessarily incapacitating because people who suffer from them tend to avoid what causes them fear, or it is difficult to find the feared stimulus in their usual environment (for example, coulrophobia or fear of clowns ), other phobias can cause situations that generate discomfort more frequently , as in the case of claustrophobia.

Some individuals may refuse a job because of the inability to travel by train or car for relatively long periods or they can avoid going to the cinema with their partner because of the discomfort they feel when they are in a dark room, where they automatically and compulsively seek Departures.

Causes of this phobia

"Most phobias occur as a result of a traumatic event occurred in childhood," says Llorach, "although the beginning can come at any time of life, in which the person learns by association (classical conditioning) that closed spaces they cause negative consequences. "


A famous research carried out by Lars-Gran found that claustrophobia usually begins in childhood, and the common experiences that can trigger this pathology are: being locked in a dark room and not finding the door or the light switch, poking the head between two bars and then not being able to get it out, locked in a closet, falling into a pool full of water without knowing how to swim or getting lost among a lot of people and not finding the parents.

Now, "learning is not always produced by direct experience, but it is also possible that it occurs through observation," says Llorach.

On the other hand, according to Seligman's preparation theory , we are biologically predisposed to suffer phobias, because we associate more easily certain stimuli to negative responses because they favored our survival.

Phobic disorders are constituted by primitive and non-cognitive associations, which are not easily modified by logical arguments. This theory does not assume that phobias are innate, but that the individual has a Innate ability to learn phobic reactions .

Symptoms and signs

Claustrophobia can manifest itself in different situations , and the person suffering from this phobia can have different reactions. For example, enter a room and check where the exits are located to be near them. You can also avoid driving the car at "rush hour" to avoid getting stuck in a traffic jam.

When a person suffers a phobic disorder, avoidance behaviors are present to reduce the discomfort and anxiety that characterizes this disorder.

In summary, people with claustrophobia have the following symptoms:

  • Extreme anxiety and fear of the presence or imagination of the phobic stimulus.
  • Avoidance behavior
  • Thoughts that the person is going to run out of air.
  • Thoughts of imminent death.
  • Hyperventilation .
  • Hipersudation
  • Accelerated heartbeat.
  • Tremors
  • Pain or tightness in the chest.
  • Stunning, nausea, dizziness and headaches.

Treatments and therapy

If you suffer claustrophobia or any type of phobia, Ignasi Llorach reminds you that "it is possible to overcome the phobia with the correct psychological treatment, and it is important to know that you are not alone, but many people experience this type of phobia at some time in their life and they manage to overcome it. Also, you do not have to suffer in solitude. Communicate your fears, because talking about it is very important to accept that you are suffering this fear. "

Psychological therapy is the best option to leave behind this irrational fear. There are many types of psychotherapy, but research has concluded that one of the most effective is cognitive behavioral therapy, which aims at intervention focused on changes in mental processes (thoughts, beliefs, emotions ...) and behaviors that the person performs and may be maladaptive and cause suffering.

Relaxation techniques or exposure techniques are two widely used methodologies in the treatment of phobic disorders. Specifically, the most commonly used exposure technique is systematic desensitization, which involves exposing the patient gradually to phobic stimulation and fostering the most useful coping skills. Mindfulness has also proven to be highly effective in treating all types of anxiety disorders.

In extreme cases, pharmacological treatment (mainly anxiolytics) can be applied; however, never as the only therapeutic option but in combination with psychological therapy.

If you wish to receive psychological assistance for the treatment of a phobia or any other problem related to mental health and well-being, you can find the contact details of the Mensalus clinic by clicking here.

  • Related article: "Discover the Mensalus Psychology Center with this photo report"

Why Are Some People Claustrophobic? (June 2024).


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