October 23, 2011
By Tanya Glover
Having claustrophobia can cause many problems in one’s life depending on the severity of the phobia. There are ways to cope with this condition though and that is what I would like to talk about today.
What is Claustrophobia?
Claustrophobia is considered to be a phobia but can also be classified as an anxiety disorder. This is because someone who suffers from claustrophobia can be easily pushed into anxiety attacks due to the original phobia. Claustrophobia is a fear of being in enclosed spaces. When most people think of this as being in a small space like a closet it is much more far reaching than that. There are many situations that can make one feel claustrophobic.
ØDriving or riding in a vehicle
ØMedical Imaging Tests
What is surprising to most people is that someone can become claustrophobic in a large room. Yes, it is a large room but if it is jammed with people then the claustrophobic can begin to feel closed in and this is when anxiety sets in. Many people who have this phobia cannot even comfortably shop in a crowded store. Being in cars for extended periods (or short periods depending on the severity of the fear) can be horrible as well. Personally, the worst for me is when I have to take an MRI; being put in a machine that feels like a coffin puts me over the edge. Everyday things that we take for granted can be nightmarish for a claustrophobic.
What Causes Claustrophobia?
While there is no one thing that can be blamed in all who have this phobia, the trend seems to be that a past experience in the claustrophobics life may be the root of the present phobia. These past experiences can be conscious or unconscious. If you can pinpoint the cause it can be very helpful in coping with it. For me it was when I was 5 years old. I woke up from a nightmare and jumped out of bed to run to my parent’s room. However, I was still in a daze and the room was pitch black so I was not really aware of my surroundings. I opened the bedroom door and when I tried to get into the hallway I could not. Something was blocking me. I pushed and pushed but it was like a wall was keeping me locked in my room. When I stared to scream my mother woke up and found me in my closet! In my dreamlike state I opened the wrong door and of course was blocked in by a wall! Ever since that night I have suffered from claustrophobia.
There are many ways to treat this phobia.
Therapy is perhaps the most effective method of treatment for the most severe cases. The most popular form of therapy used for claustrophobic clients is CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). CBT aims at retraining the client’s brain and reframe their thinking. The hope here is that the fear will be gotten rid of for good. Another CBT technique deals with facing the fears head on and is done by slowly introducing the client to what they fear most until they are desensitized to it and no longer afraid. This has had varying success rates but is still the best hope of actually curing claustrophobia.
There are medications available to treat this phobia as well. Usually they are medications specifically for generalized anxiety disorder but can be effective for claustrophobic anxiety as well. These drugs can help put to rest some of the underlying symptoms of the claustrophobia.
Relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing and chanting can also help your claustrophobia. These things may not rid you of the phobia but help to keep your anxiety levels manageable and even stave off a panic attack.
Self-help programs are a blessing for those who feel like they need to do things in their own time and in their own way. There are many programs out there so do a Google search and find the one that is best for you!
How to Avoid Claustrophobic Attacks
While there will be times when it is unavoidable, there are some things you can do to bypass a phobic attack.
If at all possible, stay close to outside doors. If you are in a crowded room then locate the exits and stay close by to help keep your anxiety levels down. When riding in a car and the weather is nice, roll down the window so you can feel the air. This will make it to where you do not feel so closed in. Deep breathing while in elevators can be helpful as well. Airplanes are quite a different story as there really is no place to go. This is when medications would come in handy. In no way am I advocating drug use to control all aspects of your condition but in some situations it may be unavoidable. Make sure before you take any type of medication that you speak with your doctor first and that the medication is prescribed specifically to you. Taking medications that are not yours can be dangerous and may even worsen your condition.
Help is Out There
Whatever the cause or triggers of your claustrophobia are, you do not have to suffer in silence. There is help for you. Feel free to try any of the above suggestions and be sure to talk with your doctor about any other treatments that may be helpful for you.