JUN 02, 2017 7:18 AM PDT

Why are you claustrophobic?


Do you hate being in small, enclosed spaces? If you feel entrapped in subways, elevators, rooms without windows, tunnels, or caves, you could suffer from claustrophobia. The condition was first described by physician Benjamin Ball in 1879 and since then it has been seen in more and more people. The National Health Service in the UK estimates about 10% of their population deals with some form of the phobia, with about 4% suffering from full blown panic attacks triggered by small spaces.

Although science has yet to fully understand why the fear develops, a study published in Translational Psychiatry in 2013 reported that a single mutation on gene GPM6A might cause claustrophobia. Or at least it causes claustrophobia-like behavior in mice. But no matter what causes it, claustrophobia can be difficult to live with, because there is no formal medicine or treatment for the phobia. Instead, those with space-induced anxiety can practice breathing deeply, counting down from 100, lightly slapping their face, or other techniques to distract them when experiencing symptoms. Exposure therapy is also a way that those with intense panic attacks can try to manage their fear.
About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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