Claustrophobia (from Latin claustrum “a shut in place” and Greek φόβος, phóbos, “fear”) is the fear of having no escape and being closed in small spaces or rooms (opposite: claustrophilia). It is typically classified as an anxiety disorder and often results in panic attack, and can be the result of many situations or stimuli, including elevators crowded to capacity, windowless rooms, and even tight-necked clothing. The onset of claustrophobia has been attributed to many factors, including a reduction in the size of the amygdala, classical conditioning, or a genetic predisposition to fear small spaces.
One study indicates that anywhere from 5–7% of the world population is affected by severe claustrophobia, but only a small percentage of these people receive some kind of treatment for the disorder.
Claustrophobia is typically thought to have two key symptoms: fear of restriction and fear of suffocation. A typical claustrophobic will fear restriction in at least one, if not several, of the following areas: small rooms, locked rooms, cars, tunnels, cellars, elevators. Additionally, the fear of restriction can cause some claustrophobics to fear trivial matters such as sitting in a barber’s chair or waiting in line at a grocery store simply out of a fear of confinement to a single space.
However, claustrophobics are not necessarily afraid of these areas themselves, but, rather, they fear what could happen to them should they become confined to an area. Often, when confined to an area, claustrophobics begin to fear suffocation, believing that there may be a lack of air in the area to which they are confined.
Many claustrophobics remove clothing during attacks, believing it will relieve the symptoms. Any combination of the above symptoms can lead to severe panic attacks. However, most claustrophobics do everything in their power to avoid these situations.
Claustrophobia is the fear of having no escape, and being closed in. It is typically classified as an anxiety disorder and often results in a rather severe panic attack. One study conducted by University of Wisconsin-Madison’s neurology department revealed that anywhere from 2-5% of the world population is affected by severe claustrophobia, but only a small percentage of these people receive some kind of treatment for the disorder.
Claustrophobia develops as the mind makes the association that small spaces psychologically translate to some imminent danger. This typically occurs as a result of a traumatic past experience (such as being trapped in a dark, small space and thinking that there is no way out because the mind is not fully developed enough to realize there is a way out) or from another unpleasant experience occurring later on in life involving confined spaces. These two causes of claustrophobia both reject the common misconception that claustrophobia is a genetic disorder.
In fact claustrophobia is a conditioned response to a stimulus. It results from when an individual associates a tremendous amount of anxiety and a panic attack with a confined space. That event, the confined space, serves as a trigger or the stimulus, which is programmed into the brain. Because that stimulus is programmed into the brain, so is the response, which in this case, is a tremendous amount of anxiety. As a result, the confined space consistently triggers the same anxious response.
This method was developed in 1979 by interpreting the files of patients diagnosed with claustrophobia and by reading various scientific articles about the diagnosis of the disorder. Once an initial scale was developed, it was tested and sharpened by several experts in the field. Today, it consists of 20 questions that determine anxiety levels and desire to avoid certain situations. Several studies have proved this scale to be effective in claustrophobia diagnosis.