Acrophobia: What It Is And How to Deal With It

July 5, 2018 Health A-Z

Acrophobia is extreme or unexplained fear of heights. It is very common and can exist with other similar phobias.

What is Acrophobia?

To elaborate on the acrophobia definition, the height in question is not important. For those who have a fear of heights, even a few meters above the ground can cause them extreme anxiety and symptoms related to the phobia.

There are many signs and symptoms of acrophobia.

  • A feeling of extreme dread can take over someone with acrophobia even if they are above ground by a few meters. They could be facing down a building or at the top of a staircase.
  • They can feel stressed and anxious even thinking about standing at a height that bothers them.
  • They can experience rapid heartbeat, sweating and shakes when faced with their fear.
  • Some people can even experience paralyzing fear when faced with a situation involving heights. They can’t navigate a staircase or get down from a height without someone’s assistance. If alone, they will sit or be on their knees instead of standing at a height for fear of falling down or the difficulty of descending on their own.
  • Avoidance of things or experiences related to height is common in people with acrophobia. Simple tasks at home involving a ladder can become problematic. For example, they can’t use the ladder and clean the ceiling or use a top shelf.

Causes

All phobias occur due to past trauma, hereditary factors or a problem with brain chemicals. A childhood trauma involving an injury or bad experience related to heights can cause acrophobia.
It can also result from inherent evolutionary mechanisms where height represents a risk and both the mind and the body react to it. When this evolutionary response becomes extreme, it can manifest as a fear.
It can also occur along with other phobias such as aerophobia (fear of flying), bathmophobia (a fear that occurs by simply being in the presence of slopes or staircases) or illyngophobia (fear of dizziness). People who suffer from a medical condition called vertigo can also develop a fear of heights anxiety. Vertigo can cause dizziness and overtime it can become severe.

How to Overcome Acrophobia?

The acrophobia treatment can include psychotherapy, medicines and exposure therapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one the most common and effective ways to treat phobias. It can help people who fear heights to identify negative thoughts related to their situation and then find ways to overcome them. CBT includes talk therapy sessions with the therapist so that the people with the phobia can learn techniques to cope with their fear.

The psychiatrist can prescribe antidepressants or other medicines that can reduce the symptoms.
One of the most effective treatments for acrophobia is exposing the person with the fear to real-life situations. The therapist may ask the patient to perform certain tasks in a controlled environment. These tasks can be climbing stairs or looking down from the roof of a building. Some therapists now offer exposure therapy through virtual reality as well. It offers similar benefits but without the need to travel to actual locations.
Some therapists also recommend relaxation techniques to overcome stress related to acrophobia. Deep breathing and yoga along with light physical exercises can be useful in this regard.

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