|MadSci Network: Medicine|
Hi Brandon, You asked whether getting all "panicky" in a group of people would be considered claustrophobia. The short answer is no. CLAUSTROPHOBIA is generally defined as a fear of enclosed or small spaces. You will sometimes see this on TV shows and movies where the writers have created a seen where some person with claustrophobia gets stuck in an elevator or closet and then gets anxious. What you describe might fall under the classification of OCHLOPHOBIA, or the fear crowds. There are *many* types of phobias, but the most complex and debilitating phobia of all is known as AGORAPHOBIA, or the fear of open or public places. People with agoraphobia often do not leave their house for months or years. All these phobias (and others disorders, like panic attacks), fall under the larger category of ANXIETY disorders. Panic attacks are generally characterized by a sudden and overwhelming experience of terror or fright. Lots of clinicians think panic attacks are a normal fear response that occurs at an inappropriate time. This is different from phobias, which are usually considered to be persistent (long lasting) and irrational fears that are very narrowly defined (such as a fear of spiders, but not of grasshoppers or flies). The irrational part is important because it is normal to fear many things (like guns or snakes) that may cause harm. However, an unloaded gun or a snake that is not poisonous is obviously less harmful than a loaded gun or a poisonous snake. A person is generally not considered to have a phobia unless the person actively tries to avoid contact with whatever causes his or her irrational fear. This AVOIDANCE is also what makes treating phobias difficult because the behavior of avoidance prevents feeling any anxious feelings in the first place (example: if you fear heights, you generally try not to go up in tall buildings, so you usually feel okay). The treatment of phobias often has clinicians trying to get the patient to actively confront the fear in small steps. If you just get a little nervous when you are in crowds, then you might just be feeling a little anxious or uncomfortable because of other reasons (such as you've never been in large crowds before). Keep in mind that most people get nervous about some type of situation or item (I always get nervous when I have to teach or talk to a group of people). However, as with any medical problem, you should talk to your doctor or health care professional to accurately assess what might you may or may not be experiencing. Here are a few web sites might be of interest to you (it is sort of fun to guess what the different phobias represent). Phun Phobia Phacts http://hypnotherapy.net/aphobia.shtml Alphabetical list of phobias http://www.avana.net/~jeffm/phobia.htm The American Psychological Association http://www.apa.org Hope this answered some of your questions. Good luck, Josh Rodefer, Ph.D. Harvard Medical School
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