So, you and your friends planned a trip for the holidays, and among the activities prepared are skydiving and hiking.
Sounds great, but unfortunately, you are acrophobic (afraid of heights). Game buster!
Or you as a parent; mom or dad, having fear of heights. What do you do when your kids request a family vacation, with hiking as part of the activities? How do you tell them a sad No?
There are millions of phobias that exist in the world today, and the fear of heights is quite common.
It is natural to stare from the fifth-story buildings, and freak out a little bit, or start to imagine being pushed off a clip.
However, we won’t say one is acrophobic if they think like this, but if the thoughts and fear start to become extreme, it is a sign that one has the fear of heights.
So, how do you know you are acrophobic? How do you differentiate being afraid of heights from being humanely cautious?
Sit back, as I brief you on the fear of heights, its causes, its symptoms, and the various ways to overcome it.
Table of Contents
Causes of Fear of Heights
There’s no certain reason for the fear of heights. It usually starts from childhood, but still, the reason cannot be easily pointed at.
An estimate shows that one out of three people encounters visual height intolerance. However, if this fear interferes with your daily life, it should be traced back to a reason.
Researchers have therefore come up with various theories that spur the fear of heights.
This theory suggests that people develop phobias through the interaction they have with their environment; the experiences they have as kids within their household, with their families and friends, and the outside world entirely while growing up.
This can be seen in:
Trauma: If you have lived with an acrophobic person, who demonstrated the torment they had with height, there’s a high chance that you will also grow up to fear heights.
Observation: The human mind is prone to adapt to something that is observed for a long time. Once children observe that their parent or teacher is scared of heights, they might develop it too.
Classical Conditioning: This is when you have a bad experience with height. Like you falling from a tree, or you watching the most dreadful thing happen from the sixth floor.
You might end up developing a fear of heights because of this incident.
This theory suggests that humans are susceptible to the fear of anything dangerous. That means fear of heights can arise from the knowledge that people get injured, or even lose their lives after falling from an altitude.
However, people with acrophobia can’t always link their fear to a particular experience.
Chances are that some people just never have the repeated safe exposure to heights that enables them to manage this innate fear.
Symptoms of Fear of Heights
DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders) reports at least 6 months of constant fear before a person is said to have a phobia.
The symptoms of acrophobia have similar symptoms with anxiety disorder. An acrophobic person will experience one of all of these when they are high up.
- Short Breathing
- Abnormal awareness of heartbeat
- Dry mouth
A person who fears height also possesses the following behaviours. They avoid:
- Medias that centre height cases
- Scenarios that expose them to heights
- Talking about heights
- Worry a lot about future scenarios which may lead them to height
- Worry about being entrapped in an elevator or stairs
- Panic when they think of entering flights
- Desire to clutch to something or kneel while high up
- Show slight differences in maintaining balance compared to those without height phobia, without or without exposure to fear because they possess difficulty in integrating perceptual information from their visual system
Now, there are treatments for phobias, you can go for therapies and counselling to caution against your fears, and when your case multiplies severely, you can begin using pills prescribed by a psychiatrist.
However, before we go into the remedies for the fear of heights, let’s look at what you need to practise on your own to overcome the fear of heights.
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Tips For Overcoming the Fear of Heights
It takes courage to step up to be the bigger person when treating phobias. I mean, we always believe fear has control over our thoughts, behaviours, and lifestyle.
While it is true, you can determine to alter this. How?
Identify your phobias
Learn to explore, and discover all that you are afraid of. It’s better to know all or at least, most of your fears so that you can overcome them at once, since the remedy for all phobias is almost the same anyways.
Acknowledge your fears
Admit that you are scared of heights. It is one thing to find out about your fear, and another to admit that fear.
Some people know deep down that they have fear of heights, but try to raise their voices to this fact, “It’s usual. It’s not a serious thing. It will end soon.”
You should note that without serious therapy and exposure, phobias cannot just disappear quickly. So confess it. Say “I’m acrophobic and I need help!”
Open up; ask for help
I understand that scenario where you are ashamed to share your phobias with people because of what they might think of you. But that doesn’t matter.
What matters is that you can overcome your fear no matter the cost, and to do so, you must begin by sharing them. Tell your close friend, your family, and then your psychologist.
Adapt to change
Once you have opened up and asked for help, get ready to adapt to the change that awaits you. These changes include:
- Start therapy
- Voice out what you feel
- Go to the psychologist daily
- Learn new ways to approach fears
- Take risks by facing heights
How to Overcome The Fear of Height
Recognize the symptoms of anxiety
The anxiety humans have is natural. It is a natural healthy functioning that helps us detect threats or dangers.
What happens is that when we detect a threat, our sympathetic nervous system activates and prepares our body for the next action to protect us. This is called a fight-or-flight response.
We experience unpleasant symptoms of anxiety because our body tries to pump more blood toward our muscles, signaling us to either fight or run.
Let’s cite an instance. Our heartbeats are to get more oxygen to our muscles. So, we get butterflies in our stomach and are nauseous as energy and blood are deflected from these areas towards our muscles.
Hyper-awareness and misinterpretation of this bodily sensational area are common problems in many anxiety disorders, including phobias.
These bodily sensations are normal, what is abnormal is the misinterpretation and hyper-awareness of anxiety disorders and phobia.
An acrophobic person, for instance, will feel dizzy and weak on the knee while high up and will think they are in for disaster.
In this example, a person who feels nauseous and dizzy when high up might believe that these are signs of a catastrophic fall.
This can worsen anxiety because the fear of falling will likely make the physical symptoms worse.
Hence, to prevent misinterpretation and tolerate anxiety, you must be aware of the physical symptoms of anxiety. This will help shape your mind to see these symptoms as just natural fight-flight responses, and nothing more.
Learn to endure these anxiety symptoms
The intention is to gradually expose yourself to whatever it is that you fear, from the little things that make you want to clutch onto something, to the bigger things.
The more you practise, the less anxiety you will have; thus, changing your perspective on fear; making you experience your fear without anxiety.
As you practise and become more confident, you overcome your coalition between the stimulus and fear in your mind. Gradually, your fears will prompt less anxiety.
Easy way to start?
- Make a list. List out all the situations that cause your phobia and put them in order from the bottom to the top.
- Make little progress by creating images in your head. You could begin by creating mental images of heights. The important thing is to start with things that provoke a minor but manageable level of anxiety.
- You then proceed to the physical. You stand near heights such as an escalator in the supermarket and then visit a tall building.
- Start with the minor ones and maintain that level until you become comfortable and less anxious with it
- Don’t focus on your anxiety. Rather, focus on your images and the object of your fear. For example, focus on the colours and texture of the elevator rather than the number of floors the building has.
Always note that any physical sensations are the body’s natural response and don’t always mean that you’re in danger.
Practise relaxation exercises
Try relaxation exercises. Use mindfulness. Count your breath. Breathe in and then out.
Practise skipping – it helps regulate your heartbeat, same with running. If you find it difficult to attempt these on your own, seek the support of a trained therapist.
Discern and challenge your beliefs about heights
Ask yourself questions like:
“What will happen if I expose myself to height? How likely is it to happen? If it happens, what would be the consequence?”
For instance, you might feel that you will fall off if you look down from the sixth floor, and injure yourself.
Once you have done this, challenge the belief you have. Expose yourself to heights, and try looking down from the sixth floor. Use relaxation exercises also.
The idea of the challenge is that once you test out your fears, you see that the worst doesn’t happen, and if something does happen, it’s not as bad as you feared.
Find a safety behaviour
You may want to try safety behaviours such as closing your eyes, holding on to something, or not looking down. These are behaviours that we use because we think they help to keep us safe.
While these can be helpful in the short term, such behaviours act as barriers, preventing us from really engaging with height. Because of this, we don’t learn that we are safe and able to cope without them.
For example, closing your eyes means that you won’t learn to open your eyes, without feeling dizzy, and so the anxiety persists.
Try to identify what safety mechanism you use, and then repeat the behavioural experiments without using them.
Psychological Treatment For Fear
Once a phobia becomes severe, or one finds it hard to overcome it on their own, it is advised that victims go to a psychologist to get treatments and therapies.
These are the common treatments for phobias. They include:
This has my pick on the most soothing treatment. Hypnotherapy requires the therapist to help a person enter into a relaxed state.
The use of techniques and imagery for a person to unlearn and relearn the fear response to phobia.
It is required to understand the potential benefits of hypnotherapy. Anecdotal evidence conveys hypnosis as a powerful therapy for overcoming fear.
You know the saying ‘face your fears’ right? Yup, this therapy is simply a portrayal of that saying. This therapy involves slowly introducing the victim to the situation or factor causing their fear and helping them adapt to it.
This requires a few sessions of therapy. And afterward, the result will be the person confronting their fear.
A 2014 study discovered that virtual reality may treat acrophobia. This will expose persons to their fear and can be sufficient in reducing fear.
Research is currently examining its potential benefits.
Read also: Health Benefits of deep tissue massage.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
This is a one-on-one session that requires several sessions with a therapist or psychologist, which involves working together with the victim to shape the way they think or respond to heights.
A person will recognize the irrational thoughts relating to the phobia, in this case, height, and then utilise techniques to replace the thoughts with more accurate trusted ones.
Depending on a person’s preference and insurance coverage, one may choose to partake in CBT in a group or one-on-one setting.
It can be nerve-racking to face the anxiety that comes with our fear. It can even be opportunity-snatching.
But, once we’ve made up our minds to fight through no matter what, we will find out that there’s happiness at the side we once feared.
Remember: “the anxiety will always pass”.