Claustrophobia Induced Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Source: Monica Antonelli

Mary walked into my office with a bright smile and quickly sat in a chair. But as soon as she started talking about her fear of enclosed spaces, her facial expression became tense and pained. She told me that she had been suffering from claustrophobia for many years.

Mary was afraid of any small and closed space. This included a fear of riding in elevators, buses and subway trains. She had been struggling with her fear for several years. However, recently a terrible experience in a health clinic had really scared her.

“I have chronic back pain”, Mary explained, “My doctor sent me to get a full body MRI scan. I avoided it for a long time, but last month I forced myself and went to get it done. One hour before the MRI scan I took some pills to calm myself. At the clinic the nurses were very nice and explained the procedure to me in detail. I told them I had claustrophobia and they gave me a sleep mask to cover my eyes so that I wouldn’t see the inside of the MRI machine.”
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Dolores’ Fear of the Dark

Source: Ervins Strauhmanis
Source: Ervins Strauhmanis

Dolores sat down, and as soon as I inquired about her problem, she burst into tears. In between her bouts of crying and with tears streaming down her cheeks, she told me her tragic story. She had suffered many injustices in her native country during a past dictatorial regime there. She was now safe and living in a new country, but sad memories didn’t let her enjoy her current life. She had been battling depression and anxiety for the last 15 years.

Aside from feeling anxious and depressed, she had a fear of the dark. Her anxiety and depression peaked at night. She dreaded sunset so much that she had developed a phobia of darkness. With the help of sleeping pills, she tried to sleep early at 7 PM and to wake up at around 6 AM. She was forcing herself to sleep 12 hours, and of course she couldn’t. She woke up repeatedly at night. But since she was afraid of the dark, she slept with the lights on. This way when she woke up in the middle of the night, she felt at ease because she could see her illumined bedroom and this calm her.

She had also a degenerative ailment that caused her chronic pain all over her body. Although she was smoking two packs a day as a way to sooth her anxiety, depression and pain, she very much wanted to quit.

Beside medication and smoking, she would try to distract herself from her sad and anxiety provoking thoughts by leaving her home and talking to people in bars and cafes.

After talking to her, I found out that Dolores was a fervent Catholic. She said that every day she cried for 4 to 5 hours because she was “stuck with depression and anxiety.”
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Angela’s Trichotillomania (Hair-Pulling Disorder) and Anxiety

trichotillomania hair pulling

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), trichotillomania, is defined as the compulsive urge to pull out one’s own hair. As such, it is classified as an ‘impulse control disorder’. Trichotillomania is also related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The actress, Olivia Munn of HBO’s Newsroom, is probably the most well-known celebrity who suffers from hair-pulling disorder. From interviews, Munn specifically pulls out her eyelashes.

Angela, a woman in her mid forties, was an office secretary. She sought my help because for the past 12 years she had been struggling with anxiety and hair-pulling disorder. Angela’s usual pattern was that she would first feel some tension building up. Then she felt the urge to pull out her hair. She would try to resist the urge but then her anxiety would become unbearable. At this point she would start to pull out some hair. Immediately afterwards she would feel relief with a pleasurable sense of gratification. However, after pulling out some of her hair, she felt guilty and depressed. She realized that she had a bald patch as a result of her compulsive urge and felt ashamed of herself. For several days she would feel angry with herself and commit to try and resist the next urge.
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Solving a Fear of Needles

fear of needles
Source: momento mori

Debbie came to me because she suffered from a fear of needles. While for most this would be simply a nuisance, in her case it was standing in the way of a cherished desire: motherhood. Her gynecologist had informed her that if she got pregnant, that meant routine blood tests before and during the pregnancy. Debbie told me that on a few occasions she had forced herself to go to get a blood test. But as soon as she got near the clinic, she became agitated, nervous and felt dizzy.

To treat her phobia Debbie had tried psychotherapy with different psychologists. They had taught her visualization exercises and relaxation techniques. Once a psychologist had even accompanied her to a clinic and tried hypnosis right then and there. On that occasion Debbie became a slightly relaxed but then the sight of the needle triggered her full phobic reaction.

“Tell me if you can help or not,” she said.

This question communicated to me that she was tired of her fear of needles and she didn’t want to continue with endless psychotherapy sessions that led to nothing.

“Yes, I can help you.” I answered. “And I can help you overcome your fear of needles in just few sessions.”
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Solving Tom’s Fear of Flying

Source: Kalvis
Source: Kalvis

The fear of flying is the easiest phobia to overcome.

I can usually banish this fear in just one or two sessions. I know that this sounds too good to be true, especially if you have had a fear of flying for many years. I’m used to this reaction because whenever I tell people that come to see me, they don’t believe me either. But then, they are pleasantly surprised.

Tom came to see me because of his fear of flying. He had been avoiding traveling by air for about 10 years. His wife was tired of driving long distances or having to ride buses and trains. There were several countries that they wanted to visit for holidays but his fear of flying didn’t let them enjoy traveling to far away places.

Tom was using the typical strategies that all phobic people use to handle their fear. First of all, he was completely avoiding flying. He didn’t even like being in an airport or near it, for the simple reason that it reminded him of his fear. Even the sound or the sight of an airplane, even when far away, usually triggered his fear reaction.
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