What Causes Claustrophobia?


Claustrophobia is the fear of having no escape, and being closed in. It is typically classified as an anxiety disorder and often results in a rather severe panic attack. One study conducted by University of Wisconsin-Madison’s neurology department revealed that anywhere from 2-5% of the world population is affected by severe claustrophobia, but only a small percentage of these people receive some kind of treatment for the disorder. Epigee.org recently released an article which discussed the origins behind the causes of claustrophobia.

Claustrophobia develops as the mind makes the association that small spaces psychologically translate to some imminent danger. This typically occurs as a result of a traumatic past experience (such as being trapped in a dark, small space and thinking that there is no way out because the mind is not fully developed enough to realize there is a way out) or from another unpleasant experience occurring later on in life involving confined spaces. These two causes of claustrophobia both reject the common misconception that claustrophobia is a genetic disorder.

In fact claustrophobia is a conditioned response to a stimulus.  It results from when an individual associates a tremendous amount of anxiety and a panic attack with a confined space. That event, the confined space, serves as a trigger or the stimulus, which is programmed into the brain. Because that stimulus is programmed into the brain, so is the response, which in this case, is a tremendous amount of anxiety. As a result, the confined space consistently triggers the same anxious response.

To learn more about claustrophobia and other neurological and anxiety disorders visit the NorthShore University HealthSystem’s neuroscience department.

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