Claustrophobia: Questions and Answers

Questions and answers – Claustrophobia

I have become increasingly claustrophobic

Q. I found your website to be extremely helpful.  In fact, the most helpful I have found thus far.  I have become increasingly more claustrophobic over time.  I don’t just like elevators, but also trains and subways.  Could you recommend any books on the topic or other websites that are as informative as your own?  Thank you so much for your time.

A. Thanks for the nice comments. Sorry, but  I haven’t come across more information than is on the site – certainly no really useful books – they usually go on at great length about the causes – and are a bit short on the solutions.

In my experience of working with people Claustrophobia is a very disabling experience. I do empathise with you.

BUT… difficult as it may be to believe right right now you can beat it with skill, persistence and determination. (This sounds a bit lame and empty – but it is true )

If you are going to beat this on your own your best bet is to use systematic desensitisation and work your way through the hierarchy and beat the fear a little at a time, a day at a time. Stick at it determinedly. Do a little every day. Add a couple of daily relaxation and imagery sessions and you could beat it in a couple of months.

Any therapists near me?

Q. I am a struggling claustrophobic.  Do you know of any clinics in the United States where I can get treatment either by virtual reality or by having the therapist guide me through various exercises to battle my phobia? Thank you for your time.

A. Check out if there are any psychotherapists in your area who have also trained in ‘NLP’ – preferably to Master Practitioner Certification level. They are likely to be able to offer you a practical, rather than merely analytical, assistance.

I have to get out – fast!

Q. (Part A) I have read the contents of the home page on this web site and understand what you are trying to say about “re-living a past experience” to trigger the feeling of being closed in- but, in my own personal case- this feeling of being closed in did not occur from a past experience- it’s been with me since age 4 or 5…

And no past experience triggers the feeling of claustrophobia for me, if and when it happens. It’s there when the situation arises, only.  I don’t think, imagine, etc. of what some type of outcome would be before getting this feeling – if I am in a closed space- my breathing suffers and I just go into a medium to strong anxiety attack…

A. (Part A)  Yes, it is not always triggered by a single incident – though this is a common cause. It can develop over time – as can most phobias.

Not having any awareness of the fear until you are fully in the situation makes dealing with it a little bit more challenging to deal with on your own – though a good therapist would be able to help you get around this. A blend of cognitive therapy and NLP is likely to be the best to beat this if you intend to do it by yourself. This means learning a number of skills and then putting them together to beat the fear response….

Q. (Part B) … My immediate reaction is to get out of where I am – no matter what I have to do in order to do it- get physical if needed.  I don’t want to take the time to explain what is going on until I am free and clear of wherever I am at the time (a) because I’m having a hard time breathing and (b) I don’t feel there is time to waste on telling someone what the problem is at the time.

But, again, as for the “triggering” thing; I guess what triggers me, if you can call it that is a lack of a non-fresh air supply plus an enclosed space…

A. (Part B) .. the ‘non-fresh air’ comment strongly suggests that you may hyperventilate – this is common with all anxiety and very common with claustrophobia. Again, the Buteyko Breathing mentioned above is useful as is learning to use long, slow out-breaths whenever you wish to calm down.

Learning to self-manage Claustrophobia

1. You’ve highlighted a key skill – breath management. So practise Buteyko Breathing for a few weeks (say, a few 3-4 minute sessions daily) to get you to the point where you are able to change and to manage your breathing at will.

2. Now practise applying your better-breathing ability to calm yourself, in ordinary everyday anxiety or stress situations. This builds your confidence in your own state-management ability.

3. Next select somewhere (preferably at home) that will evoke the claustrophobia feeling such as a small cupboard or room. If you do not have such a place you have to be a bit creative – perhaps use a friend’s place. Just make sure it is somewhere you can immediately get out of if you wish. Do not use an elevator to practise in – you do not have the choice of quickly getting out.

Enter into this enclosed place and manage your breathing until your anxiety rises to, say, 6 on the scale of 1-10. In the beginning this may take just a few seconds but with practise you will be able to remain there for longer and longer periods.

4. When you come out of the enclosed place calm yourself fully and then have a break for 10-15 minutes. Now go back into the room or cupboard again and this time aim to remain there 10-20% longer. Come out and again calm yourself fully. And that’s enough for one day.

5. Do this every day or so until you can manage it comfortably – then find somewhere even more enclosed and challenging.

Use the Comfort , Stretch, Panic model.

On a 1-10 scale of discomfort imagine 1-3 is Comfort, 4-7 is Stretch and 8-10 is Panic. Aim to only enter a place that is in your Stretch zone i.e. that takes you to about 5 or 6 on your scale. If it’s 7+ find a space that is easier.

Only re-enter the space when you have calmed yourself to about 2-3 on the scale. When you can enter this space without going above 3 then, and only then, move up to a bigger challenge.

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