Claustrophobia, the fear of enclosed spaces

Claustrophobia, the fear of enclosed spaces

Claustrophobia is one of the best known phobias that exist. However, being popular does not mean that it is well understood what it implies. Today, we give you all the information you need to understand what is claustrophobia, what are its causes and how to treat it.


  • 1 What is claustrophobia?
  • 2 What are the causes of claustrophobia?
  • 3 The symptoms of claustrophobia
  • 4 Claustrophobia treatment

What is claustrophobia?

Claustrophobia is what is called a specific phobia. That is, a phobia of something in particular. Therefore, it is at the same level as arachnophobia, for example, which is the fear of spiders. That is to say, they are irrational fears about something specific.

More concretely, We can say that claustrophobia is an anxiety disorder that wakes up in the person when in small rooms without ventilation, basements, tunnels and any other type of enclosed space.

This irrational fear occurs in any situation in which the person is locked up or has some restriction or confinement (that is, situations in which the person believes that he will run out of air or will not be able to leave or be released).

That last nuance is important, since, although claustrophobia is usually thought of as a disorder related to closed spaces, it is not the only thing that can raise that anxiety. You can also wake up by being, for example, immobilized by another person.

The biggest problem with claustrophobia compared to other types of phobias is that it is much harder to avoid what triggers anxiety. Thus, while it is easy to avoid the plane on a day-to-day basis, it is not so easy to avoid the elevator (especially if you live on a high floor).

Therefore, although it is at the same level as other phobias in terms of anxiety, it is true that it is worse than other phobias because It is much harder to avoid the stimuli that trigger anxiety.

What are the causes of claustrophobia?

To talk about the causes of a phobia, we must do it from two different visions: The first, the phobia itself, and the second, the momentary anxiety attack that characterizes it.

On the second there is little to say, because we have explained it before: Anxiety Attack It is produced by the irrational fear of enclosed spaces and the feeling of confinement.

More important and interesting is to understand why the phobia itself may appear. And, like every phobia, its appearance is due (in most cases) to a traumatic event happened during childhood.

It is true that this trauma can develop with more age, but, in most cases, it is something that happens when you are small and the brain is still forming and establishing connections.

According to a study that was carried out by Lars-Gran, most cases of claustrophobia have their origin in childhood, with the following common experiences:

  1. Being locked in a dark room and not being able to find the door or the light switch.
  2. Put your head between two bars, not being able to take it out and feel imprisoned.
  3. Being locked in a closet (many times, punished by parents, at other times, accidentally while playing).
  4. Falling into a pool without knowing how to swim.
  5. Getting lost among many people and not being able to find parents.

The symptoms of claustrophobia

The symptoms of claustrophobia are the same as those that appear in any other type of phobia, and they can be triggered by being in a situation in which the subject feels locked.

Main symptoms

  1. Extreme anxiety about the stimulus that triggers the phobia.
  2. Anxiety when thinking about this stimulus (not necessarily when meeting him).
  3. Avoidance behaviors
  4. Thoughts that the air is going to end and the feeling of suffocation.
  5. Derived from the above, thoughts of impending death.
  6. Hyperventilation and hypersudoration.
  7. Acceleration of the blood pulse.
  8. Tremors
  9. Pain and tightness in the chest (typical of anxiety attacks).
  10. Stun, nausea and headaches.

Claustrophobia treatment

Treatment may include several different methods and approaches, such as:


It is the most common type of treatment for claustrophobia, it includes the psychotherapist's recommendations to overcome fear and treat situations with the objective of decreasing the level of activation.

The most common treatment methods are:

  • Relaxation and visualization techniques: to overcome fear when in a claustrophobic environment;
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: It is a learning method to control the thoughts that arise in a situation that causes fear and ways to overcome them.

Psychoactive drugs

In some cases the doctor psychiatrist You can prescribe medications that reduce panic and physical symptoms of claustrophobia. These include antidepressants and sedatives. Medications do not cure the disease, but they are often very useful when used in conjunction with psychotherapy.

As you can see, claustrophobia is a relatively frequent phobia, and, although, like any phobia, it is difficult to treat, there are very effective ways so that, little by little, you can overcome the traumas associated with enclosed spaces.