Trapped In A Box: A Look Into Claustrophobia


Do you often find yourself in a situation where you feel trapped, feel like the floor is rising, the roof is collapsing, and the walls are closing in on you? This causes you to panic to the point that you can’t breathe as if the air is stuck in your lungs and your head feels like it’s about to explode. Then a hand on your shoulder or a light touch on your arm reminds you that it’s all in your head and that you are actually in an elevator on your way up to the penthouse.




Intense fear of closed-in spaces or crowded places is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.  There will always be inevitable circumstances where a person will need to be in a place with limited space such as the subway or metro rail train, an elevator, a restroom cubicle, a car, an airplane or a doctor’s clinic. Being claustrophobic can be a hindrance and can affect how a person functions in a usually normal situation.

“They’ll be standing in a room, and it’s starting to feel stuffy, and there’s that closed-in feeling and they just need to get outside,” says Clinical Psychologist Reid Wilson.

Triggers and Causes

Claustrophobia can be described as a morbid fear of being in confined spaces or small rooms with no immediate access to any means of escape. This anxiety disorder causes a person to perceive that being in a cramped place means they are in imminent danger.

Aileen Nealie, LMFT, wrote: “Here are the claustrophobic situations commonly faced: being in a very small place, such as a helicopter, an airplane, a crowded concert or sports event, a crowded subway, an MRI, or an elevator that is stuck.”

A traumatic experience in the past involving closed-in spaces may be one of the causes for this condition to develop. Experiences such as having been trapped in an elevator for hours, or having been locked in a room by accident or any similar situation may leave a psychological imprint that can result in having an irrational fear.

Not all cases of claustrophobia stem from daunting experience though. Some may be caused by paranoia where a person is deluded with the thought that being in a restricted space puts them in a threatening situation.


When Anxiety Hits

A claustrophobic person doesn’t necessarily need to be in a confined space for fear to set in. Just the thought of being in that situation or the mere sight of the triggers such as a car or lift can cause severe anxiety, and the physical manifestations are often disabling.




A person may suffer from any of the sensations known to accompany anxiety such as hyperventilation, palpitation, dizziness or lightheadedness, asphyxiation, chest pains, trembling, sweating, nausea, numbness, and disorientation.


Coping Mechanisms and Treatment

There are several therapies available to help deal with claustrophobia and many ways to cope with, one of which is facing your fear. Settle yourself in a place where your phobia is typically triggered while being monitored by a therapist or people you trust. Take even, relaxing breaths and distract your mind with thoughts other than your potential dangers that may arise. This is otherwise known as exposure therapy.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy aims to teach you to take control of the negative thoughts that usually plague your mind when fear is triggered. Antidepressants, relaxants and other medications may also be prescribed by a psychologist to help manage the consequences borne out of anxiety.

Taking baby steps is more advisable than rushing into it.




Whenever you feel like you are trapped in a box, do not allow your fear to conquer you. Instead, strive to overcome your claustrophobia.

“If automatic alarm attenuation did not develop adequately, the answer is to train the brain to do it better by intentionally linking feelings of alarm to a memory of being with a physically and emotionally safe attuned non-judgmental person.” – Capt. Tom Bunn, LCSW.