How to Deal with Claustrophobia

People with claustrophobia may experience shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, and tremors, among others. Fortunately, there are some strategies to help manage it.
How to Deal with Claustrophobia
Isbelia Esther Farías López

Written and verified by the philosopher Isbelia Esther Farías López.

Last update: 26 May, 2022

Claustrophobia affects many people. It’s distressing and can easily get out of control if not managed properly. So, what’s the best way to deal with it?

To begin with, you should know that claustrophobia is the uncontrollable fear of being in enclosed spaces, especially reduced ones. For example, some people experience it in elevators, subways, and airplanes.

What’s claustrophobia?

As explained by some psychology studies and as mentioned above, claustrophobia is the fear of enclosed spaces. Again, those who must suffer from this disorder fear any situation that involves confinement.

Doctors usually diagnose it as a specific phobia, a seasonal subtype, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

A distressed woman.
People with claustrophobia have an excessive fear of being inside enclosed, confined spaces.

Symptoms of claustrophobia

These manifest differently in every individual. In general, all of them experience an uncontrollable fear of being in a confined, enclosed space. Other symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fast heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Fainting
  • Dizziness
  • Panic

In addition to these symptoms, there may be others that patients describe in therapeutic consultations.

Claustrophobia in certain places

The places where people most frequently experience claustrophobia are:

  • Airplanes
  • Telephone booths
  • Tanning beds
  • Elevators
  • Enclosed bathtubs
  • Caves
  • Saunas
  • Tunnels
  • Ambulances
  • MRI scan machines
A woman experiencing anxiety.
The sensation of fear is a common symptom of claustrophobia but a person may also experience palpitations, sweating, and tremors, among others.

The latest lockdown situation may be transitory but it’s greatly distressing. There’s still a fear of going outside as well as explicit restrictions in some countries to do so. Thus, this fear is exacerbated in some people. In fact, they may be experiencing noticeable symptoms of discomfort during confinement.

This type of phobia is similar to panic disorder, as well as to agoraphobia in some cases. For this reason, psychologists are currently investigating whether there are panic states in addition to the situations that specifically cause claustrophobia.

A claustrophobic person feels irrational fear in an enclosed situation and often can’t even move or get themselves out of it. Also, they may experience shortness of breath, loss of control, and immobility, among others.

Any of this can happen even in small rooms that don’t have a window, in basements, when wearing a helmet for sports purposes, and in many other situations.

As you can see, it’s common for these people to prefer to be in the company of someone, leave a window ajar and just avoid certain situations and places. In turn, some may even self-medicate with anxiolytics in order to face similar situations they can’t avoid.

How to overcome it

The past lockdown was rather unexpected but was a source of much stress for many, many people. This is because many of us aren’t used to spending so much time at home and being in total confinement.

Of course, cases of claustrophobia multiplied and the spaces that used to be pleasant at home may now increase anxiety. People even begin to feel hot flashes, dizziness, and vertigo, just as if they were in an elevator.

This situation is much worse for those already diagnosed with claustrophobia, as their quality of life has only worsened. So what’s a person to do under these circumstances? Well, nowadays, psychologists have the appropriate tools to address this disorder. Some of these are:

  • Interoceptive exposure, with help, to direct the respiratory rhythm
  • Cognitive restructuring in order to correct many of the misbeliefs people have
  • Relaxation techniques, such as meditation, visualization, and yoga exercises
  • Psychotherapy can help identify the origin of the fear and possible ways to overcome it
  • Pharmacological treatment, but only when strictly necessary
A woman meditating to overcome claustrophobia.
Relaxation techniques are great for people with claustrophobia. However, consult a psychologist if they don’t work for you.

Read about How to Overcome Fears

Final considerations

Every person must resort to their own coping resources when confronting a problem such as claustrophobia. Especially during situations like the recent lockdown. Willpower and practice can help overcome the symptoms. However, it’s always a good idea to seek counseling in order to find other support techniques.

In addition, family and friends can be part of the process. In fact, support networks are essential in order to understand that everything will be all right. So, stay in touch, even if it’s only over the phone.

Finally, many psychologists offer online consultations, some with discounts and others for free. Seeking their attention when symptoms get out of control is important to ensure your well-being.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Botella, C., Baños, R., Perpiña, C., Quero, S., Villa, H., Gracia-Palacios, A., & Fabregat, S. (2002). El tratamiento de la claustrofobia por medio de realidad virtual. / Virtual reality for the treatment of claustrophobia. Análisis y Modificación de Conducta. Vol 28(117).
  • Gouveia, V. V., De Medeiros, E. D., Gouveia, R. S. V., Santos, W. S., & Diniz, P. K. C. (2008). Cuestionario de claustrofobia: Evidencias de su validez y fiabilidad. Interamerican Journal of Psychology.
  • Valls, M. A. M., Palacios, A. G., & Botella, C. (2003). Propiedades psicométricas del cuestionario de claustrofobia en población española. Psicothema.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.