Fear of Lifts (Elevators)

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In all the clients I have ever treated for a fear of lifts, the real problem was a fear of being trapped in one and, furthermore, of then having a panic attack and being unable to escape.

Most people who claim to have a real fear of lifts are panic attack sufferers. They may have been trapped in one at some stage and experienced a panic attack so now receive a startle warning whenever they consider going in a lift again.

Alternatively, and more likely, they have never actually been trapped in a lift at all. 

Instead they just imagine that any lift they are in will become stuck causing them to have the embarrassing and uncomfortable panic attack they visualise. They imagine this possibility with such vivid detail that the survival instinct reacts to the thought as if it is a reality. Such is the power of visualisation. 

6 steps to overcoming a fear of lifts (elevators)

1. You have to really want to beat it. If you are only doing it because somebody else wants or expects you to then you are unlikely to succeed

2. Train yourself to visualise a Calm Scene. If you are one of those people who just can't picture scenes, teach yourself a simple Mindfulness technique instead such as Breath Focus

3. Practise the Dead Weight technique

4. Draw up a hierarchy around your fear

5. Now carry out the simplest step on your list. This may just be standing near a lift and watching it come and go and doing just that until you are able to do it without any anxiety. Each time you notice your arousal building you simply imagine your calm scene for a few moments and go dead weight. (Or take two mindful breaths)

6. You now move up your hierarchy step by step. You must make sure that you don't move to the next step until you are able to turn your mind completely away from fearful thoughts on the previous step.

This may all take several months. As long as you can achieve your goal it doesn't matter how long it takes. The key is to be able to refocus your mind away from the fearful thoughts each and every time they arise. When you do this eventually your brain stops sending these warnings because you are not paying any attention to them.

Possible steps for a lift hierarchy

(These may not be the steps that would be most appropriate for you. They are just given here as an example)


Just standing some distance away and watching the lift come and go. Just keep your body relaxed and notice how easily others get in and out of the lift. Consider that if they can do it, so might you - later.

Step 2

Find a lift that's the sort of lift you are least afraid of. This may be a very large lift, or a very fast moving one, or a glass lift, etc. You are the only person who knows which sort of lift most appeals to you.

Step 3

Before actually doing this for real, imagine travelling just the shortest possible distance in for chosen lift. You must imagine this positively and not remind yourself of all your fears.

Step 4

Go and travel just one floor in your chosen lift. You can take somebody with you if it helps. Whilst in the lift either keep your mind somewhere else or enjoy the sensation of lift travel.


Once you can travel one floor you can slowly increase this. The aim at all times is to just not think about your, "What ifs?" when in the lift but to think about other things, or have a conversation with someone.

Just remember - being in a lift is statistically less dangerous than travelling in a car but I expect you do the latter without even thinking about it!

My Own Stuck-in-a-Lift Experience

Back in the summer of 1981 I went with my family to visit Disneyworld in Orlando. This was just six months after I'd had my own my own Acute Anxiety State. We were staying in the Disney Contemporary Resort Hotel.

One afternoon I was going back to our room with my four year old daughter. It seems it was the time of day when everyone else was going back to change for the evening. Crowds waited in the foyer for the lifts (elevators) to take them to their floors. So huge was the hotel that the option of taking the stairs was not viable except in case of fire. I was ok in lifts generally because I focused on where I was going rather than on the possibility of it stopping. But having only recently had my worst ever time with panic attacks, I must have had a bit of raised arousal.

When the lift arrived and the doors opened, people flooded in. I was carrying my daughter and we were pinned in the front corner by the pad of buttons. Some people called out that the lift was full enough, but others kept squeezing in until finally no more could get through the door. The lift was holding at least twenty percent more people than it was designed to hold. The doors closed and the lift started to move. It didn't go far before shuddering to a halt.

Someone picked up the phone and reported that we were stuck. There were cries of, "Oh, my God...!". I just closed my eyes and buried my face in my daughter's neck and imagined myself swinging in a beautiful garden as described in the Calm Scene section.

We were only stuck there for about five minutes. Eventually the overloaded lift shuddered to the next floor and the doors opened. Everyone pushed their way out with gasps of, "Thank Heavens!" and similar comments. My daughter and I found ourselves alone in the lift for the remainder of our journey.

Had I not been able to use the technique of placing my thoughts where I wanted them to be rather than where my survival instinct wanted to take them, I'd have panicked and had a terrible experience, as well as probably frightening my child in the process. As it turned out, we had a very positive experience in an empty lift for the rest of our ride.

If you are going to put yourself in a particular situation either by choice or because you have to, there is no point whatsoever in telling yourself how awful it is, or of constantly imagining what might happen

There is nothing to be gained by doing that other than more fear!

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  1. Overcoming Anxiety
  2. Fears and Phobias
  3. Lift Phobia