Have You Felt the 'Walls Are Closing in on You'?

05:23 November 19, 2022

Have You Felt the 'Walls Are Closing in on You'?

And now, Words and Their Stories, from VOA Learning English.

On this program, we explore words and expressions in the English language. We give you examples and notes on usage.

Today we go inside a building and talk about a feature of every building – walls.

Walls protect us from the outside world. They can help us stay safe and give us comfort.

But what if we are inside a room too long? Those same walls can start to feel like a prison. We can feel trapped by them. When that happens, we can say the walls are closing in on us.

This means you are feeling confined, or stuck, in an area.

For example, after a year of living with the COVID-19 pandemic, I felt like the walls of my house were closing in on me. When that feeling came over me, I knew I needed to go outside for a walk!

When you feel trapped or confined indoors, a walk outside usually helps. Not only are you in the fresh air, but you are also looking at different things. A change of scenery can help when you feel like the walls are closing in.

Sometimes the “walls” in this idiom are not actual walls in a building. Instead, they are walls in our minds or in a certain situation. We can use the expression the walls are closing in when we are sick and tired of something.

For example, if you unable to make advances in your job, you could feel like the walls have closed in on your career. You may feel like you don’t have the chance to advance or try new things.

It can feel like the “walls” are closing in on a relationship too. When people find themselves in very restricted relationships with someone who is trying to control them, it may feel like the walls are closing in on them.

In these cases, a change of scenery is not found outside in the woods. The change of scenery is a new job or a new relationship.

When the walls feel like they are closing in, we can also use another word to describe what we are feeling: claustrophobic.

Claustrophobia is defined as an abnormal fear of being in closed or confined spaces. Sometimes, we use the term “claustrophobic” to mean we feel uneasy by a situation that is limiting or restricting. This feeling of unease could be from physical or non-physical reasons. A job and a relationship can also feel claustrophobic.

Now let’s listen to two people use the words and expressions you heard in this story.

A: Hey, what happened to Chad? I haven’t seen him around DC lately.

B: During the pandemic, he moved out west…somewhere in the desert.

A: The desert? What made him do that!?

B: He said he felt too claustrophobic in the city and was sick and tired of being around so many people. He needed more space and open skies!

A: I can understand that. Sometimes the walls of my apartment feel like they are closing in on me. But moving to the desert is a pretty extreme decision.

B: He’ll be back. He texted me last night complaining that it takes him 30 minutes to drive to the nearest store.

A: Well … he wanted more space. Now he’s got it!

B: Yep.

And that brings us to the end of this Words and Their Stories.

Until next time … I’m Anna Matteo.

Anna Matteo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


feature – n. a part or detail that stands out

comfort – n. to give strength and hope to

confined – adj. limited to a particular location

scenery – n. a view or landscape resembling a beautiful painting

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