How to Tackle Your Elevator Phobia

By: Suzanne Feinstein, PhD

It might surprise you to learn that the first elevator was invented in 236 B.C. Despite having been around for this long, there are still plenty of people who have a fear of using them.

Fortunately, there are ways to overcome elevator phobia. The first step is understanding the different segments of this fear.

We’ve created a brief guide that can help you get started on the right track. Let’s explore the key information you need to know.

Fear of Enclosed Spaces

Fear of enclosed spaces, known as claustrophobia, is a relatively common fear in which people will avoid confined spaces such as tunnels, closed MRIs, airplanes, tube trains, rooms without windows, and elevators. Someone with this fear might experience intense panic and anxiety despite any real threat of danger.

Despite the irrationality of the fear, people with claustrophobia struggle with difficulty breathing, racing heart, a feeling of choking, a tightness in the chest, shaking, upset stomach, or bouts of crying or dizziness when in tight spaces. 

If you struggle with a fear of enclosed spaces, you might feel as though there isn’t enough air or room to breathe. You might truly believe you aren’t able to breathe normally even though nothing is impeding this process.

This phobia can be triggered by a traumatic event, a learned response if someone you know has this fear, or can have no known cause. 

Fear of Heights

The fear of heights, known as acrophobia, is another common fear that can result in an intense anxiety about riding an elevator. The threshold that is considered “too high” will vary from person to person. People with a fear of heights may refuse to take an elevator above a certain floor or refuse to ride in one at all. 

This fear can be due to a discomfort that relates to the upward motion of the elevator, a fear of falling at a high altitude, or the fear of having a panic attack and becoming too agitated to come down.

Fear of Being Trapped

If you have an issue with enclosed spaces, elevators will likely be a trigger for you. This can be difficult to overcome in crowded cities, as there will often be a large number of people in an elevator.

The primary fear here, though, is that you’ll be stuck inside the elevator and unable to leave. While elevators can malfunction from time to time, it often doesn’t take long for the fire department to arrive and resolve the situation.

Fear of the Elevator Falling

Although it is quite rare, mechanical failure can technically occur with anything that uses moving parts. However, elevators are frequently inspected, and concerns are handled promptly.

Elevator installation is also a meticulous process. There is a vast number of checks conducted to ensure the elevator is functioning correctly.

People with this phobia may understand that the chance of something going wrong is marginally small, and that it’s not even worth thinking about. They may recognize that there are fail-safe systems in place to catch that elevator if it falls. They may observe thousands of people using these machines every day with no reported mishaps. However, despite the logic, their nervous systems continue to set off false alarms and require the proper treatment to overcome this phobia.

Fear of Crowded Spaces

Having a fear of crowded spaces is relatively common. Crowded subways, populated public spaces, and busy elevators can be overstimulating and overwhelming despite the absence of any real danger.

Despite having a logical understanding that there is nothing to be afraid of, people with this phobia will experience intense anxiety entering a crowded elevator. It can be impractical and inconvenient to wait for an empty elevator  when living in a highly populated city and when time is limited. Many people will opt to take the stairs when possible. 

Fear of Running Out of Air

Some people worry they will run out of air if they spend too long in an elevator. This is often accompanied by the fear that they will get trapped in the elevator.

It is important to note that elevator doors aren’t completely sealed, and the elevator shaft has plenty of ventilation. However, if you get stuck in an elevator and you start to hyperventilate from panic, you will reinforce the fear that you will run out of air. When you hyperventilate, your breathing becomes rapid and shallow and can make you feel like you can’t get enough air into your lungs.

Potential Solutions

The following tips can help you overcome many of the triggers associated with elevator phobia. 

Exposure Therapy

As the name implies, exposure therapy involves placing yourself in situations that trigger your fear response. Exposure therapy is broken down into manageable steps. Although you will feel a moderate level of anxiety performing these steps, it will become increasingly easier to overcome your fear of elevators. You will learn how to desensitize your nervous system so that you can confront your ultimate phobia in a calm, confident manner.

Systematic Desensitization

Systematic desensitization is a type of exposure therapy which aims to slowly introduce anxiety-provoking scenarios.

For example, you can start with imaginary exposures in which you envision traveling in an elevator to a high floor or with a crowd of people.

Then, you might watch some videos about elevators. Becoming accustomed to all of the beeps, bumps, mechanics and inner workings of the machine can help desensitize you to the fear.

Next you might try entering an elevator without actually riding in it.

Eventually, you can use the elevator to travel one or two floors. Systematic desensitization will continue until you no longer have issues interacting with the machine.

Relaxation Training

Relaxation techniques can go a long way toward helping you stay composed when you would otherwise feel overwhelmed. Meditation and deep abdominal breathing are great ways to stay relaxed. Other techniques include muscle relaxation training.

Don’t Neglect Elevator Phobia

It can be tempting to avoid elevators if you’re experiencing elevator phobia, but this only prolongs the issue. The tips in this guide will help you understand your condition and take steps toward overcoming it.

Advanced Behavioral Health specializes in cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), dialectic behavior therapy (DBT), and mindfulness-based therapy. We strive to exceed all expectations and help our patients get their lives back on track. You’ll learn more about the benefits we provide when you get in touch with us today.

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