What Is Claustrophobia?

Claustrophobia is a form of anxiety characterized by a strong and persistent fear of small spaces or enclosed situations. Claustrophobic fear usually leads to avoidance of these spaces, and can sometimes interfere with one’s ability to function in his or her work, social, or home life. For example, someone with claustrophobia may avoid applying for jobs that require him or her to work in a cubicle or take an elevator (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Here are some examples of spaces or situations someone with claustrophobia might fear or avoid:

  • Using elevators or stairwells
  • Living in a basement apartment
  • Being in small rooms (e.g., bathrooms, closets) with or without windows, with the doors closed or locked
  • Sitting in the back seat of a two-door car
  • Driving through tunnels
  • Sleeping in a sleeping bag
  • Getting an MRI scan
  • Having items around one’s head, neck, or face (e.g., thick scarf, motorcycle helmet, snorkel, or medical face mask)
  • Pulling a blanket over one’s head
  • Being hugged
  • Taking a shower or being in the sauna

There are many reasons why someone might fear the above examples (e.g., avoiding vehicles due to the fear of being in an accident, avoiding small spaces due to the fear of having a panic attack, etc., Barlow et al., 2011). However, individuals with claustrophobia often fear these spaces and situations because they are afraid of suffocating or being trapped (Rachman & Taylor, 1993).

 

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