Written by Emily Whitton

Emily Whitton

Hypnotherapy Directory Content Team

Last updated October 2022 | Next review due April 2024

Claustrophobia can affect people’s daily lives, as many will avoid doing certain activities or visiting places for fear they might have to navigate a small space. Thankfully, there are treatment options available for those living with claustrophobia, including hypnotherapy, that can make it more manageable. 

What is claustrophobia?

Claustrophobia is the fear of confined or enclosed spaces. It’s one of the most well-known phobias, thought to affect around 10% of the population. People with claustrophobia can experience a range of symptoms, from mild anxiety to panic attacks. It is therefore deemed to be a type of anxiety disorder that can present in any closed-off space or, for some people, only in certain situations, like when being in a lift, tube tunnel or public toilet. 

The fear of confined spaces is diagnosed as a phobia when it affects a person’s daily life, in line with the DSM-5 criteria for specific phobias. The fear might prevent people from taking public transport (such as a tube or plane) or visiting certain places. This may limit a person’s social life as they might feel unable to see family or friends. 

Perhaps most crucially, claustrophobia can also have a real impact on a person’s physical health as it might stop someone from getting the hospital treatment they need, due to the fear of having to have an MRI scan. 

Claustrophobia and MRI scans

For many claustrophobia sufferers, the thought of having to have an MRI scan can send them into a terrible state of uncontrolled panic. This might stop someone from visiting the hospital, even if they are concerned for their health. It is therefore important that you seek support for claustrophobia to ensure you can receive medical treatment, should you ever need it. 

If you are living with claustrophobia and are worried about having an MRI scan, there are some things you can do to help ease your anxiety:

  • Tell the person doing the MRI that you have claustrophobia - they’ll be able to support you throughout the process.
  • Enquire about medications or alternative MRI scans - in some cases, health care professionals can offer medication to help you relax and feel more comfortable in the MRI scanner. Some places even have open or upright machines, which can be used instead.
  • Shut your eyes - shutting or covering your eyes with an eye mask before you go into the machine will stop you from seeing the confined space and prevent your thoughts from taking over.
  • Practice calming techniques - slowing down your breathing and shifting your focus to something else in the room can help you ease your anxiety. 

Read more about how to overcome your fear of MRI scans with hypnotherapy

Therapists who can help with claustrophobia

Signs and symptoms of claustrophobia 

There are several signs and symptoms to look out for if you suspect you may have claustrophobia. Alternatively, learning some of the following signs will allow you to recognise when you’re entering a panicked state and implement early intervention techniques to work through it. 

Claustrophobia can cause some physical symptoms including:

  • sweating 
  • shakiness
  • shortness of breath 
  • feeling sick
  • dry mouth 
  • feeling faint or dizzy
  • numbness or pins and needles

It can also display psychological symptoms, with the most commonly-noted claustrophobic response being feeling out of control. Others include:

  • fear of fainting
  • fear of dying 
  • feelings of dread or impending doom

What causes claustrophobia? 

Typically, the fear of confined spaces is caused following a traumatic experience in childhood. For example, they may have got trapped or stuck in a small, enclosed space away from their parent or caregiver which caused them to panic. Other reasons why someone might develop claustrophobia are having learned the behaviour from their parent or someone close to them, or due to a genetic mutation in the amygdala (the part of the brain that stimulates our fear response). 

Because claustrophobia usually has its roots in the subconscious mind, hypnotherapy is particularly helpful in treating this phobia as it allows the therapist to safely work with the client on accepting emotional reactions and rehearsing/creating resilience strategies to manage these reactions. The focus created during the relaxing hypnotic state allows the client to understand and safely work through the effects of the phobia.

Anne Millne-Riley BA, UKCP, NRHP, MICHT

How can claustrophobia be treated?

If you suspect you or someone you know is experiencing claustrophobia, it’s really important that you seek treatment for it to prevent it from inhibiting your daily life. There are various treatment options available, so you can find the best approach for you and your needs. 

Exposure therapy

This is the most common treatment used to overcome claustrophobia. Also known as desensitisation therapy, exposure therapy involves slowly increasing your exposure to the situation that causes your fear to set in. Though you can do this yourself, it is recommended that you undergo this with the support of a professional, so you can learn ways to control your behaviour and manage your fear safely. 

Desensitisation therapy is often carried out in a step-by-step way. Generally, your therapist will start by asking you to describe the situation that makes you fearful, followed by slowly increasing your exposure to it through images or videos and then, eventually, facing your fear in real-time. This will always be done at a pace that suits you. 

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

This is a type of talking therapy that aims to challenge how you think feel and act around your phobia. In CBT sessions, you’ll often describe how you feel when you find yourself in a confined space and how you'd typically respond. Your therapist will then work with you to try and change the way you perceive your fear. They'll usually encourage you to problem-solve and help you learn techniques that you can practice to allow you to face your fear, rather than flee from it. 

Hypnotherapy for claustrophobia 

Hypnotherapy works with the unconscious mind to uncover the root cause of your claustrophobia. Once the cause is identified, your hypnotherapist can work with you to teach you self-hypnosis techniques that will allow you to tackle your fear. 

Hypnotherapy is a combination of talking therapy and hypnosis. By placing you in a controlled, relaxed state, your hypnotherapist can communicate with your conscious and subconscious minds. This allows you to change your perspective of your fear, and help you recognise that you are in control. For many people, this feeling can be extremely empowering. No matter how many sessions it may take, you’ll be on your way to facing your fear whilst remaining calm and relaxed. 

If you’re ready to take the first step in facing your fear of small spaces and take back control of your claustrophobia, you can reach out to a qualified professional on Hypnotherapy Directory. Using the advanced search tool, you can find a hypnotherapist who can best work with you and your fear to help you on your journey. 

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