Effective Ways to Manage Claustrophobia
Claustrophobia can be a debilitating condition for many people, but there are plenty of ways to effectively manage this fear, including the use of desensitization methods, breathing exercises, behavioral changes, meditation, cognitive practice, magnesium, B vitamins, kava kava, and many more.
Fear is a natural part of life, and an important part of our evolutionary development, but extreme fears are classified as “phobias”, and one of the most serious and potentially life-altering is claustrophobia. Defined as an intense fear of being enclosed in a small space or room without having an escape. Unlike some other common fears (e.g., spiders, the dark, heights), claustrophobia is often classified as an anxiety disorder, and can result in panic attacks when people are placed in these restrictive situations. Claustrophobia can be triggered by everything from elevators and airplanes to subway cars and hotel rooms with windows that don’t open. When people are aware of their claustrophobia, they will often go to great lengths to avoid being exposed to those conditions, such as climbing dozens of flights of stairs, rather than entering an elevator.
The symptoms of claustrophobia are similar to many other anxiety disorders of panic attacks, namely excessive sweating, elevated heart rate, dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, confusion, tightness in the chest, and a genuine fear of imminent harm. This intense phobia is not simply a matter of being “afraid”, but can also be caused by the size of one’s amygdala, a genetic predisposition to claustrophobia, and classical conditioning. While there is not a guaranteed “cure” for claustrophobia, there are a number of effective ways and behavioral remedies that can keep this fear from dominating your life. Now, let’s take a closer look at some of these preventative and palliative options in greater detail.
Effective Ways to Manage Claustrophobia
Behavioral Changes: Since the onset of claustrophobia is often triggered by placing yourself in a situation of confinement, admitting that you have a problem and avoiding those scenarios is the best way to manage claustrophobia. For example, avoid driving at rush hour, when you might be stuck in a traffic jam, or position yourself near a door during large social gatherings or parties. You can also thoroughly inspect a room or house for alternative exits in order to alleviate those fears. For more common-sense options, take the stairs instead of elevators, travel by train rather than air, and never agree to go spelunking.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: There are many practical applications of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that can help alter thought and behavior patterns. For the treatment of claustrophobia, CBT encourages patients to face their fears, typically through a process of gradual exposure to small spaces and the source material of the fear. This type of cognitive behavioral therapy is often called desensitization therapy, as extended exposure to the source of fear can help the mind overcome its terror. Typically, an elevator ride may be a thirty-second nightmare, and a claustrophobic will rush off the elevator as soon as possible. CBT (desensitization therapy) may consist of remaining on the elevator for 20-30 minutes, riding it up and down, and allowing the initial panic to subside until the irrational fear is weakened.
Breathing Exercises: One of the first symptoms of a panic or anxiety attack is difficulty breathing, a tightness of the chest, and lightheadedness. A reduction in oxygen to the brain can exacerbate all of the other symptoms of claustrophobia, while also preventing you from thinking straight. If you see a psychologist or specialist regarding your claustrophobia, they can likely recommend simple breathing exercises that you can use when you feel a claustrophobic panic attack oncoming. Deep breathing can have a calming effect on the mind and body, thus preventing the panic of this fear.
Meditation: Another effective remedy for claustrophobia is meditation, as it can help to center your thoughts, and also self-reflect to the root cause of your intense fear. If you can peel back the layers of your psyche and expose the underlying cause of your fear, if may be easier to dismiss it or begin to overcome the crippling fear associated with this phobia. Meditation can also reduce stress hormone levels in the body, making it less prone to instantaneous fight-or-flight responses to small spaces.
Magnesium Supplements: Studies have shown that claustrophobia and many other anxiety disorders are closely related to magnesium levels in the body. Excess stress and hyperventilation can quickly expend your body’s magnesium levels, which is a key mineral for hormonal regulation, and also for the mitigation of stress hormones in the body. The nervous and metabolic systems require magnesium for hundreds of different operations, so if you want to prevent unnecessary panic attacks, add magnesium-rich foods to your diet, such as whole grains, yogurt, seeds, fish, beans and dark chocolate.
Kava Kava/St. John’s Wort: Both of these herbal remedies are widely recommended for anxiety issues and stress, which can also help them protect those suffering from claustrophobia. If your body is less likely to respond violently to anxiety, due to the anxiolytic effects of these supplements, then it will be easier to function normally as you move throughout the world, even in tight spaces. However, St. John’s Wort can effect birth control, while kava kava can interact with pharmaceuticals, like Xanax, and negatively impact those with liver problems.
Vitamin B: Across the board, B vitamins are deeply involved in nervous system function, which means that it is involved in anxiety, stress levels, panic attacks and claustrophobia. From serotonin production and the adrenal gland to depressive symptoms, B vitamins are essential to normal mental and physical function. B-vitamins are found in high concentrations within whole grains, nuts, spinach, poultry, seafood and shellfish.
A Final Word of Warning: While claustrophobia and other serious phobias can be controlled through the methods outlined above, speaking to a psychologist or other specialist can also be helpful. If you feel as though your life is being severely impacted by your claustrophobia, professional advice is highly recommended.