Do I have claustrophobia?
January 16, 2007 5:11 AM   Subscribe

Do I have claustrophobia? What can I do?

When I am laying down or sitting on a couch, sometimes I feel like I am confined and the only remedy is for me to stand up. Even if there is no logical reason for me to feel confined, I feel this unfamiliar, slightly panicky feeling. What is strange about this is that if the I don't happen to think about this feeling then it doesn't show up. But if I am laying down and remember that I have this feeling sometimes, it instantly comes back. I have to forget this feeling in order to get any sleep at all. It has affected my sleep as I have to stand up constantly, usually when I am getting most comfortable.

As a side question, how can I get rid of this??? I miss my sleep!
posted by boots77 to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
IANA clinical psychologist/psychiatrist, but these kind of unwanted anxieties are more characteristic of obsessive compulsive disorder than a phobia:

"Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by anxious thoughts or rituals you feel you can't control. If you have OCD, as it's called, you may be plagued by persistent, unwelcome thoughts or images, or by the urgent need to engage in certain rituals." link

I would seek the advice of your family doctor.
posted by roofus at 7:53 AM on January 16, 2007

Some questions if you don't mind:
1) How long has this been happening?
2) Did this come on suddenly?
3) What do you do to forget the feeling?
4) Do you take in a lot of caffeine or alcohol?
5) Are you doing work that is high-stress or high-energy?
6) Do you engage in any physical activity? I don't mean going to the gym necessarily, but are you sedentary?
7) Any recent life changes? Breakups, moves, job responsibilites?
You appear to be susceptible to anxiety right now. I doubt it's OCD because you don't have a ritual per se. IANAP either. A family doc will probably ask these questions anyway. What I hear is a self-stoking cycle of anxiety, and then a fear of its onset, which is how anxiety disorders get started and get worse. But there's a lot you can do to win out over it. Think you can answer these questions?
posted by nj_subgenius at 8:09 AM on January 16, 2007

Wow. I have kind of a similar situation, which I was just about to post as well.

I have to keep some of my fingers spread apart at all times, or else i get a severe claustrophobic feeling as well. If my pointer finger and middle finger are touching for any period of time, i get a really bad anxiety moment, that goes away almost instantly when i spread my fingers.

This affects how i hold hands with my girlfriend, I position my self when I sleep, putting my hands in my pockets, as well.

this has come about 3-4 months ago. I wanna keep an eye on this post as well....
posted by TwilightKid at 8:56 AM on January 16, 2007

This may seem off-topic, but do you have nasal or chest congestion when this is happening?... I often feel panicky and claustrophobic when trying to fall asleep or relax while my nose is stuffed up (and I also get the "needing to stand up" thing)...

I second the recommendations to see your doctor even if congestion isn't part of the equation. If there's nothing medically wrong, hopefully your doctor can refer you to someone who can help you deal with the symptoms behaviorally.
posted by amyms at 9:06 AM on January 16, 2007

IANA etc etc., but I did major and minor in Psych (something equivalent to an Honours degree), anyway...

Clinically significant phobias often have anticipatory anxiety and/or avoidance aspects to them. As in, the person will start freaking out just knowing he'll have to walk by the neighbour's dog to go to the bus stop, or will take a huge detour to avoid walking by the dog. Since you don't mention this kind of situation, and you aren't actually in an enclosed place when the panicking starts, I wouldn't say you have claustrophobia. The 'feeling confined' thing might be how you interpret the feelings of minor anxiety/panic attack.

Nth-ing the see-your-doctor, and try to get a referal to someone who specializes in anxiety disorders (once physical things have been ruled out). Some sort of cognitive-behavioural therapy might work well for you, they work pretty well for anxiety problems. Addressing the problem instead of just the symptoms (ie, strictly with meds) would be ideal.

As far as how you'd get rid of it... if you're going to be doing some sort of cognitive-behavioural treatment, a lot of it will involve learning how to relax through the panicky moments. The therapist would have a more detailed and specific approach with you in mind, but that would be the gist of it.

similar advice to TwilightKid re: finger thing
posted by CKmtl at 9:37 AM on January 16, 2007

Response by poster: This has been happening to me for the last few years, but has gotten more severe. I used to only get it when I was laying on a couch and reasoned that furniture with a back had this affect on me...I was restricted in one direction. But recently it has been happening on my bed, hence the sleep issue. It is strange that if the idea doesn't cross my mind before I lay down, I sleep fine.

The questions that a previous poster asked:
I have had congestion recently and wondered about the correlation (it has been more prominent) But this has also made me wonder if my lungs were getting enough oxygen?

I don't exercise much.

I don't do anything to "forget the feeling" although I have tried. Usually trying to forget the feeling prompts me to remember it.

On another note, I wondered about hypnosis. This practice scares me a bit, but I have been thinking that I would try anything recently. Thanks all for the posts.

Stress level is normal.
posted by boots77 at 10:06 AM on January 16, 2007

Quick thing about the congestion... When I get all clogged up, Breathe Right strips help me sleep better, and not wake up feeling like a hungover rhino.

If the anxiety problem's generalizing from one specific situation to others, you really should get it checked out by a specialist before it (possibly) snowballs any further. In the meantime, you could try some deep breathing excercises when the feelings start. Like slowly breathe in with your diaphragm for ~3 seconds, hold for ~3seconds, and exhale slowly for ~3seconds. Hyperventilating is often a part of anxiety/panic attacks.

As for hypnosis... Well, I don't recall any specific stuff in the literature about using hypnosis to help with anxiety disorders. Personally, I don't dig the whole hypnosis scene much; the whole thing's a bit iffy. There's good treatments for anxiety that don't appeal to and make use of your subconscious. Plus, consciously overcoming it would be a good confidence-booster and whatnot, rather than passively having it tranced out of you. :)
posted by CKmtl at 10:46 AM on January 16, 2007

I can't say I recommend hypnosis either, at all. Given the amount of time it's been a problem, see a doctor, and may I second cognitive behavioral therapy with someone who has a track record of dealing with panic and anxiety disorders. Complementing that with relaxation techniques would be best.
posted by nj_subgenius at 11:00 AM on January 16, 2007

I second CKmtl advice. I'd say it's bang on, that it's an anxiety issue, with a side of OCD. Go to your physician and get a referral. Forget about hypnosis.

Probably depending on the severity and length of time will determine if you need meds ]Paxil[ with cognitive therapy. They work wonders.

Ask yourself if this is interfering with you being happy or working etc., aside from not being able to sleep — which is serious in itself.
posted by alicesshoe at 1:46 PM on January 16, 2007

I wouldn't go so far as to say there's an OCD side to it, because both Obsessions and Compulsions are involved in OCD. The compulsion ("ritual") is more often than not directly tied to the obsession; contamination and hand-washing, security and lock-checking, etc. Boots77's standing up could be construed as a compulsion, but only weakly so. Plus, there's no accompanying obsession, other than the desire to stop feeling panicky.

Anyway, Adventures in Long Distance Diagnosis usually aren't very beneficial (especially when it's politicians and persistent vegetative states)*. Get thee a referral!

Also, if you do happen to be prescrived anti-depressants, pay attention to the side-effect warnings about thoughts of suicide. If they pop up after starting/changing meds, talk to the prescribing doctor asap.

*Forgive the snark, was compelled to do it
posted by CKmtl at 3:00 PM on January 16, 2007

Based on personal experience, sounds like you're having panic attacks, with possible overtones of OCD.

The "funny" thing about this kind of anxiety is that it generates it's own anxiety -- i.e., when one is reminded of having had it before, one starts to feel anxious about having it again -- which can snowball into another panic/anxiety attack.

It can latch onto a lot of different deep-set fears -- fear of being enclosed somewhere, unable to escape, fear of dying, fear of losing consciousness, fear of being unable to breath, fear of losing one's mind.

Many people find that breathing exercises help tremendously. I personally get a lot of benefit from breathing in for 4 counts, holding for 4, breathing out for 8. Next time this happens, you might try reminding yourself that what you're experiencing is nothing more than a rush of adrenaline, that it will pass, and focusing on your breathing. You may find that the breathing relaxes you enough to let you fall asleep.

Since this is significantly disruptive to you, though, I second all of the recommendations to speak to a professional. If the situation is bothersome enough, there are many medications which really can help pull you out of a spiraling cycle of anxiety/panic -- usually SSRI anti-depressants, but also central nervous system depressants like Klonapin.
posted by treepour at 5:42 PM on January 16, 2007

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