Overcoming Your Fear of Riding in Elevators

The Fear of Elevators: What You Need to Know if You Struggle With Claustrophobia in Elevators

If you would rather climb a thousand steps than ride for a few brief moments in an elevator, you may suffer from claustrophobia. This fear can be intense and debilitating, causing those who suffer from it to arrange their entire lives around not being in a tightly enclosed space. If a person who suffers from claustrophobia does find himself in a tightly closed space, he will usually experience an intense panic attack.

People who suffer from claustrophobia typically fear several situations besides riding in elevators. They may also avoid locked rooms or small rooms, crowded spaces, subways, driving through tunnels, cars, airplanes, caves, and basements. They may also avoid places that lead to the feeling of being trapped, such as grocery store lines or even sitting in a barber’s chair. Since these situations crop up in all walks of life, claustrophobics typically find themselves restricted to a very specific routine in their lives.

What Is Claustrophobia?

Claustrophobia is generally believed to be triggered by two separate fears: the fear of suffocation and the fear of restriction. When placed in one of the typical situations that can trigger claustrophobia, claustrophobics aren’t necessarily afraid of the situation itself. Rather, they are concerned with what can happen to them if they become trapped. For example, a person who is afraid of riding in an elevator is not really scared of elevators; he is really afraid of becoming trapped in that elevator and suffocating. This intense fear can cause a panic attack, leading the person to really believe he or she is suffocating.

Claustrophobia is considered, then, to be the fear of having no escape. As such, it is classified as an anxiety disorder. According to a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an estimated 2% to 5% of the world’s population suffers from claustrophobia, but very few receive any kind of treatment for the disorder.

Psychologists maintain that claustrophobia is a conditioned response to a stimulus. In other words, a person who suffers from claustrophobia learns to associate enclosed spaces with the sense of imminent danger and suffocation. The panic attack that accompanies this fear causes the body to learn a “fight or flight” response that is triggered anew with each perceived threat. In time, the fear response becomes faster and more intense. Fortunately, since claustrophobia is a learned behavior, people who suffer from it can unlearn the fear response with proper therapy.

Causes and Treatments of Claustrophobia

Claustrophobia is usually graded on a scale using 20 questions to determine the severity of the problem. This questionnaire, developed in 1993 and designed to improve upon the original 1979 scale, was created by Rachman and Taylor, two experts in the field of claustrophobia. This questionnaire can help people who suffer from the intense fear of enclosed spaces to understand what triggers the feeling of entrapment. It also can help professionals within the field to diagnose how severe a patient’s claustrophobia really is.

As technology continues to advance, specific treatments for claustrophobia involving the use of MRIs and virtual reality have been developed and are proving to be effective. Since MRIs usually take place in a very confined space that commonly provokes claustrophobia, studies have been conducted to see if virtual reality during an MRI can reduce the fear of suffocation and entrapment. Over the course of several studies in which patients are exposed to a virtual world while undergoing an MRI scan, the general outcome is the same. Patients who are exposed to virtual reality are usually distracted enough to complete the procedure, whereas patients who just listen to music cannot usually complete the full scan.

While virtual reality seems to be beneficial in some situations, most experts agree that cognitive therapy seems to work best for treating claustrophobia. Since the fear of suffocation and entrapment is very real to claustrophobics, cognitive therapy techniques used to calm anxiety are particularly helpful. In fact, a self-help regimen that relies on traditional relaxation exercises such as special breathing techniques, meditation, and visualization can do much to help people overcome claustrophobia.

Benefits of Self-Help Therapy for Claustrophobia

There are three major benefits to using a self-help regimen to cure your claustrophobia: it’s inexpensive, it’s customizable, and it’s discreet. Let’s begin by discussing the expense of undertaking therapy for claustrophobia. Very few people can afford to try virtual therapy techniques that have proven helpful in some instances of claustrophobia. In addition, seeing a traditional psychologist can be costly. Self-help offers the same benefits of undergoing therapy at a fraction of the cost. In fact, an entire self-help regimen will probably cost the same as only one trip to a therapist.

Now, let’s examine how customizable traditional therapy is versus self-help. With traditional therapy, you will need to make an appointment during business hours, whenever your therapist has an opening. You will need to leave work or arrange for child care while you see your psychologist. And then you will need to continue this inconvenient schedule for several weeks. In addition, you will need to follow the pattern your therapist sets for treatment. On the other hand, self-help can be purchased and utilized in the comfort of your own home, whenever you have a few spare moments. You can choose which relaxation techniques work best for you and discard those that don’t help. In short, self-help can be tailored to both your schedule and your needs.

Finally, self-help regimens are private. Unless you are prepared to shell out the full cost of psychotherapy in cash, you will have to file for insurance coverage for your treatment once you opt for traditional therapy. But with self-help, no insurance companies need to get involved. This gives you the complete freedom and privacy you need to combat your phobia in private.

Claustrophobia is a common fear but it can overrule your life if it gets out of hand. By purchasing a self-help regimen today, you can learn to overcome your fight or flight response to confined spaces, and go on to live a productive and happier life.

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