What is claustrophobia?
Anxiety and related disorders

What is claustrophobia?

People who have an intense fear of closed spaces find it hard to use elevators and public toilets

White Swan Foundation

Mukul is a high-ranking executive at a leading investment bank. His corner office on the 10th floor is a salute to his achievements, but that is rarely a point of discussion amongst his colleagues. The issue that they like discussing is “Why does Mukul use the stairs when we have have eight elevators?” His peers came up with a range of reasons, some plausible, some hilarious: “He wants to keep fit…”, “It gives him time to think on his way up…”, and “It reminds him of his journey up the ladder of success…” No one cared to actually ask Mukul why he did it—until a few days ago. Leaving late one night after finishing a transaction, Mukul left his colleagues mid-conversation as they approached the elevators. When one of them asked him to join them in the elevator, he shrugged and hurried down the stairs. Intrigued by this peculiar behavior, his colleagues decided to broach the issue when they met downstairs. It was then that Mukul told them that he had an intense fear of closed spaces.

Claustrophobia is the irrational fear of confined spaces, from where the person believes escape is not possible. A person suffering from claustrophobia may experience mild anxiety or even severe panic attacks when they find themselves in such situations. They may also experience:

  • Shivering or trembling; chills

  • Shortness of breath and a tightening around the chest

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Choking sensations

  • Nausea

  • Dizziness

Sometimes, even the thought of being in such a situation can trigger the panic symptoms. Some of the common situations that people with claustrophobia avoid are:

  • Lifts/elevators

  • Small rooms

  • Public toilets

  • Tunnels/subways

  • Being stuck in an overcrowded area

In order to avoid these situations, people with claustrophobia exhibit the following behaviors:

  • They use the stairs instead of an elevator even when they have to go up many floors

  • When they are in a room with people, they try to position themselves next to the exit

  • Avoid traveling during rush hour

  • Ask for the doors to be left open when they are in a room


Like most other phobias, claustrophobia is usually the result of a traumatic experience in one’s childhood. For people who have claustrophobia, some of these experiences could be:

  • Getting separated from the parents in a crowd, for a long period of time

  • Falling into water and being unable to swim

  • Falling into a ditch or deep drain and being stuck there for a while

However, there are other biological and genetic reasons due to which a person may develop claustrophobia.


Treatment for claustrophobia is mainly therapy-based, while there may be medication prescribed for managing the anxiety symptoms. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is commonly used to treat claustrophobia, and this may even involve exposing the individual to situations that trigger their panic. 

If you have suffered from a phobia other than those featured on our portal, and would like to share your story click here.

White Swan Foundation