What is Claustrophobia?
While a significant number of people experience a sustained fear of confined spaces, very few individuals seek treatment for the condition commonly known as claustrophobia. Unfortunately, an untreated case of claustrophobia can significantly reduce a person’s quality of life, but the good news is that treatment can significantly help people who experience the condition.
A Widespread (and Debilitating) Condition
Claustrophobia can affect anyone; the author Edgar Allan Poe experienced claustrophobia to such a large degree that the condition became one of the main themes of his writing. Yet the condition is so misunderstood by the public at large that it remains extremely destructive to sufferers.
In its effects, in fact, there is little doubt that claustrophobia can be extremely debilitating. When suffering from claustrophobia, individuals may avoid social situations out of a fear of becoming trapped in an unfamiliar location; other people may have difficulty seeking employment or maintaining relationships.
Claustrophobia and Anxiety
Claustrophobia is usually classed as an anxiety disorder, and like most such disorders, the condition is essentially rooted in a host of irrational fears. On a conscious level, sufferers from claustrophobia may understand that they are unlikely to become trapped in a confined space if they leave the house or pursue their normal day-to-day activities, but intrusive worries about a disastrous outcome will often make normal activities feel overwhelming.
For this reason, health professionals will often treat cases of claustrophobia with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Based around a long-term critical examination of intrusive and irrational thought patterns, CBT enables sufferers to reduce feelings of anxiety around claustrophobic scenarios by enabling them to question the likelihood of such scenarios actually occurring.
Similarly, health care professionals may also have their patients practice “exposure therapy” to reduce symptoms of anxiety. In these forms of treatment, individuals will expose themselves to situations that cause them anxiety. Over time, the individual will learn that these situations do not pose a reasonable threat to their well-being. Deep breathing exercises during a panic attack have also been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety around claustrophobic thoughts.
The Roots of Claustrophobia
So what causes claustrophobia, and why does the condition affect so many people? The condition isn’t completely understood by mental health professionals, but current theories suggest that claustrophobia can result from either a genetic predisposition to the condition or a traumatic life experience that leaves long-term effects on a person’s psyche. If a child becomes stuck in a small space such as a closet, for example, they may experience deep feelings of anxiety around enclosed spaces well into adulthood.
For these reasons, claustrophobia can be one of the most debilitating conditions that a person can experience in life. Fortunately, help is available, and treatment options such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can significantly reduce claustrophobic ideation and fears. If you’re struggling with claustrophobia or know someone with the condition, it is important to understand that things can get better!