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How to Overcome the Fear of Heights

How to Overcome the Fear of Heights

The fear of heights or acrophobia is seen in many people across the globe. Such people panic when confronted by situations involving heights.
PsycholoGenie Staff
Fear is a negative, but necessary feeling people experience from time to time. It is usually experienced for the basic reason of protection. However, there is a remarkable difference between harmless fears and strong fears or phobias. Harmless fears have minimum impact on one's day-to-day life, whereas phobias are fears that are irrational and multiply in intensity. Over 26 million people in the US suffer from a paralyzing, involuntary fear of specific situations or objects. People are born with only two fears: fear of falling and fear of loud noises. All other fears known to mankind are those that are acquired. These fears may appear to be a part of the genetic makeup, however, they can be overcome. Overcoming the fear of heights is possible, but first let's understand this fear.

Fear of Heights: Acrophobia

Over 200 phobias have been identified today, of which acrophobia or fear of heights is one of the most widespread fears ever. It is a kind of innate feeling which aims at protecting the person from jumping off the edge of a cliff or building, or any other action that could render the person hurt. The self-preservation feeling gets amplified into crippling fear, causing one to become paranoid even while standing in a safe environment. This unnecessary fear is termed as fear of heights. Acrophobia is often accompanied by other fears such as aerophobia or fear of flying, claustrophobia or fear of small spaces, etc. The other scientific latin names for the fear of heights are altophobia and batophobia (fear of being close to skyscrapers). Normally, while standing at the edge of a twenty story drop, any person feels a twinge of anxiety. However, acrophobic people react differently. Driving across a bridge, walking on a balcony, climbing a ladder, etc. causes extreme anxiety in them.

Acrophobia Indicators

When people with the fear of heights come across a situation that triggers their fear, they begin to fret. An intense anxiety begins to develop within them, causing their respiration rate, heart rate and body temperature to increase. They get panicky and their palms sweat profusely. They get nauseous or giddy and may even tremble and faint. Acrophobic people mentally perceive the situation to be far more serious and precarious than it actually is. Thus, their bodies react as it would in a threatening situation, which is the fight or flight response.

How to Overcome the Fear of Heights

This fear of heights is seen to disrupt one's routine life in various subtle ways. For example, an acrophobic person will avoid living on higher floors of a building; will shy away from retrieving anything from the terrace, etc. Some people even face problems at work, wherein they cannot work on the tenth floor, thereby losing good job opportunities. Moreover, they get anxious about minor tasks such as replacing the light bulb by standing on a chair, etc.

Often people with this phobia try to live with it and seldom seek treatment. In fact, they use avoidance as a treatment, and evade fear triggering situations. However, acrophobia can be overcome by treatment. The first step to conquering this phobia is the willingness to tackle the issue of fear. More than half the battle is won when one is determined to face the problem and deal with it. The next step is to learn to control the physical symptoms of fear.

When confronted with a phobia triggering situation, one should take slow, deep breaths which will lower the heart rate. Breathing slowly and deeply increases the flow of oxygen to the muscles, thereby preventing them from tensing up. Prayer and meditation also help in relieving tension. Aromatherapy, relaxing music and getting a light massage is also seen to effectively reduce the symptoms that follow the phobia. Psychotherapy treatment is also used, which looks for the root cause of this fear. The treatment aims at identifying a single traumatic event that has triggered this fear. However, this type of treatment has a very low success rate.

Hypnosis is another type of treatment. It is used at bedtime and focuses on getting the body completely relaxed. Fear is followed by agitation and anxiety, which is why it is important to overcome stress and apprehension. The relaxed atmosphere created during hypnotherapy creates a suitable platform for the treatment. Hypnosis works at discarding deep-rooted fears from the subconscious mind and rendering the mind free from the phobia. A few weeks of hypnotherapy is believed to break the bonds of acrophobia. Hypnosis claims to replace the fear of heights with confidence.

After the treatment, one can gradually expose himself or herself to heights. One can start by looking down from airplanes or balconies. One should confront different heights as and when one feels comfortable. When one is thinking about overcoming the fear of heights, one should remember that determination to overcome the situation is the greatest weapon against this bondage.