Claustrophobia: Definition, Causes And Treatment

Claustrophobia is an anxiety disorder characterised by a panicked fear of confined spaces, enclosed areas and more broadly, confinement in general. The clinical manifestations of claustrophobia can be disabling on a daily basis.

What is claustrophobia? It is a psychological disorder caused by the excessive anxiety of being in a confined situation. Depending on the degree of phobic impairment, people with claustrophobia may develop a panicked fear of using an elevator, climbing into an attic, locking themselves in a toilet or even taking public transit.

This pathological condition occurs, like all other phobias, when the subject is unable to manage his or her anxiety. To get rid of it, they will, therefore, attribute it to a situation that they will judge as being responsible for their uneasiness. In psychological language, the term is projection.

Symptoms of claustrophobia

When faced with a situation experienced as anxiety-provoking, claustrophobic individuals will develop symptomatology directly caused by the excessive anxiety felt.

Depending on the level of anxiety, this can range from simple sweating to dizziness to more generalised tremors. But in the case of more severe anxiety disorders, there are sometimes cardiac manifestations such as palpitations, chest pain or heart rhythm disorders.

Muscle signs such as tetany, paresthesia, contractions or cramps are also likely to occur. In addition, the claustrophobic individual often feels as if they are suffocating. They have difficulty breathing and feel oppressed.

Causes of claustrophobia

While the origins of claustrophobia have not been formally proven, it is known to be triggered by an anguishing feeling that the individual cannot control. The question is, therefore, for the claustrophobic person to discover the cause of this anguish.

In general, phobic disorders begin in childhood and gradually progress to become pathological. It may be a psychological trauma or a very bad experience of confinement, but of which the patient is unaware.

Phobias are a kind of psychic defence mechanism by which the person will free themselves from unsustainable inner anxiety by projecting it onto an external element.

Treating claustrophobia

It is essential to consult a psychologist or psychotherapist when the phobia becomes disabling on a daily basis and prevents the phobic person from fully developing.

Psychotherapeutic management is then recommended in most cases of claustrophobia. The patient can then choose between different methods. Cognitive and behavioural therapy (CBT) is the most common treatment used to overcome phobias. It consists of gradually confronting the claustrophobic person with anxiety-provoking situations for him or her.

But it is also possible to opt for psychoanalytically inspired psychotherapy to investigate the origin of the anxiety. Some medical prescriptions for antidepressants or anxiolytics may sometimes be recommended to help the patient to overcome a difficult time on an occasional basis.

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