Acrophobia: Fear of Heights

Do you panic when you are high off the ground? Having dreadful thoughts of visiting high floors of a building? Seeing a photograph of a mountain and surrounding valley is triggering fear and anxiety? Here is all you want to know about Acrophobia.

Acrophobia is described as an intense fear of heights causing significant anxiety and panic. The word traces its origin from two Greek words, “Acron” meaning height and “phobos” the Greek word for fear. It is not unusual to feel some discomfort in high places. But people with Acrophobia feel extreme stress and anxiety while being on a mountain or a high-rise building.

If you have acrophobia, even driving over bridges can cause dizziness. Others with acrophobia may also fear from any kind of action related to height, including climbing stepladders, stools or riding on escalators. Unfortunately, these intense fear and stresses can interfere individual’s lifestyle. There are range of physical and psychological symptoms which can help to better ascertain Acrophobia.

Symptoms of Acrophobia

Physical symptoms of acrophobia include:

  • Increased sweating, chest pain, increased heartbeat at the sight or thought of high places.
  • Feeling of breathlessness or headaches when you see or think about heights.
  • Shaking, trembling, crying or yelling when faced with heights.
  • Feeling the need to crawl, kneel, or descend immediately when on high off the ground.
  • Thoughts of falling or losing your balance when you look up at a high place or down from a height.

Psychological symptoms of acrophobia include:

  • Spending a lot of time worrying about encountering heights.
  • Immediate fear and anxiety while encountering heights.
  • Going out of your way to avoid heights, even if it makes daily life more difficult.
  • Worrying extensively about encountering heights in the future.

In case of children and adults, duration of these symptoms must last for at least six months.

Causes of Acrophobia

Our innate fear of falling and being hurt may develop our concepts about surfaces, posture, balance, and movement. Dwelling on the discomfort caused by a fall from a high position could trigger the growth of acrophobia. It’s common for individuals to have hesitation being at certain height, but people with acrophobia feel unrealistic anxiety and extreme stress when placed in similar situations. Some researchers consider this could be a conditioned behaviour from any past falling experience or the anxious reaction of a parent to heights. More studies have proposed that a potential cause for acrophobia can be from accumulation of non-traumatic falling events that are not memorable but can influence resultant behaviour towards height.

However, evolutionary psychologists say that people who are afraid of heights are more likely to escape from this potentially dangerous situation. They are likely to survive by doing this and later reproduce, allowing them to pass on their genes. Researchers believe that this fear and anxiety has spread from generation to generation as a result.

Treatment Options

Educating yourself or talking to your mental health professional is the foremost step that one can take to deal with Acrophobia. Just like any other phobia, anxiety in Acrophobia is triggered by conditional stimuli and can be dealt with negative reinforcement. Range of therapies like Reality Therapy, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Systematic desensitisation (or exposure therapy) can be effective in dealing with acrophobia.

Therapists may also help individuals with acrophobia to develop coping strategies in order to control their anxiety and fear. This include understanding and adjusting with beliefs and values that help to build skills to manage fear. Developing and practicing new social behavioural skills to improve trust, and then practicing these skills slowly and steadily in real situations can become effective to overcome Acrophobia. Relaxation techniques including meditation, deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation techniques, may help an individual to cope with stress and anxiety related to Acrophobia. 

Psychologists as mental health care providers plays a major role in understanding biological, behavioural and social factors that influences mental health and physical wellbeing. Dr. (Prof) R K Suri, Senior Clinical Psychologist at Psychowellness Center ( ), is a trained professional clinical psychologist, having more than 36 years of experience in all kinds of mental health issues and related therapeutic interventions. 

Furthermore, TalkToAngel ( ) online mental health services under him put your needs first. They can help you with flexible appointments, personalized and customized intervention plans all at the tip of your fingers.

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