Acrophobia (Fear of Heights)

Acrophobia is the irrational fear of heights. Someone suffering from this condition will find it extremely difficult to be on or near very tall structures. In fact, merely thinking of heights will give them intense amounts of anxiety. In some cases, the anxiety someone will experience from their acrophobia will be so intrusive that they will experience full blown panic attacks because of it.

Many speculate that acrophobia is due to an evolutionary advantage we has humans have developed for means of survival. This makes sense as are past ancestors would have quickly learned to fear the edges of tall cliffs and climbing tall trees due to the great risk of falling and becoming injured or dying.

However, though it is advantageous for us to become somewhat anxious around tall structures, being overly nervous around heights to the point that it significantly hinders one’s quality of life may be intimation of having acrophobia. This illness is not diagnosed as someone merely having an aversion to heights, but rather it is the result of a very debilitating and irrational mental disorder.

People suffering from acrophobia will find it very difficult to be near or on tall structures. In an attempt to ensure that they don’t endure the intense amount of anxiety that is associated with this condition, they will often find themselves trying to avoid tall structures as best they can. Though doing so will give them acute relief, such a behavior will likely worsen their acrophobia in the long run.

Symptoms of Acrophobia

Anxiety will be the main symptom experienced for someone with acrophobia. As previously mentioned, their anxiety may be so intrusive and severe when on a very tall structure that they may panic and begin to enter into a fight, flight, or freeze state of mind. When this occurs, stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline will be released, making their heart rate increase, causing them to tremble, and perspire, among other things.

Depending on the severity of their condition, they may have no issue with looking at very tall structures. However, when or if they themselves were on top of one of those tall structures, they would not be able to handle the anxiety. The perception of which height is worthy of being feared is subjective. So, what one person deems to be a frightening height, the next person may deem it to not be very frightening at all.

A large part of what someone with acrophobia will deal with is the influx of worry thoughts that will inevitably arise when on a very tall structure. Such fear thoughts may be what fuels the majority of their anxiety. They may think to themselves that if they go on or near the tall structure that they may fall off or die. Such anxious thinking will make it very difficult for them to behave rationally.

Below, you will see some more common symptoms of this phobia:

  • Intense anxiety when on a very high structure
  • Anxiety when thinking of tall structures
  • Unable to cope with their intense anxiety
  • May try to avoid tall structures
  • Muscle tension, sweating, and shakiness
  • May experience full blown panic attacks

Causes of Acrophobia

There is no known cause of acrophobia. However, genetics and one’s environment are likely to be very pertinent causes of it to develop. For instance, if someone has a family history of mental illness, especially of phobias, then they may have a higher risk for developing acrophobia. This may be due to them also having a higher chance of being genetically predisposed to developing mental illness in general.

If someone were to have such a genetic predisposition, then it may only require them to experience some sort of traumatic event for them to develop full blown acrophobia. For example, they may have fell off of a very high platform once before and gravely injured themselves. Such an experience may be more than enough for someone to develop acrophobia.

There is also the possibility that evolution has played a role in this disorder as well. Though we do not know the exact cause of this condition, there is a consensus among most mental health professionals that both genetics and one’s environment play very significant roles in the development of virtually all mental disorders. Taking a closer look at these two different parameters may shed some light as to whether or not you are at risk for developing acrophobia.

Acrophobia Treatments

Exposure therapy is one of the most common forms of treatment for people suffering from phobias. Exposure therapy works by having the therapist slowly expose the patient to their fear over a specified amount of time. Though doing this will give the patient an immense amount of anxiety, it will also help them to become desensitized from their fear in the long run. Theoretically, the more someone is exposed to something they fear, the less it will bother them over time.

With regards to acrophobia, the therapist may expose the patient to heights by showing them pictures or videos of high platforms or of people climbing mountains. The therapist may also ask the patient to go to a safe, high area on their own. However, this will depend on the severity of their anxiety of course. Essentially, the goal of exposure therapy is to build up the patient’s tolerance to their fear so that it will bother them less the more they are exposed to it in the future.

Besides exposure therapy, anti-anxiety medication may be able to help relieve some of the symptoms of this condition. However, merely taking medication without any form of therapy may not be very effective for long term treatment, but this is something that should first be discussed with your doctor.

Reducing Caffeine for Acrophobia

It is no secret that consuming large amounts of caffeine throughout the day can aid in making you more anxious. This makes sense when we look closely at how caffeine affects our body’s physiology. When we consume a high dose of caffeine, our heart will start to beat faster and we become more tense. Essentially, our body will begin to go into a “fight or flight” state of mind. Such a frame of mind is often a precursor for someone with acrophobia to experience panic attacks.

So, consuming little to no caffeine throughout the day may be able to significantly help reduce your day to day anxiety. Although doing so will likely not make all of your anxiety go away, it will indeed help you to reduce any unnecessary suffering that you would have otherwise experienced if you were to consume a large amount of caffeine.

Beverages like coffee and tea are often high in caffeine, as well as some energy drinks. In fact, even some foods have caffeine in them as well, such as dark chocolate. Being more conscious of your daily caffeine consumption may help you to reduce some of the symptoms associated with acrophobia.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Acrophobia

DBT is a very effective form of treatment for people struggling with emotion regulation. It is often used to treat people suffering from borderline personality disorder. Nevertheless, it can also be very advantageous for someone suffering from anxiety disorders like acrophobia too. This is due to the numerous amount of coping skills you can expect to learn in a DBT group. These groups typically last about 6 months long and can have anywhere from two people to several people depending on how many join the group.

One very effective DBT skill for helping someone with acrophobia is half-smiling. This technique works by having you think about that which you fear or upsets you all while slightly raising the corners of your mouth by lightly smiling, thus the term “half-smiling.” Although, it isn’t enough to just think about your fear while half-smiling, you also have to try and refrain from entertaining those painful emotions that your specific fear may evoke.

Mindfulness meditation is also heavily used in DBT and can greatly benefit someone with acrophobia as it is done in a group setting, which helps to put the patient out of their comfort zone. These group mindfulness practices may include drinking warm tea to hone in on the sense of taste and tactile senses or simply focusing on the breath.

Coping ahead is another very useful DBT skill that can help someone with acrophobia. With coping ahead, you will want to find a place where you can sit down quietly without distraction. Close your eyes and then think about the many different possible scenarios where you would face your specific fear and overcome it or cope with it. Doing so will help you to be much better adept at coping with your acrophobia when you are actually exposed to the specific fear associated with it in real life.

Meditation for Acrophobia

There are many different forms of meditation that exists which can be very advantageous for someone suffering from acrophobia. Specifically, mindfulness meditation has been shown to be quite beneficial for helping people to enter into a more equanimous state. There are many different ways with which you can implement mindfulness meditation and there are also many different meditation apps which are designed to make things as easy as possible for you.

Mindfulness has the potential to significantly help those suffering from acrophobia due to how it will help one to distract themselves from their fear by refocusing their attention onto something else that does not have any sort of emotional baggage attached to it, such as by focusing on the breath for example. This is one of the most basic ways that one can meditate and be present.

For someone with acrophobia in the midst of a panic attack, redirecting one’s attention to the various sensations felt when breathing can actually help to reduce the amount of mental anguish experienced during such an influx of anxiety.

To implement mindfulness meditation to help relieve one’s symptoms of acrophobia, you can do so by paying close attention to the way the muscles in your abdomen and chest contract and relax with every inhale and exhale. You can spend time dwelling on how it feels as your chest expands during each inhale and how it sinks in with every exhale.

Besides focusing on your breathing, you can also focus on the sounds around you, the way your skin feels as you touch certain objects, the way foods taste, as well as the way certain aromas smell. Essentially, honing into your 5 senses can significantly help you to reduce some of the anxiety that is associated with acrophobia. Also, remember that it will take a lot of practice to become an adept meditator. So, practice is key.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Acrophobia

CBT is a psycho-social intervention that aims to improve one’s mental health. It is a modality that is often used to treat people suffering from anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder and OCD. Someone with acrophobia may also be able to benefit from CBT as well seeing as how it would allow them to have a much better understanding as to why they think and behave the way they do in relation to their irrational fears.

CBT can be immensely helpful for someone with acrophobia given the sheer automaticity of their symptoms. For example, when someone with acrophobia is exposed to their fear, they will almost always have an instantaneous subconscious reaction to their fear. Such a lack of introspection is likely a large part of why someone with this condition will suffer to the extent that they will. CBT can help you to take a step back and analyze your fears more deeply than you typically would.

Besides learning to be more fastidious with regards to understanding one’s specific fears, someone with acrophobia engaging in CBT can also expect to learn various other skills aimed at helping to relieve the anxiety caused by their condition.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for Acrophobia

MBSR is an 8-week evidence-based program that offers secular, intensive mindfulness training to help people who are suffering from anxiety, stress, depression, and other sorts of mental anguish. MBSR may be able to significantly help someone who is suffering from acrophobia as mindfulness meditation has been shown to be very beneficial for anxious people. In such a structured program, someone with acrophobia can expect to learn a plethora of different skills that can help them to relieve the intense anxiety that’s associated with their specific phobia.

Talk to your doctor or therapist to see if MBSR can help you to reduce the intensity of your symptoms of acrophobia, as well as where to find MBSR programs in your area.

Exposure Therapy for Acrophobia

As previously mentioned, exposure therapy is one of the most common ways to treat anxiety disorders such as acrophobia. It can be an efficient way to help desensitize the patient to their specific fears. Be that as it may, it is imperative that the therapist implementing it on their patient is very adept at doing so. For example, if the therapist were to slightly expose someone with acrophobia to their fear, then it may not be very effective as they may need a higher amount of exposure to truly trigger any sort of worthwhile change in the patient.

The same can be said for the antithesis of this scenario. If the therapist were to excessively expose someone with acrophobia to their fear, then doing so could be highly counterproductive to the point to where their acrophobia may become immensely worse due to the therapy alone. So, it is paramount that the therapist implementing exposure therapy for someone with acrophobia has a very strong sense of just how severe their symptoms are so that they can know the level of exposure that the patient will likely be able to handle.

Exercise for Acrophobia

Exercise has been shown to be extremely beneficial for people suffering from anxiety disorders, including acrophobia. Specifically, cardiovascular exercise can significantly help to relieve one’s stress. This is not to say that weight-resistance training would not benefit someone with anxiety, but rather that aerobic exercise is has been shown to be more effective at releasing those feel good chemicals in the brain, such as endorphins.

According to the American Psychology Association, exercise can help to condition the mind to better cope with stressful situations. This makes sense when we take into consideration the high amount of stress that the body is put under during strenuous exercise. So, if you yourself are sedentary, then engaging in some form of aerobic exercise may be able to significantly help reduce your symptoms of acrophobia by making it much easier for you to cope with the anxiety and stress that’s associated with this condition.

There are many different aerobic modalities that you can partake in to help reduce your symptoms of acrophobia, such as swimming, biking, skiing, walking, and jogging. You can also acquire the many benefits of exercise by playing sports such as tennis, soccer, basketball, and racquetball, among many other sports. Engaging in some form of exercise consistently may be able to help relieve some of the pain associated with acrophobia over time.

Medication Therapy for Acrophobia

Antidepressant drugs

These types of medications aren’t only for people who suffer from depression as they can also help people suffering from anxiety disorders as well, such as acrophobia. Some common antidepressants are Paxil, Zoloft, and Lexapro, among several others. These drugs may be able to help reduce some of the symptoms of acrophobia.

These types of drugs are typically taken on a daily basis. They can indeed help prevent panic attacks from occurring, but they are more so used to help reduce people’s daily anxiety. Talk to your doctor to see if taking antidepressants can help to reduce your symptoms of acrophobia, as well as whether or not it is safe to do so.

Anti-anxiety drugs

These types of medications are very useful to help prevent panic attacks. Such drugs can be extremely useful for people suffering from severe acrophobia due to the fact that people with phobias often experience panic attacks as well. Some common anti-anxiety medications include Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin, among many others.

These types of drugs are not typically taken on a daily basis, but they may be insofar as their acrophobia is severe enough. However, this is something that you should first discuss with your doctor before you decide to do so to ensure that it is safe and effective.

Yoga for Acrophobia

There are numerous different yoga poses that can substantially benefit someone who is suffering from acrophobia. In part, this is due to the meditative state of mind that yoga tends to emit in those who practice it on a consistent basis. Yoga can be thought of as meditation in motion. It can help to relieve some of the anxiety associated with acrophobia due to the mere fact that by engaging in yoga, your attention will be redirected to something more productive.

There are many different types of yoga that someone with acrophobia can benefit from, such as hatha yoga or hot yoga, among many others. Nevertheless, regardless of the many different forms of yoga that exist, virtually all of them can help to relieve some of the stress and anxiety that is associated with acrophobia.

If you have never practiced yoga before, then it may be in your best interest to take a class or watch some guided videos that can help you through each pose. Just like with meditation, the more you practice yoga, the more adept you will become at it. Besides helping you to reduce your symptoms of acrophobia, you can also expect to acquire increased strength and flexibility, among other benefits.

If you think you may be suffering from some of the symptoms of this condition, then you may benefit from therapy. Feel free to reach out to your doctor or local mental health clinic to see what your available options are and to see if there is any sort of discount or promo code available to help you with the costs of treatment, as well as if your health insurance will cover treatment costs.

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