Claustrophobia is the irrational fear of not being able to escape from, or breathe in small confined spaces and comes from the Latin word “claustrum” (a shut in place) and the Greek word “phóbos” (fear).
Some people naturally feel claustrophobic when approaching a float tank for the first time as it is a shut in place, some float tanks are smaller than others, the float room or cabin concept offers a larger space lessening the feeling of Claustrophobia. Oxygen can also be pumped into the float tank, room or cabin to further relieve concerns of running out of air and suffocating. The air compressor makes a steady relaxing tone which can be moved close to the float tank to allow the first time floater hear the machine working further reducing the fear.
There are several theories on where this fear comes from, and studies indicate that 5-7% of the worlds population suffer from severe claustrophobia, but most do not get any treatment for it. Most theories are linked to early childhood traumas as being locked in a small dark room, box or getting separated from parents in a big crowd, and it can happen either through play, accident or as a result of a punishment.
Another theory is that this is linked to a prepared phobia, which basically is a genetically predisposed fear in humans telling us to be afraid of potentially dangerous situations. Fears of small places can be from getting trapped in a small hole or stumbling over the den of a wild animal.
Claustrophobia has two key symptoms, fear of suffocation and fear of restriction. Sufferers understand that their fear is not proportional to the actual potential danger but still are overwhelmed by the fear and this can lead to panic attacks.
These panic attacks are generated by the Amygdala, which is one of the smallest structures of the brain, but still one of the most powerful, since it is linked to fear and survival responses, which during a panic attack results in higher respiratory rate, physical arousal, the release of adrenaline, elevated blood pressure and hart rate, behavioral fear response and defensive responses, which may include freezing up.
Claustrophobia is a reaction to stimulus, but in a situation where an often irrational lack of control takes over. In the float tank all stimulus is removed and there are no confines of the mind, claustrophobia is often only felt before getting into the tank and rarely felt once in the float tank.
Studies show that other stimulus can lower the fear and make people accept smaller spaces when exposed to VR (virtual reality) scenery while in small spaces. This in turn shows that the fear can be controlled and that there is possibilities to reverse or reduce this phobia.
This fear of “what might happen” in the float tank is both an allure trying the float tank and equally adds to the anticipation of a floatation session. The best mental approach is without expectation but with a commitment of 3-4 sessions, what will happen will be within your control and will be personal to you and you alone.
Cognitive Therapy is widely used as a treatment for anxiety disorders and is shown to have a good results where the patient does not really fear the small spaces, but still has panic attacks when put in this situation, due to fear for what might happen.
CT is a type of psychotherapy that seeks to help the patient overcome difficulties by identifying and changing dysfunctional thinking, behavior, and emotional responses. This involves helping patients develop skills for modifying beliefs, identifying distorted thinking. The way most people are treated is by slowly exposing the sufferer to small spaces and then helping them through the situation.
Relaxation Exercises Can be enough for many, which basically is taking slow deep breaths, meditating, and doing muscle relaxing exercises that help reducing negative thoughts, stress and anxiety and is all part of the induction into a rewarding float anyway.
Guided Fantasies are another way to try to overcome this fear. This is a virtual tour that you can do yourself or with a friend or therapist where they take you on a virtual tour for instance in an elevator, without actually going there and combining this with your “happy place”, creating a calm and relaxed picture in your head of how the elevator ride might be.
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is also a way a lot of people find as the solution to overcome claustrophobia or other fears.
Drug therapy is yet another solution, but this is not recommended as it does not take away the problem itself, but just manages the anxiety symptoms.
Remember there is nothing wrong with leaving the float tank door open or slightly open to the degree that you are comfortable with.