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4 Mins

How to manage claustrophobia in an aeroplane, lift or car

December 18, 2023
Kiera Benson

Are you travelling to see friends or family over the holidays? For many people, the journey to celebrate Christmas is exciting, but for people who experience claustrophobia, using transport can be nerve wracking or even terrifying.

Most of us don’t like being in cramped spaces, but claustrophobia is more than just a dislike - it’s an intense fear of confined spaces and crowded places. It can be brought on by being in a train, car, plane, a locked room, lift, tunnel or large crowds where personal space is tight.

When travelling with claustrophobia you may feel an uncontrollable need to escape the confined space you’re in, such as a car or train. You might feel panicked and struggle to think rationally. You might have an urge to open the door of the vehicle or jump out, even if it’s dangerous.

It's estimated that around 10% of the UK population are affected by claustrophobia during their lifetime. Claustrophobia can affect people differently; some may experience mild anxiety, while some may have severe anxiety or a panic attack.

Claustrophobia can have a serious impact on your life. For example, if you’re anxious about travelling, this can prevent you from visiting loved ones, going on trips or even going to work. Similarly, if you’re worried about small spaces, you might struggle to use public restrooms or even close doors in your home.

Symptoms of claustrophobia

Physical symptoms:  

  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • A choking sensation
  • A rapid heartbeat or palpitations  
  • Chest pain or a feeling of tightness in the chest
  • ‘Butterflies’ in the stomach
  • Feeling nauseous  
  • Headaches, dizziness and feeling faint
  • Numbness or pins and needles
  • Dry mouth

Emotional symptoms:  

  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of fainting
  • Feelings of dread
  • Overwhelming anxiety
  • Feeling an intense need to leave the situation.
  • Fear of dying
  • Feelings of being detached from your body

How to manage claustrophobia

If you’re struggling with claustrophobia, it’s a good idea to get a handle on it sooner rather than later. The longer that you leave a phobia, the more ingrained it can become and the harder it is to change your way of thinking.

As a first step to managing claustrophobia, you could go to your doctor and explain how you’re feeling. They will be able to talk you through your options, which may include medication or therapy.

While therapy is a helpful long-term option, it’s also a good idea to learn some coping mechanisms for when you’re struggling in the moment. Deep breathing exercises (breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose, hold for three seconds, breathe out slowly through your mouth) can calm you down, or it can help to visualise something that makes you feel relaxed.

If you need to talk to someone, Anxiety UK runs a helpline on 03444 775774 that's open Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 5.30pm. Calls are charged at the local rate.

At ieso, we offer cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for a range of mental health disorders, including phobias. CBT teaches you to challenge negative thought patterns and gives you the tools you need to stay in control of your mental health. Find out more about what we do on our website.

ieso Online Therapy
This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.

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