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Do you have an overwhelming fear of heights? You may be suffering from acrophobia. Here we explain what it is and how to seek help.

What is a fear of heights?

Acrophobia (fear of heights) is a phobia involving an intense and overwhelming fear of heights. This fear goes beyond the normal caution that people may feel in high places and can affect a person’s ability to climb ladders, stand on a high balcony, or even be on the upper floors of tall buildings.

This can mean limiting life and reducing quality of life. Treatment is available to help with this.

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Why do people become afraid of heights?

The causes of fear of heights are not fully understood, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic, biological and environmental factors. Some researchers believe that a fear of heights may be partly built into humans as a survival instinct to protect ourselves from danger, but in phobias this fear is not realistic or adapted to the situation. Personal experiences, such as falling from a high place or witnessing someone else being injured by falling, can also contribute to the development of a fear of heights. Thus, there are several factors that contribute to the condition.

How common are phobias?

An estimated 10 million people in the UK suffer from phobias. These can range from common phobias such as fear of heights and social phobia to lesser known ones such as ‘hole phobia’ (trypophobia).

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Symptoms of acrophobia (fear of heights)

Fear of heights is a specific phobia, which means having a strong fear of a particular thing. It can lead to other problems with limitations in life, such as avoidance, which can affect your quality of life. People with a fear of heights may experience the following symptoms when they are in a high place or think about being in one:

  1. Intense fear or anxiety: An overwhelming sense of fear or panic at the thought of being in a high place.
  2. Physical symptoms: These can include heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, nausea or dizziness.
  3. Avoidance behaviour: Actively avoiding situations where you have to be in high places, such as avoiding using elevators, standing near windows in tall buildings, or avoiding mountain hikes and similar activities.
  4. Feeling out of control: Fear that you might lose control and fall or jump, even if you know it is unlikely.

If you have these symptoms, don’t worry, there are effective treatments. You can overcome the phobia and improve your quality of life.

How can you treat fear of heights?

Treatment is usually done with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as this method has been shown to be most helpful for phobias. It helps to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviours related to heights. It also works with exposure, gradually approaching the fear in a safe way. In some cases, medication to manage anxiety symptoms may also be considered.

It is important to remember that treatment is individualised. Seek help from a therapist or psychologist with the right experience to get effective treatment for your phobia.

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How therapy can improve your life

Seeking professional help can significantly improve your quality of life as you gain effective tools to manage the phobia and are able to change the pattern causing anxiety. It can be embarrassing to seek help for psychological problems, but talking to a psychologist or therapist can be extremely liberating and helpful if you are living with a phobia that is hindering your daily life.

Taking that first step towards help

Life is too short to let phobias limit you. Therapy is a step in the right direction that will help you live a full and rich life. If you or someone you know is living with phobias, professional therapy can make a real difference. Our therapists and psychologists offer a confidential and safe environment to explore and treat your phobias.

12 common questions about fear of heights

What is a phobia?

A phobia is an irrational and intense fear or anxiety about a particular object, situation or activity. This fear is usually long-lasting and can be very limiting in daily life.

How are phobias different from ordinary fears?

Ordinary fear is a natural reaction to an actual danger, while a phobia is an exaggerated fear that has no rational explanation. Phobias can be triggered even when there is no actual risk.

Are phobias common?

Yes, phobias are one of the most common forms of mental health problems. An estimated 10 million people in the UK suffer from phobias.

What is acrophobia (fear of heights)?

Acrophobia describes an intense and overwhelming fear of heights which can lead to avoidance.

What causes acrophobia (fear of heights)?

The causes of a fear of heights are not fully understood, but as with other phobias, it can be a combination of genetic factors, personal experiences, and environmental influences.

Is it possible to get rid of a phobia?

Yes, with the right treatment and support, phobic symptoms can be treated. However, it usually requires the help of a licensed psychologist or therapist.

How does treatment work?

Treatment can vary but often involves cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) with exposure and medication if necessary.

Can phobias lead to other mental health problems?

Untreated phobias can lead to other problems such as depression or other anxiety disorders if you avoid things a lot.

What is cognitive behavioural therapy?

CBT is an active evidence-based treatment method that works with thoughts, feelings and behaviours in different situations to improve quality of life and overcome certain symptoms. It has been shown to provide good results in cases such as phobias.

What is exposure in treatment?

Exposure is a tool in CBT where you gradually approach what you are afraid of systematically and safely with a psychologist or therapist.

I have started to avoid things because I am afraid of heights, what can I do?

If your fear of heights is affecting or limiting your life, you can seek treatment. There is effective help available.

Where can I seek help for my phobia?

If you suffer from a phobia, we recommend that you contact a licensed psychologist or therapist. Simply book a first appointment with one of the therapists at Lavendla. We make the difficult easier.

Treating acrophobia (fear of heights) with cognitive behavioural therapy

This is what treatment for fear of heights can look like. It can be overwhelming, but remember that you are not alone in overcoming your fear. There is help available:

Understanding and assessment

The first step is to understand that you have a phobia and that it is okay to seek help for it. A licensed psychologist can help you assess your situation and understand what is causing your fear. You may also be asked to complete assessment forms.

Psychoeducation and objectives

You will learn about your phobia and how it affects you both physically and mentally. It is important to understand what happens in your body, thoughts and feelings when the fear occurs. Goals are also set for treatment.

Tools to change behaviours and patterns

This works on identifying and changing patterns of thinking that are linked to the fear. It will help you develop a more nuanced picture and increase your ability to manage the phobia. Exposure therapy can be scary, but it is an effective way to gradually face your fears. With your therapist, you will explore situations that trigger your phobia and learn how to deal with them. You will also be given homework to practice between sessions.

Medication (if needed)

In some cases, doctors may suggest medication to help with anxiety symptoms. This is something you and your doctor can discuss if appropriate.

Follow-up and evaluation of progress

You will have support from your psychologist throughout the process. At the end of the treatment, you will also receive a plan to continue practicing and maintain your progress over time.

Feel free to book an initial session with one of our licensed psychologists or therapists to see how we can help you.

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Written by dominic

Dominic is a Cape Town-based copywriter and editor with a background in psychology.