Many professions require you to negotiate confined spaces as part of your work. For some, doing so is relatively easy. For others, it can be utterly terrifying. Knowing how to overcome claustrophobia is critical for people entering confined spaces to complete a work task.
All workers expected to enter confined spaces must adhere to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) confined space standard. Employers, safety managers and workers must ensure compliance with OSHA regulations, as failure can result in costly oversights.
What Is a Confined Space?
While we all know what a confined space is, in terms of the workplace, a space must meet specific criteria before it’s classified as confined. OSHA classifies a confined space as the following:
- Design: A confined space is not designed for people but is large enough for someone to enter and perform a specific job. Continuous occupancy is not an option in a confined space.
- Entry and exit: A confined space has limited or restricted means for entry and exit.
Suppose a confined space represents a particular hazard. In that case, OSHA refers to it as a permit-required space, which means it has one or more of the following qualities:
- Hazardous atmosphere: The space contains — or has the potential to contain — a dangerous atmosphere, like high levels of carbon monoxide.
- Hazardous material: The space contains material that could fall on an entrant.
- Angled walls or floors: The space has walls that narrow or floors that slope downward, tapering into a smaller area.
- Health and safety hazards: The space contains any dangers to worker health and safety, such as exposed live wires or excessive heat.
Confined spaces are more common than you think, and you can find them across multiple industries. Any worker expected to perform a task in a confined space should undergo confined space training to ensure their safety and well-being.
What Is Claustrophobia?
The first step in overcoming claustrophobia is to understand it. A phobia is an intense or irrational fear that interferes with your ability to perform routine daily activities. Claustrophobia, therefore, is the intense and irrational fear of enclosed spaces.
Any small space, such as a tunnel, an airplane or an elevator, can trigger people with claustrophobia. About 12.5% of the population suffers from claustrophobia. Common claustrophobia symptoms include the following:
- Panic attacks
- Chills or hot flushes
- Shortness of breath
- A choking feeling or difficulty breathing
- Elevated heart rate
- Pain or tightness in the chest
- Nausea or flutters in the stomach
- Dizziness or feeling faint
- Dry mouth
- Ringing in the ears
- Confusion or disorientation
Those with severe claustrophobia may experience psychological symptoms alongside the physical symptoms listed above, including feelings of detachment and a fear of losing control, losing consciousness or death.
How to Overcome Claustrophobia in a Confined Space
There are legitimate dangers associated with being in a confined space, and one of the worst things you can do is panic. OSHA has specific regulations to ensure the safety of workers in enclosed spaces, including ventilating the area and removing hazards. Still, an essential OSHA requirement is that only trained personnel may enter.
When you’re in a confined space, there are methods you can use to keep the panic at bay, including the following:
1. Challenge the Fear
Often our responses to fear are irrational. We panic instead of staying calm and logically working through our emotions. When a confined space triggers you, remind yourself that the fear is irrational and challenge yourself to remain calm. They gradually disappear if you allow your fears to exist without paying them any real attention.
2. Attempt Breathing Exercises
When you start to panic, your breathing gets faster, accelerating your heart rate and preventing you from thinking clearly. Focusing on your breath with deep breathing exercises can keep you calm and make you think logically.
Deep breath focus can help you decrease your stress response, lowering your heart rate and stabilizing your blood pressure.
3. Ground Yourself With Your Senses
Fear quickly takes over our rational mind, so distracting yourself from fear-based thoughts can be an effective way to refocus. Take a moment to identify what you can see in your immediate area, then what you can hear, smell, feel and taste. As you shift your focus to the sensory stimuli in your space, you’ll find your mind has less time to think of all the reasons you should be afraid.
4. Practice Gradual Exposure
Gradual exposure — or systematic desensitization — teaches you how to control your responses to situations that trigger claustrophobia. Start with a small space that doesn’t make you anxious, and work your way into smaller areas. The process should be gradual. Over time you’ll notice an increased capability to withstand being in a small space.
If you have severe claustrophobia, a psychotherapist should oversee everything you do to ensure you approach your phobia correctly.
5. Try Guided Fantasy
Suppose you can place yourself in a confined space while you’re in the safety of your bedroom, for example. In that case, you can go through the fears and emotions you associate with being in a confined space from a rational standpoint. You can take steps to overcome your phobia in a safe environment and simulate as many possible scenarios as needed.
6. Learn Meditation
With meditation, you can regulate your breathing to help keep you calm and learn to recognize your anxious thought patterns and replace them with more positive and logical thoughts. Instead of letting fear dominate your thoughts, you can trigger affirmations such as ‘I am safe’ and ‘keep breathing’ and remind yourself you’re in control of how you react to your emotions.
7. Consult a Professional
If you have severe claustrophobia, address it with a medical professional’s help. A medical doctor or psychotherapist can provide coping mechanisms specific to your triggers and responses, ensuring you can combat the challenges healthily. Depending on the severity of your phobia, consider regular therapy sessions before attempting to be confined.
8. Complete Confined Space Training
If you’re required to be in confined spaces during your work, OSHA requirements state you should complete confined space training. Aside from the requirement, having professional training in handling confined spaces could alleviate the effects of claustrophobia.
When you’ve completed your training, you’ll have the skills to handle enclosed spaces, boosting your confidence before you start. You’ll know how to handle an emergency and manage your anxiety — the perfect tools to combat claustrophobia.
Enroll in Confined Space Training Today
Confined space training is essential if you’re required to work in spaces such as silos, tanks, tunnels and more. Whether you have claustrophobia or not, exercise is mandatory and should be taken seriously. Hazmat School offers OSHA confined space entry training across industries, including firefighting, maintenance and emergency response.
Our comprehensive OSHA safety courses range from fall protection courses to Hazcom training and everything in between to help you stay compliant at an affordable price. Please get in touch with us to learn more, and enroll in your first course today.