Claustrophobia: definition, causes, symptoms and treatment

Phobias are anxiety disorders which can develop with some frequency, and one of the most common is claustrophobia. Scientific studies indicate that between 2% and 5% of the population suffers from this type of phobia, which is the intense and irrational fear of being trapped in a closed place and what the person thinks they cannot get out of.

Phobic disorders can cause great discomfort to the sufferer and can affect their daily life in different ways. For example, not being able to get in the elevator, not being able to take the metro to work, or not being willing to have a scan. People who suffer from this disease avoid situations that trigger the phobia and cause them intense anxiety.

In this article we will analyze claustrophobia by Ignasi Llorach, general psychologist at the Mensalus Institute in Barcelona, ​​one of the most prestigious clinics in Spain, and expert in the treatment of phobic disorders.

    What is claustrophobia?

    Claustrophobia belongs to the group of specific phobias, Which also include other irrational fears such as aerophobia (or fear of flying) or arachnophobia (or fear of spiders).

    “It is an anxiety disorder that affects the person when they are exposed to confined spaces: small unventilated rooms, elevators, basements, tunnels, etc. In general, people with claustrophobia experience an irrational fear in any situation of closure, restriction or confinement, as they think they will not be able to get out or run out of air, that is, they will not be able to no longer breathe. People with claustrophobia may also feel great discomfort in places where there are large crowds, ”explains Llorach.

    While some specific phobias are not necessarily disabling because people who suffer from them tend to avoid what scares them, or find it difficult to encounter the dreaded stimulus in their usual environment (for example, coulrophobia or fear of clowns), other phobias they can cause situations that more often generate discomfort, As in the case of claustrophobia.

    Some people may turn down a job due to the inability to travel by train or car for relatively long periods of time or may avoid going to the movies with their partner due to the discomfort they experience when they are in. a dark room, where they automatically and compulsively seek out.

    Causes of this phobia

    “Most phobias arise as a result of a traumatic event in childhood,” explains Llorach, “although the onset can occur at any time in life, in which the person learns by association (classical conditioning) that enclosed spaces cause negative consequences “.

    Famous research by Lars-Gran found that claustrophobia usually begins in childhood, and common experiences that can trigger this condition are: being locked in a dark room and not finding the door or the light switch. , put your head between two bars and then not be able to take it out, lock yourself in a cupboard, fall into a pool full of water without knowing how to swim or get lost among a bunch of people and not find your parents.

    However, “learning does not always happen through direct experience, but it is also possible that it happens through observation,” says Llorach.

    On another side, according to Seligman’s preparation theoryWe are biologically predisposed to suffer from phobias because we more easily associate certain stimuli with negative responses because these have favored our survival.

    Phobic disorders are made up of primitive and non-cognitive associations, which are not easily modifiable by logical arguments. This theory does not assume that phobias are innate, but that the individual has one. innate ability to learn phobic reactions.

    Symptoms and signs

    Claustrophobia can manifest itself in different situations, And the person suffering from this phobia may have different reactions. For example, enter a room and check where exits should be located nearby. You can also avoid driving the car during “rush hour” so as not to get stuck in a traffic jam.

    When a person suffers from a phobic disorder, avoidance behaviors are present to reduce the discomfort and anxiety that characterize this disorder.

    In summary, people with claustrophobia have the following symptoms:

    • extreme anxiety and fear of the presence or imagination of the phobic stimulus.
    • Avoidance behaviors.
    • Thinking that the person is going to run out of air.
    • Thoughts of near death.
    • hyperventilation.
    • Hyperspiration.
    • Accelerated heart rate.
    • Tremors.
    • Chest pain or tightness.
    • Dizziness, nausea, lightheadedness and headache.

    Treatments and therapy

    If you are suffering from claustrophobia or any type of phobia, Ignasi Llorach reminds you that “it is possible to overcome phobia with the right psychological treatment, and it is important to know that you are not alone, but that many people experience this type of phobia sometimes in life and they manage to overcome it. Plus, you don’t have to suffer alone. Communicate your fears, because talking about them is very important to accept that you are suffering from this fear.

    Psychological therapy is the best option to leave this irrational fear. There are many types of psychotherapy, but research has concluded that one of the most effective is cognitive behavioral therapy, which aims to intervene focused on changes in mental processes (thoughts, beliefs, emotions …) and in the behaviors that the person exercises. it can be inappropriate and cause suffering.

    Relaxation techniques or exposure techniques are two methodologies widely used in the treatment of phobic disorders. More specifically, the most commonly used exposure technique is systematic desensitization, which consists of gradually exposing the patient to the phobic stimulus and promoting the most useful adaptive capacities. Mindfulness has also been shown to be very effective in treating all types of anxiety disorders.

    In extreme cases, pharmacological treatment (Mainly anxiolytics) can be applied; however, never as a sole therapeutic option but in combination with psychological therapy.

    If you wish to benefit from psychological assistance for the treatment of a phobia or any other problem related to mental health and well-being, you can find the contact details of the Mensalus clinic by clicking here.

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