Fear of heights, also known as acrophobia, is more common than you think. At least 3-6 % of the population have this irrational, intense and persistent fear of heights.
Imagine if you had to go for a job interview on the 20th floor of a skyscraper, or had to join your friends for a hike up the mountain.
While most of us would have no difficulty doing these tasks, a person with acrophobia will have a hard time being that high up.
Having to deal with acrophobia can be a real bummer. Sometimes, you just sit out on plans because you are not comfortable after you have reached a significant height of a building.
Plus, there isn’t any specific height range that might trigger your anxiety stemming from acrophobia. Different people will have different fears of heights, based on the irrational fear of the outcome of standing at a certain height.
So, the ultimate question is, “Is it possible to overcome fear of heights altogether?”. Let’s find out!
Who Is More Likely to Get Acrophobia?
Anyone can have acrophobia. Usually, this phobia develops during the early years of childhood. However, it can show up at any age.
Examples of Acrophobia
Here are some examples of what acrophobia can look like.
- Fear of climbing up a ladder
- Fear of hikes
- Fear of using multi-level parking
- Fear of standing on a balcony/rooftop
- Fear of crossing or being on top of a bridge
- Fear of peeking through the window
What Triggers Acrophobia?
Acrophobia can sometimes be triggered through a traumatic real life experience relating to heights. These include witnessing someone falling from a height, having experienced a fall from a height yourself or having negative feelings like anxiety or panic attacks at high places.
But it isn’t necessary for the fright to be associated with past trauma. More often than not, acrophobia develops on its own and is also related to genes sometimes. For example, if a person close to you has it, chances are you may have it too.
Symptoms of Acrophobia
The symptoms of acrophobia can be of two types. It could either be mental, physical or usually, both. Let us take a look at each of these symptoms individually.
- Feeling lightheaded or nauseous when thinking of heights or seeing tall mountains or buildings.
- A sudden increase in heartbeat, tightness in the chest, chest pain and excessive sweating when standing on top of a great height or thinking about it.
- Immediate trembling and shivering when encountered by great heights.
- Losing balance or getting dizzy when looking up at high places.
- Imbalance or dizziness when looking downwards while standing on top of high places.
- Fear of having to face high places in the future or exerting a lot of effort to avoid one.
Mental or Psychological Symptoms
- Worrying too much because you might have to be at a high place sometime in the future.
- The sense or fear of feeling stuck or caged high up somewhere.
- Panic attacks or severe anxiousness when thinking about heights or experiencing it.
How to Diagnose Acrophobia?
The only way to diagnose acrophobia is to get in touch with a mental health professional. The psychiatrist will ask you questions relating to the fear you have and the feelings associated with it. It is crucial that you let them know about other mental health issues that you face when standing in a high place.
You’re more likely to be diagnosed with acrophobia if –
- You tend to avoid going to high places.
- You worry too much about facing future circumstances where you might have to be at a high place.
- You go out of your way to avoid such places, which ends up interrupting your daily tasks.
- Persistent fear of heights for more than 6 months.
- Showing immediate trembling, shivering or any other mental or physical symptoms mentioned above.
How to Overcome Fear of Heights/Acrophobia
Yes. Thankfully, there are ways of overcoming your fear of heights. Here are some of the ways which have turned out to be beneficial for people with acrophobia.
Exposure therapy is one of the best ways of dealing with any sort of phobia, including acrophobia. The process involves desensitizing yourself to the thing which scares you the most. In this case, it is height.
The right way to go about this is to slowly expose yourself to it. Start by taking baby steps and gradually build yourself up.
For example, you can try and attempt to make slow progress towards climbing up a hill. On the first day, you can just take a stroll at the bottom of the hill. The next day, try climbing up to a certain level.
Most importantly, remember not to overdo it on the first few days. Gradually increase the height of the climb until you are ready to stand at the top.
You can also try this by substituting the hill with a flight of stairs instead. Walk up the stairs of a multi-level building and see yourself being desensitized by it after each attempt.
Rationalize the Fear
Trying to be more reasonable with your thoughts isn’t an easy task. Especially if you are acrophobic. However, an easy way of trying to rationalize your fear is to look around at the safety facilities available at the place you are in.
For example, you could be standing on the rooftop of a highly secured building with extreme anxiousness and fear of falling off. But if you try to rationalize your thoughts, you’ll be able to draw a conclusion about how secure the building is. With all the security around, there is no way that you will fall off.
As we have mentioned above, heavy sweating, increase in heartbeat and shortness of breath are all associated with acrophobia. And the more the intensity of these physical symptoms, the greater the panic and fear.
So why not try out some basic relaxation techniques to calm yourself when faced with such a situation?
Whenever you are panicking due to acrophobia, try to take in deep breaths to calm yourself. You can also try diverting your mind by thinking or focusing on other things around you. If you need more tips or relaxation techniques, you can consult a healthcare professional or a wellness instructor to help you out.
VRET (Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy)
Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy has shown positive results for overcoming acrophobia. Instead of being at an actual place with great height, you are exposed to a virtual one. When you wear the headset, you already know that none of what you see is going to be real.
So even if you panic at the beginning, you can slowly reassure and remind yourself that this is all fake. That way, you will get used to the height since you already know that you are safe. These simulations have been extremely helpful for people who are acrophobic.
What’s more, VRET’s can feel very real. This is why when you actually step outside and climb up a high place, you can simply practice what you have tried out at home with the VRET headgear on.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT is efficient in treating acrophobia. Here, you undergo psychological treatment with a professional. The therapist will ask you multiple questions, have conversations with you about your fears and help you gain perspective. That way, you will be able to deal with the fear a lot better than before.
Medications for Acrophobia
There is no setlist of medications that are prescribed by doctors to help treat acrophobia. However, doctors may prescribe medications that may help you relax when you start to panic.
Some doctors may even recommend beta-blockers to reduce the rate of your heartbeat. It can also help to calm you down while you are having an anxiety attack.
Another medicine that is often used is relaxants like benzodiazepines. But this is only a temporary solution to the fear of heights you have.
You can also look up YouTube videos made by people who have overcome their fear of heights. These videos might give you more informed suggestions for fighting acrophobia.
But if these self-administered techniques are not working, don’t lose hope. Find the time to see a healthcare professional and tell them about the physical and emotional difficulties you face due to being acrophobic. Professional advice from therapists can actively help you to overcome your fears in no time.
Photo by Delano Ramdas on Unsplash