Understanding the Fear of Elevators

Businessman in elevator
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Although it has no official "phobia" name, the fear of elevators is relatively common. According to the Elevator Escalator Safety Foundation, over 210 billion passengers use elevators in the U.S. and Canada each year. But many people feel at least a slight nervousness when contemplating a long elevator ride.

In some people, the fear of elevators is triggered by an existing phobia, but the fear often appears alone. Like any phobia, the fear of elevators ranges from mild to severe.

Phobias Related to Elevators

Elevators are a common trigger for claustrophobia and agoraphobia.


Agoraphobia is the fear of being trapped in a situation in which escape would be difficult or impossible should a panic attack occur. Those with agoraphobia typically avoid “clusters” of related situations, and many people with agoraphobia have no problem with elevators at all. Nonetheless, an elevator would be difficult to escape, and it is not unusual for people with agoraphobia to avoid elevators.


Claustrophobia is defined as the persistent fear of enclosed spaces. As a relatively small and confined box, it is easy to see how an elevator could cause a claustrophobic reaction.

Previous Experiences

Many phobias can be traced to a previous experience that caused fright. Those who have been stuck in an elevator, even briefly, may be more likely to develop an elevator phobia. However, the experience need not have happened to you.

Elevators are prominently featured in many horror movies, Halloween events, and other scary pop culture moments. On the rare occasion that something goes wrong with an elevator in real life, the story is constantly rebroadcast for days in the media, and the video may circulate online for years.

Watching something scary happen in an elevator may be enough to trigger this fear.

The Truth About Elevator Safety

Like anything else in life, riding an elevator carries a very small risk. That's why the Elevator Escalator Safety Foundation was put into place to educate children and adults about how elevators and escalators, and how to ride them safely.

In 1853, Elisha Otis revolutionized the elevator industry by implementing a safety brake system to engage in the event of a hoist rope failure. Since then, technological advancements and industry regulations have vastly increased the safety of elevators.

Modern Safety Features

Today, elevators are supported by multiple cables, each of which is strong enough to carry more than the weight of a fully-loaded car. Outer doors capable of opening only when the elevator car is firmly settled in place make it virtually impossible to fall down a shaft. Speed governors and other devices work in tandem to guide cars safely to their destinations.

Modern elevator cars are designated "safe rooms," making them the safest place to be if the system should fail. Elevator cars have emergency phones and alarms, allowing passengers to call for help. They are not airtight, and stuck passengers are in no danger of running out of air.

Accidents Are Very Rare

Nonetheless, elevator accidents do occasionally occur. Elevators get stuck now and then, and in very rare circumstances, passengers have been trapped for more than a day. Other than hungry, thirsty, and a bit bored, the passengers are usually just fine.

Even more rarely, something goes catastrophically wrong with an elevator. In 2011, for example, two women died two weeks apart on opposite sides of the country. The accident in California was apparently due to rider error—the woman attempted to climb from the elevator when it stopped between floors.

The elevator was inspected and found to be working normally. However, the accident in New York City that year was blamed on maintenance workers who did not properly reconnect a safety system.

Safety Tips

While it is impossible to remove all theoretical risks from any machine, the Elevator Escalator Safety Foundation provides a list of safety tips for riders to follow. Among the advice:

  • Keep all carry-on items and clothing clear of the doors.
  • Remain in the elevator car in case of an emergency.
  • Take the stairs if fire may be present.
  • Use the Door Open button to hold the doors for slower riders rather than attempting to push the doors open.

Treatment Options

For many people, learning the safety rules and becoming familiar with elevator operation is enough to curb a mild fear. Try sitting and watching a glass elevator for a few hours to help take away some of the anxiety you're experiencing.

If your fear is more severe or persistent, however, professional assistance may be required. Elevator phobias have caused people to turn down good jobs on high floors, avoid visiting loved ones in high-rise hospitals and push themselves to ascend dozens of flights of stairs.

With professional assistance and a bit of hard work, there is no need for elevator phobia to take over your life.

12 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Druckerman S. ABC News. Afraid of Elevators? 20 Tips From 20/20. June 9, 2011.

  3. American Psychological Association. Agoraphobia.

  4. American Psychological Association. Claustrophobia.

  5. James SD. ABC News. NYC Elevator Death Can Trigger Fear in People With Phobias. December 15, 2011.

  6. Elevator Escalator Safety Foundation. 2020-23 EESF Strategic Plan.

  7. PBS Who Made America. Elisha Otis, Safe Elevators.

  8. Palmer B. The Washington Post. Elevator plunges are rare because brakes and cables provide fail-safe protections. June 10, 2013.

  9. Sewell A, Grad S. Los Angeles Times L.A. Now. Graphic details emerge in deadly elevator accident in Long Beach. December 9, 2011.

  10. Stampler L. Business Insider. Here's Who To Blame In The Elevator Accident That Killed A Y&R Exec. February 27, 2017.

  11. Elevator Escalator Safety Foundation. Safety for Older Adults.

  12. McCarthy E. The Cut. The Quest to Cure Myself of My Elevator Phobia. May 11, 2018.

Additional Reading

By Lisa Fritscher
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics.