Claustrophobia in pregnancy – er, when does it end?

Photo by Tom Woodward via Flickr used under creative commons.
Photo by Tom Woodward via Flickr used under creative commons.

I’d never had a problem with enclosed spaces before “the incident”.

It was one of the hottest days of the year and we’d just picked my parents up from the train station when I remembered we needed to get a few bits for lunch. As I was heavily pregnant, my husband said he would pop in to the supermarket while we waited in the car.

How nice of him, I thought…

…Until I tried to open the door to let some air in and it wouldn’t budge. None of the doors would open. I’d heard the locks click as he walked away but I’d assumed you could still open them from the inside. Clearly not. It played out in my head like a really bad horror film.

I could feel the panic rise up my body, close around my heart and then make its way up to my throat where it felt like a hand starting to squeeze. I was struggling to breathe. I started to gasp for air.

“Don’t do that,” I told myself. “You’ll use up all the air quicker and then we’ll all die!”

Even writing it now, I can feel my heart speed up.

I was in no danger, it was hot but he wouldn’t be gone long, plus we had water (and cars are not airtight) but I went into meltdown. Full on panic. I called him on his mobile and, nearly in hysterics, demanded he get back to the car RIGHT NOW and open the door before we all suffocated (my parents were perfectly calm sat in the back).

I was just getting ready to break the window with my feet, although being able to lift my feet that high beyond my massive tummy would have been a feat in itself, when he sauntered (and I mean sauntered) back wondering what all the fuss was about with a packet of bacon in his hands.

I was NOT happy but once I had opened the door and let some air in I thought that would be an end to it. Oh no.

Claustrophobia in pregnancy seems quite common, if the Internet is to be believed. At the time, the amateur therapist in me thought I was probably just anxious about impending motherhood  or maybe that my body didn’t feel like my own anymore. But I’m not pregnant now – and haven’t been for nearly two years – so why is it still here and, more so, why is it getting worse?

I have to have the keys to the car if ever I am left inside but now I’ve also started to panic in lifts, although not to the same degree as in the car. The other day I walked out of my way to find one with glass sides because I thought it would make it easier. It did, to be fair, but it’s not always going to be possible to find one and, with a buggy, I can’t get down the stairs.

I’ve tried using the trick I learnt from the counselling I had after losing my first pregnancy to think beyond the problem. What will happen if I do get trapped in a lift? THE AIR WILL RUN OUT AND FREYA AND I WILL DIE. Telling myself that won’t happen? Doesn’t help.

On a day to day basis, it’s a not a massive issue. It’s not like I’m desperate to go potholing (which I believe is called spelunking across the pond. Isn’t that a fabulous word?) or actually have to go in a lift that often but I just don’t like it – and I certainly don’t want to pass that fear on to Freya (who has already some how managed to become terrified of spiders).

I’m not too bad if I have someone with me so maybe I am still questioning my parenting skills and ability to protect Freya? (I got my psychology degree from the University of Google).

According to NHS Choices 10% of the UK population have “an irrational fear of confined spaces” – and cars with central locking is on the list as well as lifts. Their advice is quite hopeful:

Claustrophobia can be successfully treated and cured by gradually being exposed to the situation that causes your fear. This is known as desensitisation or self-exposure therapy. You could try this yourself (read some self-help techniques), or with the help of a professional.

So maybe that’s where I start. Instead of avoiding them, I do it more often until one day I get stuck and die and hope the panic starts to fade?

Have you had experience of claustrophobia, when pregnant or not? Any tips for coping with it?

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20 thoughts on “Claustrophobia in pregnancy – er, when does it end?

  1. I have never heard of claustrophobia with pregnancy! My mother has a fear of heights, but I don’t – mainly because I used to do ladder climbing because I had a fear she would get to the top and panic and fall! She once went to the Eiffel Tower with me and faced her fear, I will never forget that she did that for me! I am sure that you and Freya will help each other with this and that she won’t get the fear from you…nearly everyone is afraid of spiders after all!! Also if it helps at all, my mother now climbs ladders and is way better with heights, she doesn’t know why but the fear just seemed to go away one day, I hope that happens for you too! xxx

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    1. I hadn’t heard of it either but apparently it is a thing. Thanks for telling me about your mum. That doesn’t make me feel better. I think I just need to keep going in the lift, maybe 🙂

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      1. I’m glad it helped! Also apparently lifts are 20 times safer than escalators – a stat I found out today! Plus the chances of one plummeting to the ground are slim to none, that’s just a film thing! I hope with time that you get over it and have no worries. Maybe have someone wait outside the lift when you go a few times and then you’ll no someone is waiting for you? Then in time you can build your confidence!! xxx

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  2. I have not heard of this before Tara, but my sense of balance was affected (middle or inner ear) so it is possible the amygdala is affected in pregnancy….I believe that is the part of the brain that is associated with learning a fear response or escape reaction. It seems the only way we can alter the amygdala might be to practise meditation. Ohm…….

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  3. Oh dear, that sounds awful!
    I experienced something similar when I was pregnant with Boo – not confined spaces but flying. I had to do two flights when I was pregnant (luckily short ones!) And I was terrified – I have never felt such fear as I did on those flights and I am usually fine with flying.
    But I also found when I was pregnant I sudden didn’t like height either… I am not sure why. I haven’t flown since Boo and to be honest I don’t want to either in case I get scared again!

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    1. I hadn’t even thought about planes. I’d probably be the same! Isn’t it strange? Like you and flying, I’d never had problems with lifts or spaces before and I really don’t know what set me off that day, especially with my parents in the back. Do you think you will fly again one day?

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      1. I hope to, as it makes visiting my husbands two son in Denmark so much easier – and his family in Holland too. I will have to be brave one day!

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      2. Oh goodness, yes! Maybe it was just a pregnancy thing and you’ll be completely ok when you get on board? Fingers crossed.

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  4. It’s bad that its lasted well after having Freya. I think my sudden allergic reaction to food colourings (or specific ones) was just pregnancy related, as I’ve not suffered it since and I think I’ve unwittingly eaten quite a few things with colourings in (mainly sweeties).

    I’m not sure how to effectively treat phobias and fears, I have a friend who suffers from time to time with agoraphobia, but he just seems to have dealt with it himself. Oh and my cousin used to regularly get panic attacks, then nothing!? Weird! Our minds are very strange things. Hope it gets better, I wouldn’t go sit in the car too long in this weather though, Tom has burnt a hole in his trousers today where the sun reflecting off his phone got him!!! I would panic then! 🙂

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    1. Poor Tom! I hope it didn’t burn him and that his trousers can be repaired.

      It’s a strange old thing, isn’t it. I wonder why you reacted to the food colourings is that a known thing too? I feel very sorry for people who suffer panic attacks all the time. It must be awful. I think I’ll have to keep trying the lift and hope it doesn’t get worse.

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  5. My husband shut us all in the car accidentally the other day, It was blooming awful.
    I managed to get myself surrounded by horses in a field when I was in labour once – as you do! I got hysterical. It’s only the last year that I’ve been able to go back in a field with them. Hopefully things will ease up for you too.

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  6. I can’t even imagine, Tara. That sounds terrible. I never experienced this with any of mine, but I didn’t get far along with any of them either.

    With heart,
    Dani

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    1. So sorry for your losses, Dani. I found your blog via the lovely Mother Mands who shared your Father’s Day post. Thank you for taking the time to comment here. I do wonder if the claustrophobia is connected with pregnancy loss, although I guess it could be many things.

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