Elevator Phobia Therapy

Plus 7 Tips if You Get Stuck in an Elevator

Fear of Elevators

If you suffer from an elevator phobia, there is now hope and help for freeing yourself from this form of anxiety and distress. If the video below, titled Elevator Phobia Therapy, resonates with your fear of elevators, then this article can help you begin your journey to overcome phobias such as a fear of elevators or a fear of heights. Innovative and evidence-based treatments, including Quick REMAP, EMDR, and CBT are now enabling people to find freedom from phobias.

Most elevator phobias are a form of claustrophobia. Worldwide, nearly 4% of the population suffers from this type of anxiety. As an expert in the treatment of anxiety disorders, I have worked with many people in the DFW area as well as those who live in other areas of the U.S. who have battled a fear of elevators. In the last year, I have helped people from Frisco, Allen, and Garland Texas to overcome their elevator phobias. This video and the information in this article will provide important information on how you can overcome your elevator phobia.

As you watch the elevator phobia therapy video, monitor your reactions. Notice if you experience any sign of physical, mental, or emotional stress. If so, you may have an elevator phobia that is robust enough that phobia therapy would be helpful.

Elevator Phobia Therapy - DFW, Frisco, Allen, Garland TX

By Steve Reed at the Psychotherapy Center

Video Transcript:

Elevator Phobia Therapy – DFW, Frisco, Allen, Garland, Texas

Hello, I’m psychotherapist Steve B. Reed. As a specialist in working with anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias, I often have the opportunity to help people get over a fear of riding in elevators. Fear of elevators is often a form of claustrophobia. Claustrophobia is the fear of being trapped or confined in a small space. It is estimated that about 4% of the population worldwide suffers from this type of phobia.

If you have an elevator phobia, the sight of those doors closing can trigger an immediate feeling of anxiety and panic. You may begin to feel your heart rate elevate as the elevator begins to rise. Your blood pressure may go up too. You may feel shaky, tense, and experience rapid breathing.

Even glass elevators, where you can see outside, can trigger other phobias such as a fear of heights. These fears happen because the alarm center of your brain has made a mistake. It is associating a ride in the elevator as a dangerous activity. Your brain may have associated a bad experience in a closed space or in a high place as overwhelming or painful.

When you are in a situation that feels similar, your brain then remembers the distress and causes you to go into a fight-or-flight reflex. Fortunately, there are effective therapies and treatment for the fear of elevators. With help, you can learn to associate calmness, comfort, and relaxation with riding in an elevator.

Reactions by People with a Fear of Elevators

People who view this video on my YouTube channel share some powerful responses and information about their own experiences with their fear of elevators.

One person commented that:
“I hate elevators. I got in one today at work and I rarely do that. Of course, I was alone, and as soon as it started moving, the power in the building went out. I was stuck alone in the dark between two floors. As I listened, I could hear employees in the distance cheering because I guess they thought they were going to get to go home. I couldn’t even see the buttons to tell which one was the alarm. It came back on shortly after (felt like forever). I had a full-fledged panic attack at work…not fun. There is no way anyone will ever convince me to get on one again. The funny thing is, this was the SECOND time I got stuck in an elevator. The first time was short and other people were in there with me, and it wasn’t pitch-black so it wasn’t as bad.”

Another person said:
“OMG, I’m panicking already just watching this. It makes me want to cry. I got stuck in a lift for over 4 hours. I’m absolutely scared to get in one now.”

This last comment represents a clear example of someone who felt traumatized by a prior experience of panic that took place in an elevator. Now, seeing an elevator on video is enough to trigger an alarm response. Probably even imagining an elevator vividly will also trigger anxiety or a panic attack.

Both of these experiences involve elements that are distressing: being stuck, being in the dark, and being there for a long time. However, if you are prepared with a few strategies, some of this distress can be mitigated.

7 Tips for Surviving Being Stuck in an Elevator

  1. Go to the restroom beforehand. At least if you did get stuck you won’t be stressed by having to go to the toilet.
  2. Have a fully charged cell phone with you. It’s a source of light, it may allow you to call for help and it gives you a form of entertainment to help pass the time.
  3. Have a snack with you. Being hungry is a stressor that can be avoided. Who needs extra stress?
  4. Narrow your thoughts to something pleasant that you will do when you are out. Stepping into a positive future in your mind can produce calming responses in your body in the present.
  5. Practice a form of meditation that keeps you focused so your mind does not go to dark places. Focused Attention is a mindfulness meditation technique(3) that has been studied for over 25 years at Harvard Medical School. It is a good choice. Also, learning the Loving Kindness Meditation(4) would be very helpful.
  6. Utilize a slow breathing technique to calm your nervous system(5). Take a normal breath but breathe slowly. Breathe in for five seconds, pausing for one second and then breathing out for five seconds. Repeat this breathing pattern for 3 to 5 minutes. This will help calm the electrical activity of your heart which will then send a signal up the vagus nerve to your midbrain to signal it to turn down the alarm. You can learn more about this in my video on Treating Anxiety, Stress, and PTSD, Part 2.
  7. Hold or rub an acupressure point on the back of the hand, located in the webbing, just before the connection point of the bones of the index finger and thumb. This acupoint is known as LI-4 (Large Intestine Point # 4). It has been shown in research at Harvard Medical School to quickly calm the alarm center of the brain. (1, 2) You can learn about this acupoint and three others for regulating the nervous system in the last video in my series on Treating Anxiety, Stress, and PTSD, part 6. I also demonstrate how to activate this acupoint in my video Quick REMAP Acupressure Point LI-4 to Calm Emotional Pain (see below).
Quick REAMP Acupressure Point LI 4 to Calm Emotional Pain

By Steve Reed at the Psychotherapy Center

Panic Attack in an Elevator

Another person reacted to the Elevator Phobia Therapy video with this response:
“The last time I rode one, it was the worst kind. It was glass. I have a fear of heights as well, so it is like being beaten and you cannot do anything. I’d look like an idiot but I wanted to curl up in a ball and cry. What I did do was to face the only solid wall and have a panic attack.”

This is especially challenging because in this example she is confronted with two different phobias at the same time, a fear of elevators (claustrophobia) and a fear of heights (acrophobia). For most people, it is hard enough to cope with one phobia much less two all at once.
However, the truth is that her fear and panic are not caused by heights. She cannot fall out of the elevator. There is no clear or present danger of that happening. Nor is her distress caused by being trapped in a small space. She was not trapped. The elevator doors did eventually open. She did get out.

What causes a fear of heights and a fear of elevators?

One of the real causes of fear and panic is the imagination. It is the way you think about a situation. If the mind imagines falling from a great height, it triggers a fear response. If you imagine being trapped in an elevator, and then imagine going into a panic and then thinking that it will go on forever, naturally you will evoke a fear response.

When the thinking part of your brain (the cortex) vividly imagines something dreadful, the alarm center of the brain (the amygdala) immediately sets off an alarm. This causes you to go into the fight-or-flight reflex, mobilizing your body to run for your life or to fight for your life.
Unfortunately, in an elevator, there is nowhere to run and no one to fight. The fight-or-flight symptoms are experienced as fear and even as a panic attack when the intensity is high enough. This panic fuels more negative associations with being in an elevator and makes the fear stronger.
As fear grows, people usually default to avoidance as their coping mechanism. If I don’t ride in an elevator, I don’t get panicky. Avoidance then prevents the brain from getting enough exposure to learn that one’s worst fears are unfounded.

How can an elevator phobia be treated?

elevator phobia

Effective elevator phobia therapy involves two different types of treatment. Treatment for the thinking brain. This is the part of the mind that creates a steady stream of scary thoughts. This type of therapy focuses on eliminating automatic negative thoughts that can be catastrophic in nature.

The other type of therapy is designed to reach below the level of thought. It is oriented toward the emotional midbrain which governs the fight-or-flight response.

Treatment for the Thinking Brain
Cognitive Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) treatment can be an important part of solving this problem. It is an essential intervention in elevator phobia therapy. The cognitive part of the therapy focuses on helping people to change their problematic thinking. By imagining a better and more believable thought, the mind does not go down the dark alley of scary thoughts about what you don’t want to happen. Instead, if the mind focuses on what you do want—the elevator doors opening and you getting off—then there is no need for your brain to set off the alarm. The body stays calm and comfortable. No worries, no stress.

By learning to control your thinking, instead of letting your thinking control you, gaining control of your emotional response is within your grasp.

Behavioral Therapy

The behavioral therapy part of CBT is about changing behavior in a way that leads to a different emotional response. In this last example, she eventually came to a useful strategy. She chose to turn and face the solid wall instead of looking out through the glass wall of the elevator. If she had known to do this from the start, then she may not have activated her fear response to heights. This would have been a useful intervention at the moment. Eventually, she will need a behavioral component of her therapy to include a form of exposure therapy which is an effective and necessary part of phobia treatment.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy gradually introduces a person to the various elements of their phobia. During or after each exposure, different interventions help produce a relaxation response. We might start by simply reviewing the memory of having an anxiety attack in an elevator and combining therapeutic techniques to ease the stress. We may then progress to watching videos of getting on and riding in an elevator. Again, we utilize therapies that override the distress. Eventually, we will work with approaching an actual elevator, then standing in it, then closing the door, and finally going up one floor. This gradual approach to exposure, combined with interventions that soothe the sympathetic nervous system, leads to retraining the brain to associate calmness with elevators. Eventually, you will get to the point that elevators are as boring for you as they are for the rest of us.

Unfortunately, because the person in our last example experienced an intense panic attack, her mind encoded the experience as a traumatic event. When this happens, the alarm center of the brain becomes immediately imprinted and the alarm is then set to go off at any reminder of the traumatic event. So the next time she is confronted with an elevator, her amygdala will trip the alarm before she even has time to have a thought about it.

Treatment for the Emotional Midbrain

Now we are dealing not with the thinking brain but with the emotional midbrain (amygdala). This part of the brain is too primitive to work with language. So we need something besides cognitive therapy, which only works with the thinking brain, to help with this part of treatment.
This is where phobia treatment interventions such as Quick REMAP and EMDR come in. These are treatment tools that focus on retraining the emotional midbrain to learn to associate a deeper level of calmness and relaxation with memories that have been overwhelmingly stressful. Both of these methods incorporate exposure therapy as a part of their protocols. When successful, these therapeutic interventions help to reset the alarm system. Then, it no longer triggers the alarm response in the presence of reminders of their trauma.

Some of my other articles and videos go into more detail regarding the various aspects of treatment.  For further information, I would recommend the following articles:

Phobia Therapy

Driving Phobia

Panic Attacks While Driving

Airplane Turbulence Fear

EMDR:  What is EMDR Therapy

Introducing Quick REMAP

CBT Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Like cognitive-behavioral therapy, these midbrain-focused therapies are something that you will need to go to a licensed mental health counselor to get help with. An anxiety therapist who specializes in the treatment of anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias is a much better choice than someone who does not specialize. Only counselors with specific training and expertise in this area are equipped to be effective in treating phobias.
The fear of heights and the fear of elevators are very treatable issues that people can completely get over with the right help.

Treatment is available by phone or video appointments for individuals anywhere in the U.S.A.

Including Albuquerque, Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Fort Worth, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Portland, New Orleans, New York, San Antonio, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa, and Washington DC.

Freedom from an Elevator Phobia
Can Start with a Call to 972-997-9955
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  1. Wu MT, Hsieh JC, Xiong J, Yang CF, Pan HB, Chen YC, et al. Central nervous pathway for acupuncture stimulation: localization of processing with functional MR imaging of the brain-preliminary experiences Radiology 1999; 212:133-41.
  2. Hui K, Liu J, Makris N, et al. Acupuncture modulates the limbic system and subcortical gray structures of the human brain: evidence from fMRI studies in normal subjects. Human Brain Mapping. 2000; 9:13-25.3.
  3. Kabat-Zinn J. Commentary on Majumdar et al.: Mindfulness meditation for health. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2002; 8:731-735.
  4. Fredrickson BL, Cohn MA, Coffey KA, Pek J, Finkel SM. Open hearts build lives: positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2008; 95(5):1045-1062. doi:10.1037/a0013262
  5. Kromenacker BW, Sanova AA, Marcus FI, Allen JJB, Lane RD. Vagal Mediation of Low-Frequency Heart Rate Variability During Slow Yogic Breathing. Psychosom Med. 2018; 80(6):581-587. doi:10.1097/PSY.0000000000000603
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