How To Handle And Overcome Your Fear Of Heights
By: Stephanie Kirby
Updated August 12, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Richard Jackson
Most of us feel a little nervous and tense when we’re at a great height. It’s perfectly normal and understandable to feel this way. In fact, a study from 1960 showed that even infants and young animals have an innate fear of falling. However, if you have acrophobia, you may find that even relatively low heights cause you to panic. If you struggle with a fear of heights, to the point that it makes life difficult, don’t worry—you can overcome it!
How Can You Overcome a Fear of Heights?
If you’re reading this and you struggle with heights, the first thing you probably want to know is how to overcome it. In this article, we will cover this in detail, as well as provide you with more information on the acrophobia itself. But first, here are a few quick tips to help you start making progress.
- Take time to mentally prepare
- Visualize yourself overcoming your fear
- Move slowly
- Go easy on yourself
What Are the Symptoms of a Phobia of Heights?
You may be unsure about whether you have a dislike of heights or an actual phobia. To help, we’ve put together a list of symptoms associated with acrophobia. These are things to look out for when you think about or are faced with the prospect of heights.
- A sense of unreality
- Trying to catch your breath
- Rapid breathing
- Increased or irregular heart rate
- Fear of injury or death
- Preoccupation with avoiding heights
You may also suffer from panic attacks when you are at a height; this is particularly dangerous, as you may fall and injure yourself.
Simultaneous Conditions Occurring Alongside a Fear of Heights
Unfortunately, there are some other phobias that go hand in hand with acrophobia. These can be treated alongside your fear of heights and include:
- Aerophobia. Intense fear of being in the air or of flying
- Bathmophobia. Intense fear of observing slopes or stairs
- Climacophobia. Intense fear of going down from a height or of climbing
- Illyngophobia. Intense fear of feeling dizzy when at a great height (vertigo)
How to Handle Your Fear of Heights
Having a phobia of heights is very common. Fear of high places is instinctive; therefore, everyone has a certain degree of it. Fear of heights can stop you from getting into potentially dangerous or life-threatening situations, like falling off a cliff or stumbling off a bridge. If you’re struggling with a real phobia, though, you may not even be able to climb a few steps up a ladder without becoming very distressed. If you find yourself in a situation that requires you to be at a height, how can you handle it without panicking? The following steps can help.
If you know you need to be in a situation that will require you to be at a height, take some time to prepare yourself mentally.
Visualize Yourself Overcoming Your Fear
Take a few moments to close your eyes and visualize how secure the situation you’re putting yourself into is. Try to use your rational mind to tell you that you won’t fall or injure yourself. Allow these thoughts to become one with your subconscious, so when you start to feel agitated and frightened, you can call on them to help you stay calm and focused.
Take Things Slowly
Rather than jumping straight into a worrying situation, confront your fears at your own pace. Begin by setting yourself some small initial goals, such as standing on a chair or moving a little step closer to your balcony railing each day. Just work at this gradually, and success will be yours faster than you may currently think.
Remember to Breathe
When you feel anxious, you may forget to breathe correctly. This makes your anxiety even worse, so ensure you get lots of oxygen into your brain by focusing on taking deep, regular breaths.
Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself
You have a phobia. Phobias cannot be overcome in a day. If you’ve panicked and fled from a challenging situation, don’t beat yourself up about it. Be gentle with yourself. Perhaps consider seeking the advice of a professional.
Treatments for Your Fear of Heights
If you have been suffering from acrophobia symptoms for some time; there are things you can do to begin getting over this paralyzing fear and live a fulfilled life. Let’s take a look at your options.
Exposure and System Desensitization Therapy
It’s possible to become gradually desensitized to your fear of heights, although this method can take many months or sometimes years to be completely effective. As you might imagine, it’s difficult to be continuously exposed to heights, so some therapists use virtual reality to help.
Additionally, you may be tasked with height-related tasks such as climbing a steep flight of stairs. Your therapist gradually asks you to increase the height, while helping you to reduce your fear levels. Your therapist also helps you to cope with your fear by teaching you effective methods of relaxation. These may include mental visualizations, breathing control, and muscle relaxation; this aspect of treatment aims to help you to relax when you’re confronted with a fearful situation.
Medications are often used in the treatment of phobias. For example, your physician may prescribe antidepressants or anti-anxiety medicines to control your symptoms.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Unlike anxiety medications, CBT targets the underlying issues that have led to your phobia. You learn to understand your fears and worries, in order to better equip yourself with the tools you need to overcome your phobia. The therapy involves two main aspects:
- Cognitive therapy. Cognitive therapy focuses on how negative thoughts add to your anxiety
- Behavior therapy. Behavior therapy focuses on how you react and behave in anxiety-triggering situations
CBT is often successful in treating a fear of heights. The therapy focuses on pinpointing negative images and thinking associated with acrophobia. Your therapist works with you on replacing negative reactions with positive ones. You can then modify your fearful reaction, so it becomes a positive one. CBT examines how it’s your thoughts that affect how you feel and determine your perceptions of any situation.
As you explore your fear of heights with the help of a therapist, or in any way you feel is right for you, complementary therapies can also be incorporated into your life to help you find the balance you need.
- Biofeedback. Biofeedback uses sensors to track some physiological functions, for example, muscle tension, heart rate, and breathing. You can then recognize your body’s anxiety responses and learn to control them via relaxation techniques.
- Hypnosis. Hypnosis is sometimes used to help people face their worries; it can help the person reevaluate their fear and see the thing that triggers their phobia in a new light.
- Relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques help you to feel better emotionally when you’re coping with a phobia. Visualizations, mindfulness meditation, controlled breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation are some of the techniques that may help.
BetterHelp Therapists Are Here to Help
Research shows that online treatments are effective in helping overcome a fear of heights. One study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association-Psychiatry, found that virtual cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) was an accessible, beneficial way for patients to confront acrophobia. This specific form of CBT involved exposing those afraid of heights to situations that mimicked triggering experiences via a virtual reality platform. Patients reported feeling fewer symptoms of acrophobia post-treatment; and researchers noted that the low cost of this mode of therapy made it a practical choice.
As mentioned above, online therapy is a flexible and useful method of helping you deal with your fears. Without having to commute to and from an office, you can work on pinpointing the thoughts that trigger acrophobia and understanding how to better manage those situations. You’ll also be able to book sessions around your schedule—no more making appointments weeks or months ahead of time. If you want more information, you can read some reviews of our therapists below, from people experiencing similar issues.
“Dr. McCune has helped me navigate through some of the most difficult challenges in my life so far. I feel healthier and better able to handle things on my own as a result of her guidance and care. She has been so very available for me and easy to talk to. She listens and responds with wisdom and gives me great tools to use! Absolutely highly recommend.”
“Kara has provided a safe space for me to express my fears and anxiety. She has provided me tools to help manage my anxiety and continues to support me.”
There are no quick fixes for a fear of heights, so you need to be ready to put in the commitment and time. Acrophobia, like any phobia, takes time to work through, but there is hope. By making positive lifestyle choices and taking each day as it comes- coupled with therapy as needed- you can get through this. Take the first step today.
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