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Acrophobia (Fear of Heights) – Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Plan

Acrophobia (Fear of Heights) – Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Plan

Updated on May 27, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD , Certified Psychiatrist

Acrophobia (Fear of Heights) – Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Plan

Do you sweat and start breathing faster when you visualize scenes of higher elevations? Do you fear going up to a high-rise building? If your answer to these questions is ‘yes’, you might be suffering from acrophobia.

This is a type of anxiety disorder and falls under ‘specific phobias’. It brings in a lot of irrational dread, fright, horror, and distress that comes from fear of heights and tall, towering places.

Going forward, we will talk in detail about the primary symptoms, causes, and ways to cope with this mental disorder.

Continue reading…..

Acrophobia Infographics

Acrophobia (Fear of Heights) – Definition & Signs
Acrophobia (Fear of Heights) – Definition & Signs
Acrophobia (Fear of Heights) – Treatment Plan & Self-help Tips
Acrophobia (Fear of Heights) – Treatment Plan & Self-help Tips

What is acrophobia?

Acrophobia is an excessive fear response that comes from being or not being at higher altitudes. Simply, it means an unreasonable and baseless fear of heights. The fear can cause significant physical and mental distress.

Most people show significant discomfort and dismay while being in higher places. This happens due to fear of falling.

To some extent, this is absolutely normal and acceptable because it doesn’t interfere with the person’s daily life.

However, acrophobia appears to be somewhat different than the usual fright that we see when someone is exposed to higher altitudes. It brings panic and anxiety that is abnormal.

Acrophobia is an intense, persistent, dreadful, illogical, and out-of-control fear that comes from being in a higher place off the ground. 

As acrophobia is an intense fear of heights, it gets worse if your guards are not on; it means you need to learn the ideal ways to cope with the mental ailment.

Sometimes, this specific phobia also happens when you are imagining a higher elevation than you’re standing on the edge of a hill.

This type of phobia causes excessive physical and mental discomfort and you may want to come down safely, unhurt. People who suffer from this type of excessive anxiety are fearful, insecure by nature.

The term acrophobia comes from two Greek words, ‘Akron’ meaning peak, summit, or high-point and ‘Phobos’ meaning fear. Thus, combining both, acrophobia became a ‘fear of heights.

According to the APA dictionary of psychology, acrophobia is defined as “an excessive, irrational fear of heights, resulting in the avoidance of elevations or marked distress when unable to avoid high places.

Acrophobia may bring in imagined danger that is irrelevant and thus this condition may also cause frequent panic attacks that are self-limiting and can slow down a person’s daily course of life.

Fear of heights – Meaning in Detail

If you have a persistent fear of higher places, you may be suffering from acrophobia.

However, before the diagnosis is done, you need to know the detailed symptoms and causal factors that might give rise to this mental illness.

The phobia of heights may cause many unpleasant symptoms that may interfere with a person’s daily life. 

If you are suffering from acrophobia and are afraid of heights, you must have noticed that you get uncomfortable using an elevator, especially the capsule lift that shows you the outside elevation easily.

Many times, you’ll find it hard to stand on a terrace or standing on a high hill. People suffering from acrophobia shows similar symptoms to you.

They don’t enjoy outings to hill stations or amusement parks, rather would prefer to avoid such places completely.

Moreover, these individuals are reluctant to take a joy ride on a roller coaster or ferry wheels that goes high up in the sky and comes down with a big bang.

Acrophobia is common and can be found in 1 out of 20 people. Research findings have suggested that acrophobia may be found in 5% of the world population.

The most uncomfortable thing that happens is acrophobia is the thought of being or around a high place can illicit extreme fear and dread. The person may not be on a higher altitude in reality.

A person with acrophobia will consciously avoid ladders, elevators, tall buildings, towering tourist spots, etc.

Even long bridges, balconies of a tall building, aircraft can also cause extreme fear and anxiety.

Thus, if the condition remains untreated for a long time, it may interfere with the person’s daily living.

People who regularly encounter high places and suffer from this mental discomfort should seek immediate psychiatric intervention.

Learning coping skills is a must to lead a happy and healthy life.

Acrophobia Symptoms

In order to understand acrophobia in detail, you’ll have to know the specific physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms that this mental disorder can bring.

As already referred, acrophobia is much more than normal fear. It causes persistent psychological discomfort and malaise that interferes with the normal living of the person.

The main symptom of acrophobia is fear and constant anxiety, along with the tendency of avoiding heights. 

If you are having a continuous fear of heights, you may have noticed that the mere thought of crossing a hanging bridge or looking at a hill with surrounding rocky valleys may get you out of nerves.

You may sweat and breathe faster than usual. Your looks may appear grim with a lot of dread and confusion all around.

The symptoms may worsen over time if treatment is not done at the right time. The symptoms of acrophobia may be divided into physical symptoms, psychological and emotional symptoms.

Physical symptoms

The physical symptoms of acrophobia are as follows:

  • You may sweat profusely or may get vigorous palpitations with the mere thought of high altitudes.
  • Chest discomfort and stiff muscles
  • A lightheaded feeling may take over your psyche.
  • Shaking, trembling, and bodily discomfort
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Dry mouth
  • Tend to lose balance if you see down from an elevated place
  • Shortness of breath due to a racing heart
  • Feeling sick. An undefined physical discomfort and malaise may occur

Psychological and emotional symptoms

Several psychological symptoms follow the fear element that you may have. Some of the most notable ones are –

  • You may experience mild to severe panic when faced with heights.
  • Scenes of dread and emotional discomfort.
  • Feelings of anticipatory anxiety that you may fall down or get hurt. 
  • The constant fear can cloud your thought process and you may feel a negative way. 
  • Fear of being trapped in an uncomfortable situation
  • Extreme anxiety may come from crossing an overbridge or going for a joy ride to a higher place.
  • The fear is irrational and may or may not relate to the presence of the actual stimulus.
  • Avoidance of the feared object or situation at all cost
  • The fear may limit your daily activities to a great extent
  • Excessive worries about encountering similar situations in future
  • High places always induce threat and immediate anxiety
  • Panic attacks when not being touched with ground
  • Feeling of gut unease or nauseous when exposed to high places
  • A continuous feeling of nervousness, anxiety, and mental restlessness
  • The fear is lasting for six months or more

Other medical conditions associated with or confused with acrophobia

Sometimes the fear of heights or acrophobia is confused with other medical conditions. These conditions may occur differently or together with acrophobia.

  • Vertigo – This is a medical condition that involves a spinning sensation in the head. It also causes dizziness, nausea while one looks down from higher altitudes such as the edge of the cliff, or from a tall building
  • Bathmophobia – this is a condition where the person experiences fear of stairs, slopes, or any other steep, inclined elevations.
  • Climacophobia – In this medical condition, one may experience extreme anxiousness if asked to climb a steep staircase or a winding path that is lofty or hilly. You may have an intense fear of falling down. In most cases, the sufferers want to stay safe at the bottom of the staircase or try to avoid the climbing situation altogether,
  • Visual height intolerance – This condition occurs when you will not be able to see high places or look down from high places. For example: standing on the terrace of a tall building and unable to see the road going far down. The person suffers from a persistent fear that causes numbing of the hands; a lip-lock state can come over where they will not be expressing their emotions freely.
  • Aerophobia – It involves an irrational fear of boarding a flight or flying high up in the sky. People who suffer from aerophobia also fear airplanes and the concept of flying together.

Types of the ‘fear of heights’

Specific phobias such as acrophobia can occur to just anyone. It has been found that these phobias usually develop in early childhood and remain with the person long after that age. 

Sometimes, young adults or even old people may show signs of acrophobia much frequently than expected.

It is said that acrophobia is a learned response that the person must have developed by observing others fearing heights in some way.

There are various situations of higher altitude that people suffering from acrophobia may feel fearful about.

  • Walking up steep stairs with or without railings
  • Traveling on a high up escalator
  • Getting into a lift that takes you to a tall tower
  • Going up on a ladder
  • Climbing a slope
  • Taking a joy ride in a cable car
  • Standing on the edge of a cliff or hill
  • Climbing a mountain
  • Crossing a long winding bridge 
  • If asked to use a multi-level car parking
  • A joy ride on a roller coaster
  • Looking from a window of a high-rise
  • Standing near the balcony of a tall building.

Impact of acrophobia

People suffering from acrophobia may face many challenges in their daily life. They fail to do their work with happiness because they remain in the grip of an irrational fear that appears cumbersome and disturbing.

Somehow they may feel that they are unable to come out of it. Acrophobia causes extreme anxiety and thus the person tries to avoid the fearful situation. 

They suffer from avoidance response in most situations that involves height, no matter whether the situation is triggering the immediate fear or not.

People who are treated for acrophobia have reported significant setbacks in their quality of life. Their lifestyle, workplace habits, daily chores all got affected because of the fear response.

In some cases, if you are suffering from acrophobia, you must have tried avoiding the lifts and escalators in a public place. There were instances when you did avoid a specific route or road because it was of a higher elevation.

Acrophobia may cause a high degree of functional impairment in daily life.

It may make you avoid stairs, ladders, hilly terrain, winding rocky roads, balconies, tall buildings, swings, roller coasters, and any other thing that is high and steep.

Certain daily activities such as changing the light bulb, cleaning the top kitchen cabinet, using the lift in a tall building will be deliberately avoided, so as to keep the intense anxiety at bay.

Some people with acrophobia may avoid taking a job in a tall building. Thus, the fear gets so bad that it affects all aspects of one’s life. 

Difference between normal fear of heights vs. acrophobia

Experts are of the opinion that some form of nervousness, fear, and anxiety is common when you are exposed to places of higher altitudes.

This natural fear focuses on your preparedness to stay away from the fearful stimulus so that you do not fall off and get hurt in some way.

It also helps you to engage in dangerous or reckless behavior that may become deadly over time.

However, people with acrophobia may get irrational and unrealistic fear when they are far away from tall buildings or highly elevated places. 

The mere thought of the frightening stimulus may cause fear and dread. This fear is abnormal and irrational because it may be provoked without the presence of the actual feared element.

A small table of differences between normal fear of heights and acrophobia will make it clearer.

Normal fear of heightAcrophobia
The normal fear of height may elicit a response that may guide the person to some actual danger. This fear can make someone cautious and careful of some sudden danger.Acrophobia is intense and illogical. The fear is caused by a perceived threat or danger that may not exist in reality. It can make the person aversive and avoid the feared stimulus.
Fear is related to danger.Acrophobia is related to dread and terror.
It may not impair the person’s normal functioning and daily activities.Acrophobia may cause intense distress and interfere with a person’s normal life.
A real dangerous stimulus or a situation triggers the normal fear of heightsThis is caused by an assumption and anticipation of a threat that is fully baseless.
The normal fear or anxiety subsides once the stimulus or threat is removed.The anxiety that is felt in acrophobia lasts for at least 6 months to be considered for a clinical diagnosis.
The normal fear of height is instinctual. It arises from a gut feeling that says something is not going right.Acrophobia stems from an irrational belief or anticipatory fear that does not have a definite source.
Mild to moderate anxietyVery high level of anxiety
Managing the symptoms of normal anxiousness is easy.Phobia needs a clinical diagnosis and treatment. Along with therapy, medication may also be the second line of treatment.
Fear is common and universal. We all have experienced the fear of heights at some point in our life.Acrophobia is specific and is triggered by specific situations. It is unique and not found amongst all.
Normal fear of heights vs. acrophobia

What causes acrophobia?

Psychologists have identified that acrophobia is usually caused by some traumatic, fearful, or unpleasant experience that the person must have faced or have seen someone else facing at some point in their lives.

If you have ever fallen from a high place, you may show an aversion towards higher places.

Otherwise, if you have seen someone else accidentally falling from a high and getting hurt, you may develop symptoms of acrophobia.

Some explanations point towards genetic and environmental factors is responsible for acrophobia. However, there are theories that tell acrophobia may or may not have a valid reason behind it.

Scientific researches done on acrophobia says that this disorder may be a natural concern about falling from a higher place and getting yourself hurt and injured.

If you dwell on the worry and think too much about the possible pain and discomfort that the fall can bring, it may trigger the symptoms of acrophobia. 

Though there is no single cause that can contribute to this phobia, there are a few explanations that can become a causal factor in some form or the other.

1. Evolutionary theory

This theory claims that acrophobia can be caused by some innate forces that are inherent in a person and cannot be altered.

 It means that the basic instinct of keeping oneself safe from harm, hurt, and a big bang can elicit a fear response of avoiding high places.

Since you’re predisposed to fear certain things that might be dangerous and threatening, you’ll try to safeguard yourself from such a situation.

This is just an obvious flight response in times of extreme anxiety and stress.

Acrophobia is caused by the fear of falling that may threaten survival. Thus, you are prone to secure yourself from impending harm at all costs.

2. Behaviorist theories

This explanation says that acrophobia is caused by observation and interaction with the immediate environment of the person.

It means if you see someone is scared of heights and is deliberately avoiding it at all times, you may develop a similar fear response.

For example, when small children see their parents avoiding higher places in general, they may be conditioned to react with fear and anxiety as well.

A traumatic experience can cause acrophobia. If you see someone else falling from a high or getting excessively scared in higher altitudes, you may be inclined to develop similar symptoms.

Scientists claim that observation plays a vital role in acrophobia. Seeing others facing the fear and getting caught in an anxious snarl can make you feel more fearful.

Thus, this theory points out that acrophobia is a learned behavior. It can be treated and the person can cope with the anxiety easily.

Another explanation given by behaviorists is acrophobia is caused by classical conditioning.

If you already had a bad experience with falling from a height, you’ll associate this bad experience with all the future situation that involves height.

It means that you will be scared the next time in similar situations.

3. Genetic factors

Several pieces of research have shown that acrophobia might have a genetic basis and it runs in families.

The genome sequencing of patients done in a 2016 study in Finland showed that 30% of patients suffering from acrophobia have a genetic basis.

4. Perception of distance

In DSM-5, acrophobia is said to be a specific fear that can be aroused even by a non-dangerous situation or stimulus.

It also claimed that our perception of height and distance varies from one person to the other.

For example, if you and your friend are viewing a high place, it is obvious that both of you will not perceive the height in the same way. You may perceive the height as more than the other person.

Thus it refers to the fact that people who perceive height as more and scary are more prone to develop acrophobia symptoms. 

People who suffer from acrophobia have a disproportionate perception of distance and height. They may falsely perceive it as more than what it actually is.

Thus, they perceive the risk as higher and the fall would be a fatal one as well.

5. Vestibular disorders

It refers to disorders of body balance and equilibrium. People who suffer from vestibular diseases and vertigo have higher chances of developing symptoms of acrophobia.

Since the sense of balance and body stability is affected, the person may perceive and judge the elevation of a place as higher than what it really is. 

This makes the person fearful. They may think that they might fall down if caution is not carried out. Thus, they may try to avoid such places altogether.

Any physical disease that impairs body balance can trigger acrophobic responses.

How is acrophobia diagnosed?

Acrophobia may be diagnosed by a psychologist, psychiatrist, or mental health professional.

If the symptoms are disturbing and robs an individual’s inner peace and happiness, the person should see a mental health professional for further guidance and a treatment plan.

According to DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5th edition, specific phobias such as acrophobia will be considered as a diagnosable disorder if the symptoms persist for 6 months or more and are interfering with the normal life f the person. 

The clinician may ask several questions about what happens when you go to higher places, or how do you respond when you think of a situation involving greater heights, etc. 

This phase is a rapport-building interview session where they want to find out the details of the various situations that trigger the fear response.

Then, you may be given some psychological tests to understand the unconscious forces that drive such behavior. Be sure to mention if you have any other medical conditions associated with the fear.

Usually, acrophobia is diagnosed if you are:

  • Trying to avoid heights consciously
  • A lot of time goes into worrying about scenes of higher elevations
  • The continuous negative thoughts and worrying is not allowing you to accomplish your daily tasks
  • You are reacting with immediate fear and panic even with the mere thought of encountering a higher place
  • Palpitations, dry mouth, excessive fear can be seen outwardly
  • Symptoms are occurring frequently for the last 6 months or so and are not improving with self-help skills
  • Your daily lifestyle and job is getting affected because of the symptoms
  • You might dwell on the future situations and anticipate that something bad will happen next time you are in a similar scary situation

Acrophobia is an irrational fear because the person knows that they are fearful but feels uncontrolled while handling it. 

Perhaps that is the reason that when DSM-5 was published and updated in 2013, it came up with a conclusion that many times, people may believe that their fear is justified and they avoid the situation that involves height.

This also makes them aversive towards treating the problem, as if they are happy living with it.

Acrophobia test

To diagnose acrophobia, psychologists may use a series of tests to identify the areas of weakness that led to the fear.

This is done to rule out other anxiety issues so that an action plan to deal with the problem can be sought out easily. 

The motive of these tests is to develop appropriate coping strategies to help the patient overcome the problem. 

Acrophobia Questionnaire (AQ) is a self-report test tool that is used to identify the disorder. It has 40 items to assess the anxiety level of a person on a zero – six-point scale. The measure 0 says ‘not at all anxious’ while 6 represents ‘extremely anxious’. 

This test also measures the degree of avoidance on a 0-2 point scale. This scale measures the person’s level of anxiety related to a number of height-related situations. 

Another widely used psychological test used for the assessment of acrophobia is ATHQ, known as the Attitude towards Height Questionnaire. 

Sometimes, you may also take up Behavioral avoidance tests, called BAT to identify the extent of avoidance tendencies that you may show, being exposed to high altitude places.

How to overcome the fear of heights? (10 self-help tips)

People who suffer from extreme nervousness and fear can actually benefit by using some self-help coping skills.

If they find that it is not adequate and they need professional advice, then without further delay, they should avail the services of a psychologist or therapist.

Some of the coping skills that help to reduce the dismay and uneasiness are as follows – 

1, Challenge your fear

When you have learned to challenge your fear, you become stronger from within.

By now, you know that there is no real threat and you are in a grip of illogical thoughts that are baseless and interfering. Your worries are not justifiable at all.

You should ask yourself the background questions about ‘how’ and ‘why’ you developed such a fear. It gives you an insight into your internal processes in a better way.

Try to get actual information about how far it is true that you will fall or harm yourself in such a situation. Sometimes, you need to ask yourself and check the rationality of your fear. 

Maybe, in reality, you will find that most of your phobic responses are irrelevant to the actual situation. The situation is not at all threatening as you have perceived it to be.

2. Positive visualization techniques

This technique helps to think and visualize positive scenes about those places of higher elevation that induce a lot of fear. For example, You are scared of standing on a terrace of tall buildings. 

To challenge your fear, you may visualize a scene where you are enjoying the scenic beauty around. Try to think of positive details of the scenario and forget about falling down or getting hurt in some way.

In this way, you will be able to counteract your fear and forget about the worst harm that might not happen at all.

This technique conditions your mind by affirming that the fear is baseless and you can overcome your fear by putting in a conscious effort.

In this method, you are actually using your imagination to create detailed scenes of positive images that are safe, secure, and enjoyable. 

The technique is helpful in reducing the instant panic that sets in when you go to the top of a tall building.

3. Do not avoid going to higher altitude places

Never make a deliberate try to avoid all the high places that evoke fear because if you do it regularly, you’ll be conditioned to think, feel, and act in negative ways. 

Small exposure to heights is important to know the extent of your illness and how well you can already cope with it.

It will make your condition worse and you may feel more anxious the next time you are about to go to that same place or any other pace with a similar elevation.

4. Avoid taking medication to combat your fear

Fear is a natural response to threat. The best technique is to learn coping skills to manage the nervousness that you might be experiencing while exposed to the feared element.

You should never consume the medicine without the prescription of a trained medical person.

Moreover, drug abuse and alcohol intake to reduce your anxiety is not a desirable choice at all. Sometimes anti-anxiety drugs can cause many side effects and dependence. 

It may lower your cognitive functioning as well. Your confidence may suffer a setback and you may not feed adequately to fight your fear.

5. Practice mindfulness

Anxiety can be lowered with mindfulness. It is a calm state of being where you learn to focus your thoughts only on the present moment. 

When you learn to stop your irrational thinking that has happened or might happen in the future, you are at peace with yourself. Mindfulness helps you to live in the moment.

By practicing mindfulness, you will be able to bring your attention to the immediate moment to feel safe and sound.

You can think of holding the railing while climbing a long and winding staircase. You may even focus on your steps and not see backward.

In this way, you can remove your fear of falling down to a great extent.

6. You need to be easy with yourself

You need to accept the fact that you have a phobia and mental discomfort that gives rise to intense fear. Remind yourself that diseases take time to subside. Never be harsh on yourself.

You are not the one on the journey. There are instances of people who had or are still suffering from acrophobia but have come out of their condition successfully.

So, you will also learn coping skills with self-care, medication, and psychotherapy, if needed. If you’ve panicked, sweated, and fled from a situation, it is absolutely fine.

 Remember that there is no harm in saving yourself, whenever you may feel unsafe and threatened.

Don’t think that you have done a mistake and never beat yourself to make everything perfect in a day because it won’t get fixed very early.

A lot of patience and self-support are needed to come out of this phobic condition. Just be gentle with your condition and take baby steps towards success.

7. Try to distract yourself

When exposed to heights, try to distract yourself from the thoughts of falling down. It is not at all difficult.

If you are scared of going to the high floor of a building or high-rise, you can take the help of someone in reaching there. 

Then, if you are scared of climbing a ladder, you can tell one of your family members to hold the ladder tightly and see that you do not fall.

If you are not comfortable in an airplane, carry some books with you, listen to some soothing soundtrack, or just close your eyes while take-off and focus your attention on some positive things that have happened and give you immense joy.

Meanwhile, you will see that the plane is already soaring up in the sky and you are at ease now. The motive of these distraction methods is to divert your immediate conscious attention to something else.

In doing so, you will be relaxed. Maybe your physical symptoms have subsided and your emotional symptoms are not keeping you on your toes.

8. Boost up your courage

It’s time to take some positive initiative to boost up your courage. Just remind yourself that you’re powerful enough and you can let go of your fears easily. 

Positive self-talk has an optimistic impact on your thought processes. It helps you to stay strong in trying times and reduces fear.

You can build up your courage by taking small steps towards success. You can visit those higher places with your friend or family and see if things change that way. 

Initially, expose yourself to less dangerous heights by taking help from others. Then go there on your own and see how you feel. In most cases, this self-help method works well. 

If you succeed once, you know that you can do it next time as well. The small, easy, an

D less threatening situations can build up your courage and once you are done with it, you can try out the difficult scenarios and expose yourself to harder situations.

9. Share your feelings with others

You can talk about your feelings with close friends and family. They may give you suggestions that can be helpful for you. Never bottle up and hide your fears because it will only make it worse.

Thus, seek help and encouragement from others by expressing your fears and concerns with them. Sometimes their suggestions may do wonders.

10. Manage stress

Acrophobia is a type of specific phobia. Thus, the disorder involves a lot of stress and strain. You may feel stressed out all the time. Feelings of mental lethargy, confusion are very probable.

The only way out of this is to lower your stress levels by feeling positive, doing something that you really love to do. Equally important is to take good care of your physical and mental health. 

You should eat and sleep well so that the body remains fit and your mind is fresh. When you practice self-care, you become courageous and confident from within.

Your phobic responses may take time to subside but self-care can help you overcome the emotional agony and mental restlessness that you might be experiencing. 

Sometimes, acrophobic symptoms may be reduced if you try taking pictures of hills and cliffs, roller coasters, or hanging bridges. 

Try enjoying the videos of other people who have reduced their phobia by exposing themselves to such a situation. Sometimes observing others can help you reduce your fear response. 

Treatments for acrophobia

There are various forms of psychotherapy that can be used to treat acrophobia. Acrophobia is a treatable disorder and it often doesn’t need the use of medicines, until and unless the symptoms are very serious.

The condition can improve slowly and the patient can get back to their normal lifestyle pretty early than many other psychiatric illnesses,

Phobias can be treated well if diagnosed early. Thus, if your symptoms seem to worsen with time, attend to them and seek medical advice as soon as possible.

Here, we will discuss a few of the tested and proofed lines of treatment for acrophobia.

1. Cognitive behavior therapy

Just like any other anxiety disorder, acrophobia can be best treated by CBT (cognitive behavior therapy).

In this method, the patient works closely with the therapist in a therapy session. They are taught to alter their negative thoughts.

When a patient learns to challenge their negative thoughts, they become aware of the root cause of the problem and can counteract the fear response.

CBT helps the patient to realize that the outcomes they perceive are less likely to occur in reality.  Thus, the purpose is to alter mind states and perception. A safe feel can lower the avoidance rate and gain control over the situation.

As the name suggests, CBT also involves behavior modification techniques such as systematic desensitization and flooding.

In systematic desensitization, the patient is gradually exposed to the feared stimulus. The instant fear and reaction are closely monitored by the therapist.

In this case, the person can be shown pictures of people crossing the bridges, climbing rocks, or taking a joy ride on the roller coaster.

This is done to create positive images in the mind of the patient and let them know that everything is fine and there is nothing to be afraid of.

In the flooding method, the person is exposed to the feared situation quite frequently and for a longer duration to help them control their anxiety symptoms.

Both these methods work well because it teaches them to cope with fear and nervousness in a stepwise manner.

2. Exposure therapy

This is a form of CBT but includes real-life exposure to the feared situation. In this method, the phobic patient is exposed to some heightened places with and without support.

The treatment starts slowly and then kicks off with more fearful situations.

The purpose of exposure therapy is to make the patient tolerate the less fearful situations easily before they move on to the more dangerous ones.

Sometimes exposure therapy starts with virtual reality situations where the person is asked to look at a video of high places and note down their emotional responses.

They are asked questions about their deepest fears and insecurities.

The virtual reality method is good because it saves time and cost. It doesn’t require actual onsite exposure but can be done from the clinic itself. 

As the patient is prompted to think of real-life situations, they might show the usual signs of acrophobia. Slowly the symptoms get managed when they learn to control and take charge of their life again.

3. Medication

Some of the patients suffering from acrophobia may need a dual treatment method. In such a case, the therapist uses both medicines and psychotherapy to manage the symptoms.

If the symptoms of anxiety are too much to be handled with therapy, medicines such as anti-anxiety drugs are used to lessen the impact of the symptoms.

Sometimes sedatives and beta-blockers are used to cool the nerves and make the patient feel relaxed and in control.

4. Relaxation techniques

The symptoms of acrophobia can be managed with meditation and yoga. But the practice has to be regular, systematic and should be done in tandem with psychotherapy.

Various forms of yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, and deep breathing exercises can be done to feel better and at ease with oneself.

5. Coping and self-management

Acrophobia can impact your life badly. It does not cause a lot of nervousness but makes you avoid situations involving heights. Thus, you may avoid flying, driving cars in hilly areas, etc.

To some extent, the condition can limit your daily mobility and actions in a big way. Thus, coping and living with this anxiety is something that you need to learn.

People suffering from acrophobia will have to live with anxiety for a long time, till the condition gets better through therapy and real-life exposures.

You need to get some regular exercise, eat and sleep well to keep your stress levels under control. Even you can try out exposing yourself to small threats and see how you feel about the situation. 

Do not seek help while you undertake baby steps of going to the terrace of a building and see if at all you can do it. If you feel uncomfortable, relax and do not rush with things, rather be slow in your approach.

Sometimes, if you put a little more effort to counter your fear, you’ll notice a lot of courage setting in and that will help you to come out of your phobia easily.

Prognosis for Acrophobia

The prognosis for acrophobia is quite promising because most people with the fear of heights report getting better after psychotherapy. Only 10 to 25% seek medical assistance

Exposure therapy and guided meditation help them to cope up with the symptoms and reduce the probability of avoidance behavior. Thus, the disorder is treatable and the condition of the person improves over time.

What can you do if you are already in a high place?

If you are suffering from acrophobia, you may get instant anxiety the moment you are in elevated terrain. 

You may feel restless and several physical symptoms can rob your inner peace. Even if others are with you, they might also appear grim and helpless about how to help you.

In such a situation, it is advisable to do some self-check and develop insight into the reality of the threat that you’re thinking about.

You can try out some self-management methods to feel safe and in control of the situation. 

  • Fix your gaze straight. Do not look down or the sides. By doing so, you can avoid dizziness.
  • Look at the objects that are not moving. It helps to maintain a steady gait.
  • Sit somewhere or lay down if you are feeling physical symptoms such as racing heart or nausea.
  • Pause for some more time and stop moving further
  • If you feel too uncomfortable, retreat back to your original position
  • Never force yourself to continue further, if you feel uncomfortable
  • Try out distraction techniques like talking to someone who is with you, or thinking about a humorous incident. If not possible, take a step back and consult a therapist to learn better-coping skills.

Acrophobia Statistics

Acrophobia Statistics
Acrophobia Statistics (Sources – Wikipedia, National Library of Medicine)

Summing Up from ‘ThePleasantMind’

To end with positive vibes, it is important to remind yourself that acrophobia is a common type of specific phobia. And that it is treatable if timely diagnosis and intervention are done.

You are not alone and many people have already overcome the problem successfully. If you avoid heights, it might give you short-term relief but it cannot ensure recovery.

Phobia of heights and anxiety symptoms can take control over your life. Thus to recover fully, you need to learn the good ways to cope and live with acrophobia. 

Start small and face your fears. Then only, you can unlearn them in the best possible way.

The journey may be tough but not impossible. Seeking help is important. The sooner it is, the better it becomes.

Article Sources


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