Do you suffer from claustrophobia

Claustrophobia - The fear of tight spaces

The doors close. The elevator begins to move slowly. And suddenly nothing works anymore. The elevator gets stuck, the doors locked. There will be many people who feel uncomfortable in such a situation. Our flight instinct kicks in and signals: “Get out of here quickly!”. At first this is completely normal. For people with claustrophobia, however, the very idea of ​​tight, closed spaces often leads to massive fears. We will help you to understand claustrophobia and show you important tips with which you can get your fears under control.

What does claustrophobia mean?

Claustrophobia - or fear of space - is one of the so-called specific phobias. Those affected experience a disproportionate amount of fear that is limited to a specific situation or thing. For people with claustrophobia, these are narrow and closed spaces such as elevators and subways, but also crowds of people where the escape route is blocked.

The term claustrophobia is made up of the Latin word claustrum (lock, lock, bolt) and the Greek word phobos (fear, fear).

Colloquially, we often refer to claustrophobia as claustrophobia. This designation is actually not entirely correct. So those affected are not afraid of too much space. But on the contrary. It is the idea or the presence of "too little" space that is scary. In psychology, by the way, claustrophobia means agoraphobia. So the fear of big, wide open spaces.

How does claustrophobia develop?

From a scientific point of view, no clear cause for the development of space anxiety can be determined. For example, fears can be learned from other people. In doing so, we look at the fear, so to speak, often unconsciously imitate it and, for example, transfer it to narrow, closed spaces. Regardless of what our counterpart is afraid of. Psychologists speak of model learning.

"Attention danger!" - The hazard marking

Another trigger can be a stressful experience associated with tight, enclosed spaces - when you actually got stuck in an elevator or accidentally got locked in somewhere. As soon as such a situation is assessed as threatening and fear is experienced, the following happens: the brain stores this information, “transfers” it to the room and marks it with “attention, danger!”. The next time you walk into, or just think about, a similarly narrow space, the brain will recognize the hazard markers and put your body on alert. Like a kind of internal early warning system.

Biological causes are also possible. In claustrophobia, the balance between messenger substances such as serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain is presumably disturbed. This can lead to overexcitability of the nervous system and panic attacks. The brain then links this to the current situation - in this case a narrow space - and also marks a danger here. In other cases, the claustrophobia develops insidiously and no clear trigger can be determined.

Claustrophobia: symptoms of space anxiety

At the center of claustrophobia is the fear of tight, closed spaces or crowds. Those affected perceive these situations as threatening and typical anxiety symptoms such as palpitations, sweating, tremors, feelings of oppression, dizziness or even fear of death occur. The head is full of catastrophic thoughts. Even if most of those affected know that they are in no real danger and that their fear is “exaggerated”, it does not seem that they can be controlled. Often, the mere idea of ​​a narrow, closed space is enough to trigger a fear response.

In which situations and in which intensity the claustrophobia occurs is very individual. For example, some sufferers mainly suffer from the idea of ​​being locked in, while others focus on the fear of suffocating. Often the fear of space is so pronounced that the fear of panic attacks increases.

Panic attacks are sudden, clearly defined phases of intense fear. The attacks peak within a few minutes and last at least a few minutes.

The avoidance trap

People with claustrophobia often only survive a subjectively threatening situation with great fear, in the company of others, or avoid it completely, for example by taking the stairs instead of the elevator. While this may be helpful in the short term, we cannot verify that our fears are justified and that we could have overcome the fear. This increases the fear even in the long term and can lead to "fear of fear" - a vicious circle develops.

Face the claustrophobia

One of the most effective strategies for dealing with claustrophobia is going through fear. If you face a space that is (too) narrow for you, your fear will initially persist, but after a certain time it will subside. Your brain gets used to the fear, so to speak, and can reprogram its early warning system. It is important that you stay in the room until your fear has noticeably decreased. And that's sure to happen. Your body automatically switches to relaxation mode after a certain time. Psychologists speak of habituation.

You can slowly, step by step, face the most challenging situation - for example, first the big elevator in the shopping center and then the small, old one at friends' homes. Even if you initially have the impression that you can't help but have to get out of the confrontation, that doesn't mean the end of the world. Be realistic: “Staying in the situation” is the ideal. In any case, facing the fear of space is more helpful than avoiding it entirely. Regularly and as often as possible.

Call fear by its name

Sometimes you quickly get caught in the vicious circle of fear and it is difficult to distinguish between what are legitimate fears and what are unhelpful catastrophic thoughts. It makes sense to get some distance from fearful thoughts and to perceive them for what they are: Thoughts - no more and no less.

For example, you can address fear directly and give it a name: “Well, alarmists. There you are again!". Or you stick to the facts and write a little "fear checklist" that you tick off internally. Something like "racing heart: ✓ - dizziness: ✓ - fear of suffocation: ✓". You can also put the fear off: “I don't have time now. Can we meet again tonight? Then I'll listen to you. "

In any case, you take the fearful thoughts “no longer so seriously” and weaken them. This helps to gain distance and break out of the vicious circle.

Surf on the fear of space

In dealing with claustrophobia, accepting fear without judgment can be helpful. The next time the fear of space occurs, be aware of it and give it a name. For example, tell yourself, "I feel scared." You probably also know the reason for your fear: "I feel scared because I am afraid I will not get out of the elevator."

It is important that you do not avoid fear, but instead consciously turn to it and accept it. Formulate a guiding principle that you repeat until the fear slowly subsides. Something like, “I feel scared because I'm afraid I won't get out of the elevator. And that's okay. ”. As if you were standing on a surfboard and riding with the (fear) wave instead of fighting against it.

Take your distance and get support

In the case of particularly pronounced forms of claustrophobia, it makes perfect sense to get professional support in coping with anxiety. For example, psychologists can help you understand the causes of your claustrophobia and help you plan your fear confrontation. Since there can also be physical causes for your fear of space, you should also seek medical advice. For example, an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can lead to nervousness and anxiety.

If you want to deal more intensively with the subject of panic, we offer you with HelloBetter Panik a scientifically based online training with which you can learn effective strategies for the prevention and reduction of panic attacks within 6 weeks.

Relax and stay tuned

In general, as a counterbalance to claustrophobia, you can also provide stress relief, relaxation and rest phases in everyday life. And then find the strategies that help you individually in overcoming your fear of space. We have put together more tips for dealing with your fear on our blog. It is important to stay on the ball and to repeat the exercises regularly. And then make yourself aware: Even the highest waves of feeling will get smaller at some point.

Categories Anxiety & PanicTags Anxiety, coping with fear, panic, phobia