Table of Contents
Why Do I Feel Safe in Small Spaces?
There’s something about tiny spaces that just feels safe.
For me, it started when I was a kid and would hide under my bed covers during a thunderstorm. Even now, as an adult, if there’s a big storm raging outside, you can find me curled up in a little ball under my weighted blanket.
But why do we feel this way? Is it just because small spaces make us feel physically protected from the things that scare us?
Turns out, there’s a bit more to it than that. Our psychological need for safety is deeply ingrained in our brains, and small spaces offer us a way to satisfy that need.
So, if you’re someone who feels safe in small spaces, this post is for you.
Table of Contents
Why do we hide under a blanket?
Hiding under a blanket is a behavior that humans of all ages participate in. It is an attempt to recreate the feeling of safety and control over the environment, as well as to feel snug like when swaddled as a baby. Blankets can also be used as a way to psychologically separate from the world.
Experts believe that this sleeping habit is hard-wired to our brains since childhood, when we’re swaddled. Swaddling an adult like a baby is also a good practice.
Sleeping without a blanket … just feels so … you know … unsecure.
In recent years, weighted blankets have become popular for adults, as scientists say the extra weight helps to release neurotransmitters that make people feel more relaxed and stimulate parts of the limbic system. Therefore, hiding our head under a blanket can be a way to feel safe, relaxed, and comforted.
What are the benefits of hiding under a weighted blanket?
Comfort to calm down
Research shows that weighted blankets provide a source of comfort and help to calm down children and adults in stressful situations. This is due to their ability to stimulate the release of neurotransmitters that make people feel more relaxed, as well as the fact that their heavy feeling stimulates portions of the limbic system. In addition, sleeping with a blanket can remind children of the comforting presence of their parents or caregivers, providing them with a sense of security and helping them cope with difficult transitions.
Block out unwanted stimuli
A weighted blanket can help block out unwanted stimuli by providing physical pressure, which can be comforting and calming. This is because the weight of the blanket is believed to promote the release of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine. This can help reduce stress and anxiety, allowing the user to feel more relaxed.
For example, a study found that participants who used a weighted blanket experienced improved quality of sleep and decreased levels of anxiety.
Feeling of separatedness and control
Weighted blankets can provide a feeling of control. The gentle touch can activate parts of the limbic system, which is responsible for processing emotion and fear. This soothing sensation can help to reduce stress and anxiety, creating a sense of separatedness and control.
Feeling of safety and protection
Weighted blankets can help to create a feeling of safety and protection which is in line with research that suggests that slow and gentle touch can stimulate the parts of the limbic system which are responsible for processing fear and emotion.
What is the psychology behind feeling safe in tiny spaces?
Sleeping in small spaces
One might wonder why sleeping in small spaces is safe. This could be explained by considering the psychological need to create a protective barrier and a sense of security in environments of uncertainty. For many people, these small, confined places offer a much needed sense of control and safety, a feeling that they are not exposed to the outside world and their environment.
The soft entrapment allows them to feel secure and at ease, as if they are in a cocoon. Furthermore, having a physical barrier, such as walls and a door, gives the individual the assurance that they are safe from potential danger.
In addition, many people feel a sense of comfort in being tucked away and hidden, as it allows them to have time to themselves and to be in their own safe space in a chaotic world.
Psychology of liking small spaces
Humans have an innate instinct to burrow and feel more secure in smaller, enclosed spaces. Children often like to retreat to small, enclosed spaces as a way to feel more secure and in control of their environment. This idea of wanting to feel safe and dominant is echoed in American culture, where huge cars and giant televisions are a symbol of power and status.
However, the psychological benefits of small spaces go beyond just feeling dominant. Smaller spaces can provide a sense of comfort, security, and protection that is often not found in larger, open environments. In fact, many people feel overwhelmed in larger spaces, leading to feelings of insecurity and vulnerability. That is why we do not like to sleep with the door open.
Why do we feel safe in small spaces?
But what exactly causes us to feel safe in small spaces? Many of us feel safer and more secure in small spaces. This is supported by the idea that children, no matter their culture or upbringing, tend to seek out small hidden places to play in and regard them as a kind of hideaway from the rest of the world. We still, on some level, retain this childlike instinct to burrow, and the feeling of being “at home” and sheltered in a small, contained space can be incredibly comforting and reassuring.
It is worth noting that the instinct to burrow is also likely linked to a sense of control. In large, empty environments, we can feel overwhelmed and vulnerable, but in a small space, we can feel like we have some measure of control over our environment, since it is so contained and manageable.
It could be linked to the evolutionary need to find secure places to sleep, to hide from predators, and to feel secure and protected while sleeping. As such, the instinct to hide is deeply embedded in our biology, and it is this instinct that leads us to feel safe in small enclosed spaces.
Autism and small spaces
Many people with autism enjoy getting into small spaces or wearing pressure vests, as they find it comforting, although the reason why isn’t completely understood. Medical studies have been conducted to try to understand why this is comforting to people with autism.
Some people speculate it is related to a desire to return to the womb, while others suggest it has to do with reducing sensory input. People who are not diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders also enjoy getting into small, enclosed spaces or being tightly hugged when they are upset or having an autism meltdown.
What is it called when you like to be in small spaces?
It is called “claustrophilia” when you feel more comfortable in smaller, confined spaces – the exact opposite of claustrophobia. An example of this is when I was a child I stayed with my cousins in Maine, in a large bedroom with high ceilings and more square feet than two apartments. The first night, I was terrified of the space, so the next morning I asked for a smaller room and slept better in the smaller, contained space.
Despite my fear of large spaces, I have since learned to enjoy them, but still find solace in smaller, enclosed spaces.
Why am I more comfortable in small spaces?
This instinct is deeply embedded in our psychology and can be seen in small children who hide under tables and in adults who feel safer in small, contained spaces. This instinct is likely related to our primal need for protection and security, as one feels more secure when surrounded by walls rather than out in the open.
Additionally, a smaller space requires less energy to keep clean and organized, which allows for more time to be devoted to activities and hobbies. Living in a small space can be beneficial for one’s mental and physical health.
Is liking small spaces a sign of autism?
There is evidence that suggests that many people on the autism spectrum enjoy getting into small spaces or wearing pressure vests, which can be viewed as comforting. This behavior could be explained by an effort to limit the amount of sensory input they are exposed to. Many people with autism feel comforted when in a dark, quiet, and enclosed area, which could be seen as a type of “return to the womb.”
Whether this is true or not is still debatable, but it is clear that people with autism may find comfort in small spaces.
Ekholm B, Spulber S, Adler M. A randomized controlled study of weighted chain blankets for insomnia in psychiatric disorders. J Clin Sleep Med. 2020 Sep 15;16(9):1567-1577. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.8636. PMID: 32536366; PMCID: PMC7970589.