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Learn to Overcome the Effects of Claustrophobia: Tips and Techniques
Claustrophobia affects up to 11 percent of the US population, causing intense fear and anxiety in enclosed spaces. Elevators, tunnels, bridges, and airplanes are just a few of the common triggers for this phobia. However, there is hope for those struggling with claustrophobia. Treatment options and self-help techniques have been effective for many people. Read on to learn more about coping with claustrophobia.
What is Claustrophobia?
Claustrophobia is an intense fear of being enclosed in small spaces. The fear response can be triggered by a variety of situations, including elevators, airplanes, and theaters. Symptoms of claustrophobia can include sweating, racing heart rate, dizziness, and a fear of losing control. For some individuals, the fear can be so incapacitating that it interferes with daily life.
Causes of Claustrophobia
While the exact cause of claustrophobia is unknown, some researchers have identified a sense of restriction and entrapment as the core of the claustrophobic’s vulnerability. A fear of suffocating is also a common factor. Traumatic experiences, such as being trapped in a small space, may also contribute to the development of claustrophobia.
Who Can Develop Claustrophobia?
Claustrophobia affects both men and women, as well as children, and can run in families. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 75 to 90 percent of those who experience this phobia are women. Traumatic experiences, such as being trapped or witnessing someone else being trapped, are commonly associated with the onset of claustrophobia. Interestingly, simply associating an enclosed space with a traumatic event, even if not directly experienced, can also lead to the development of claustrophobia. Some well-known figures, such as Paris Hilton, Ronald Reagan, Harry Houdini, and Adolf Hitler, are believed to have experienced mild forms of claustrophobia. However, for some people, the fear can be so severe that it interferes with their daily life and prevents them from functioning normally. Fortunately, there are effective treatment options available. While self-help techniques can be helpful, it is important to seek guidance from a licensed practitioner for more intensive treatment methods.
Treatment Options for Claustrophobia
Claustrophobia is a treatable condition, and there are several methods that can be effective in reducing symptoms. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and medical treatment are all options to consider.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common treatment for claustrophobia. The therapy focuses on identifying and changing the thoughts and behaviors that contribute to the fear response. In CBT, you work with a therapist to identify the specific triggers that cause your symptoms and to develop strategies to manage them. The therapy may involve exposure to the feared situation, such as getting on an elevator, while using relaxation techniques and cognitive restructuring to manage the anxiety.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapy originally developed to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. EMDR has shown promise in treating phobias that originated with a traumatic event. During an EMDR session, you focus on the traumatic event while visually tracking an external stimulus, such as the therapist’s finger moving back and forth. This is believed to help reprocess negative thoughts and emotions associated with the event. EMDR is a relatively short-term therapy that can have lasting results.
Self-Help Techniques for Coping with Claustrophobia
Coping with severe claustrophobia requires professional guidance; however, there are several self-help techniques that you can practice to ease your distress and facilitate your recovery. Before proceeding with any of these techniques, it is important to discuss them with your therapist.
- Learn meditation – Meditation is a technique that trains your body and mind to relax. Even 10 to 15 minutes a day has been shown to have positive effects in reducing stress and anxiety.
- Exercise – Regular exercise is recommended by doctors to boost your immune system and improve cardiovascular health. In addition, exercise stimulates the production of endorphins, the “feel-good” hormone.
- Practice deep breathing and muscle relaxation – Deep breathing triggers a relaxation response, causing positive physiological changes and reducing anxiety. Similarly, progressive muscle relaxation eases tension, thus decreasing your sensitivity to stress and anxiety triggers.
- Watch your self-talk – Emotion follows thought, and it is easy to be unaware of the silent litany flowing through the mind as we go about our day. Tuning in to your thoughts and immediately correcting unrealistic negative predictions, and counter unwarranted fears with rational facts can be beneficial.
- Become less “stress-ready” – Repeated fear and stress experiences prime the body for the fight-or-flight response at the slightest provocation. In addition to learning relaxation techniques, you can take steps to lessen strain on the nervous system. This includes reducing caffeine and sugar intake, maintaining a well-balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and spending time in situations that foster a sense of peace and contentment.
It is essential to consult your physician before trying any new treatment or changing your diet, even though it is helpful to get health information by reading and talking with friends. Remember that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate the strength, purity, or safety of herbs and supplements. Be sure to always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, speak with your doctor before taking medical action or changing your health routine.
In addition to self-help techniques, it is important to consult a physician and a mental health practitioner for any psychological symptoms. Your doctor will perform an examination to rule out any possible physical causes for your symptoms. Additionally, anti-anxiety medication can help reduce physiological symptoms while you are learning new ways to overcome claustrophobia. Some people with severe phobic reactions are helped through the use of anti-anxiety medication in conjunction with counseling.