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Jakub Paulík
April 6, 2021, 2:47pm
Reading time: 7:26

Claustrophobia: How Do People Live With It? Is There a Cure?

Claustrophobia appears amongst people more often than we'd think.

Jakub Paulík
April 6, 2021, 2:47pm
Reading time: 7:26
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Claustrophobia: How Do People Live With It? Is There a Cure?
Zdroj: Pathé Distribution/The Descent
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Do you avoid elevators, narrow tunnels or other tight spaces in which an irrational fear takes over you? You know you're totally safe in there, but you're still feeling horrible? It's possible that you are claustrophobic.


Our claustrophobic readers confided in us with their personal unpleasant experiences that resulted in them avoiding certain spaces. Samuel is afraid to even watch a YouTube video of people cramming through tight corners of a cave. Rebecca again mentions that she got stuck in the elevator once for 30 minutes and her fear increased significantly.



In this article you'll read about:
  • How many people suffer from claustrophobia.
  • How our reader Samuel got stuck in a space they couldn't get him out of.
  • How getting stuck in an elevator made a mark on Rebecca.
  • Why is it important for claustrophobes to confront their fear.
  • Which celebrities suffer from claustrophobia and how they remember their unpleasant experiences.


Phobias haunt many people, only a few seek out doctors

Claustrophobia is certainly one of the most familiar phobias, which is also influenced by the fact that it occurs quite commonly within the human population. It is very likely that you know some claustrophobics without being aware of it.


Independent states that about 5 to 7% of people in the world suffer from claustrophobia (of which about 4% have the severe form). However, the US National Center for Biotechnology Information raises this percentage to 12, adding that claustrophobia is a major concern mainly for women.


On the positive side, despite its frequent occurrence, claustrophobia can be treated. Yet, although it can be removed effectively, most people refuse to see a doctor. A study from 2012 shows that people with phobias generally only seek help in about 7.8% of cases.


The claustrophobics who do not seek the help of an expert therefore end up avoiding cramped places. However, according to the UK's National Health Service (NHS), nothing is being addressed in this approach. On the contrary, fear in that person can only intensify.



He thought he would die

Rebecca, our 17-year-old reader, told us about her struggles with claustrophobia. According to her, she's been suffering from it since she was eight years old. "It was quite innocent then. I had questions in my mind like: What if I get stuck in an elevator? Later it started to get worse and I had a major problem even getting into it, " she told REFRESHER.


16-year-old Samuel also suffers from claustrophobia from a young age. "I first realized that I was suffering from claustrophobia as a child. I have contained myself in a small cardboard box and started sort of panicking. I had to get out of there quickly. It felt like I was going to die there. It may sound funny now, but it really wasn't funny at all, " he said, while describing his first experience with phobia.


Claustrophobia most often begins in early childhood after a certain traumatic event. However, the trigger for claustrophobia may not only be the space itself, but also compulsive thoughts that evoke significant fear in a person. Children whose parents suffer from this phobia have a higher chance of developing claustrophobia as well. When they see their parents afraid of crowded places, they pick it up and subconsciously connect their parents' feelings with the space. Claustrophobia can also be genetically determined, said Dr. Catherine Shaffer. Sometimes it can also develop in an adult, though.


According to the NHS, discomfort in confined spaces can take the form of mild to severe anxiety or even panic attacks. At the same time, claustrophobics do not have to be afraid of all tight spaces. They prefer to completely stay away from some settings, but some other spaces might not trigger any problems. "Some individuals fear all small spaces, while other people may only fear one type of place," writes The Recovery Village.


Source: piqsels

Got stuck in a tight space once, now cave footage creeps him out

Samuel is one of the claustrophobics who never went to see a doctor with their problem. He has justified this by saying that he did not consider it that important and that his life currently wasn't affected by it. Sitting on the toilet, taking the elevator or car rides are more or less fine. "Fortunately, I'm not afraid of these places. I'm only scared of very cramped spaces. I don't feel bad in the elevator, but I still prefer when a space is open rather than closed, " he said.


However, he admitted that as a member of the Scouts, he couldn't take part in some of the activities that his friends could easily do. Scouting is also associated with his worst claustrophobic experience.


"About three years ago, I was in a Scout camp in the Czech Republic, in Adršpach, and we had to get through a very narrow gap. No one was afraid of it and everyone came through easily. However, since I am also partially afraid of heights and I like climbing at the same time, I said to myself that I might as well try to overcome my fear in this case as well, " he said.


"The moment I walked in there, my pressure increased. I've panicked and suddenly I couldn't move. I started breathing very fast and hard, increasing my lung volume, which resulted in me getting stuck in the gap for about half an hour. It took me that long to calm down and get out, " he describes the awful experience.


From that moment on, he didn't try to climb through any gaps anymore, because now he's very scared of it. "It's extremely unsettling for me, even just watching videos of people crawling through tight spaces in a cave,"  he added.



Horror-filled elevator moments

Rebecca's negative experience is associated with the elevator, which Samuel regularly uses. "I remember after surgery, when I was unable to go up the stairs, I involuntarily got it the elevator. Suddenly there was a power failure and I stayed inside for about 30 minutes. After this experience, even going into the shower became an issue, " she told REFRESHER.


She also had difficulties undergoing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests. Just the idea of ​​the small space alone triggered panic attacks. Currently, she's handling it much better. "The worst restrictions are in the examinations. Now that I have to do them, I no longer have panic attacks, but it's still an uncertainty," she said.


If a person is aware of their claustrophobia, they should inform their healthcare provider before an MRI. They can provide the patient with drugs to help handle MRI better, according to the NHS. Unlike Samuel, Rebecca decided to seek professional help.


"I was treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, we have talked about my phobia and explained certain things. I did that for three years. However, my therapies were cancelled at the beginning of the pandemic, because the doctor had more serious cases at work at that time. I still don't get on the elevator sometimes, but certain things don't bother me anymore, such as MRI," Rebecca said, adding that she will probably continue the treatment again after the pandemic.


As a part of the treatment, psychotherapy is most often mentioned in professional articles, sometimes supplemented with antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs, especially in cases where the patient suffers from severe claustrophobia.


Desensitization or exposure is often used in the treatment of claustrophobia - exposure to a situation that causes fear in claustrophobics. As for the patient with severe claustrophobia, he initially begins to exhibit fear in the form of thoughts and ideas, and later he has to face his fear in a live setting.


"The foundation of specific phobia treatment is exposure therapy. It is important to educate the patient about the causes of his difficulties and the meaning of individual therapeutic steps. In exposure therapy, we use in vivo exposures or imaginary exposure in preparation for in vivo exposure in severely anxious patients. For more anxious patients, it is recommended to proceed with the method of systematic desensitization," wrote Dr. Ľubica Ferenčáková and Katarína Kubašovská.


The doctor will initially determine whether the patient will experience a graded exposure or so-called flooding, according to the Czech health-dedicated platform anamneza.cz. The definition of the terms essentially emerges directly from the title. In the first case, the patient is exposed to a less unpleasant situation and over time the intensity of fear increases. During a flood, the patient is immediately exposed to the worst situation in which he has to endure until the fear softens.


You're not alone in this, celebrities are claustrophobic too

Since claustrophobia is relatively common amongst population, it is understandable that several celebrities couldn't escape it either. The heiress of luxury hotels, Paris Hilton, who became famous at the beginning of the millennium with scandals all over media at the time. As a consequence to her actions, she briefly found herself in prison, where she had to face her claustrophobia.


"Well, I suffer from claustrophobia my entire life. And when I first got in that cell, I was having severe panic attacks, anxiety attacks. My claustrophobia was kicking in. I wasn't sleeping; I wasn't eating." she said in an interview with Larry King. After a visit of the prominent celebrity, doctors finally convinced the sheriff to release Hilton on house arrest.


Famous actress Uma Thurman is also one of the claustrophobics. If you're a fan of the director Quentin Tarantino and you remember the scene in Kill Bill 2, in which Thurman was locked underground in a chest, you can easily imagine the horrors she had to go through.



"There was no acting required. Real screams available. It was horrific. Nobody wants to live that experience." said Thurman. At some moments, the chest had to be open to shoot from the sides. In other shots, they really needed to close it, so the actress definitely "enjoyed" her share of horror.


Ryan Reynolds, who played a man buried underground in the thriller Buried, had a similar experience. The actor was surprised himself that he had dared to accept such a role, since according to his own words, he is sometimes afraid to take the elevator. He experienced panic attacks while filming in a chest that was getting more and more sand in, writes Standard.


If he'd get really sick during shooting, they had agreed on a safe word with the film crew - a word to signal that he needs to come out. However, since they were filming in Spain, the language barrier was sometimes an issue. "...what's funny is we shot in Barcelona and I was the only one who spoke English, so I remember yelling out a couple of safe words and everyone just looked at me like I was demanding lunch!"  says the actor.


Claustrophobia also troubles the famous filmmaker Woody Allen. The mere thought of going through a tunnel freaks him out, because he's afraid that he'll get stuck in it. He prefers to avoid such a space even at the cost of extending his journey.


"I'll always go the long way over the George Washington Bridge, even if I'm going to Jersey City. Instead of going straight that way which is just 20 minutes I go all the way up, it takes me 40 minutes to go," Cinema quoted his words.


The 85-year-old director and screenwriter is among those people who began to suffer from claustrophobia in their adulthood. According to him, it developed when he was in his thirties. Until then, he walked comfortably through the tunnels, used the subway, the thought of getting stuck in them never even crossing his mind.

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