For some of us, pushing through the crowded city streets is an everyday part of life. Small spaces, while uncomfortable, are simply accepted. But for anyone with a fear of small spaces, this must surely sound like a nightmare.
Claustrophobia is the extreme fear of small, enclosed spaces. Derived from the Latin word, Claustrum, which translates to confined space, it is one of the most common situational phobias. Studies suggest that as many as 7% of the general population suffer from the fear of small spaces.
In extreme cases, the sufferer may find the fear extremely debilitating, as it has an impact on various aspects of their life. Thoughts of what could happen are often what triggers a panic attack, with the sufferer visualizing the absolute worst outcome. Fortunately, with a little understanding, you can soon learn how to overcome Claustrophobia.
CAUSES OF CLAUSTROPHOBIA
While the exact cause of Claustrophobia is largely debated, one of the most widely accepted theories is that it’s the result of conditioning or a traumatic experience. The phobia often manifests itself in children, though adults who have suffered a traumatic, enclosed space experience can also develop Claustrophobia.
There’s a wide range of possible scenarios, from getting stuck in a well as a child, to getting lost in a crowd. Of a group of miners who were trapped underground for 14 days, only one did not later develop Claustrophobia.
A repeated, negative experience in an enclosed space can also lead to developing an extreme fear. For example, a child who is punished by being locked in a closet is likely to suffer from Claustrophobia. The fear can also be learnt from a Claustrophobic parent relative.
Other theories suggest that Claustrophobia could be the result of a malfunction of the amygdala, the part of the brain that processes fear and emotions. Studies have shown that Claustrophobics have a noticeably smaller right amygdala compared to people who don’t suffer from the fear.
Evolutionary psychologists believe that the fear of small spaces is embedded in all of us. They suggest it’s a survival instinct, developed over thousands of years, when the world was a more hostile place. It lays dormant in most of us, however, it’s easily woken up if the circumstances present themselves.
SYMPTOMS OF CLAUSTROPHOBIA
The main symptoms of Claustrophobia are feelings of restriction and suffocation. The full effects vary case by case, but generally, once a sufferer’s personal space is breached, they begin to panic. Feelings of dizziness and nausea, profuse sweating and visions of negative outcomes generally accompany a Claustrophobic person when confined to a small area.
From public transport and crowded streets, to windowless rooms and elevators, the prospect of being confined in any such area can bring on a severe anxiety attack. In general, the Claustrophobe will attempt to stay close to the exit of a room or vehicle, and will be eager to get out as quickly as possible.
Avoidance of small spaces is also common, with sufferers actively avoiding rush hours and public spaces. In addition, the feeling of restriction is not only limited to physically confined spaces. Sufferers may feel ill at ease in hairdresser’s chairs or queues, due to a fear of being confined to one space.
The fear of suffocation, or thoughts of there not being enough air for all the people in a particular area, is another giveaway. This can result in a desire to get away, and if that’s not possible, an anxiety attack may occur.
Exposure Therapy is frequently used to reduce the patient’s fear of small spaces. Using relaxation techniques, and gradually facing their fear, they learn that despite repeated exposure to their fear, no harm has come of it. Breathing exercises and muscle tension techniques help keep panic attacks at bay, allowing the patient to come to terms with their enclosed surroundings.
Talk Therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Techniques work to find the cause of your fear, and eventually replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) exercises can be a great way to develop coping mechanisms, and can often be completed at home.
In today’s digital world, there are even apps or audio therapy sessions such as subliminals you can download to help rid you of your phobia.
BENEFITS OF OVERCOMING FEAR OF SMALL SPACES
Claustrophobia can be a terribly limiting phobia, and can have a huge impact on day to day life. Sufferers may avoid urban areas altogether, vastly limiting job prospects and self-growth. By overcoming your fear of small spaces, countless opportunities arise, in both your work life, and your social life.
New experiences, such as caving, camping and travel can be enjoyed, potentially taking your life in an exciting new direction. On a smaller level, everyday tasks such as shopping or taking public transport will become stress free endeavours. And, without stress and anxiety holding you back, you’ll find a lot more to be happy about.