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Do you have an overwhelming fear of heights? Then you may be suffering from acrophobia (fear of heights). Here we explain what it is and how you can get help.

What is a fear of heights?

Acrophobia (fear of heights) is a phobia where you have 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. Currently, there are no official statistics in Ireland as to how many people have agrophobia, however, 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?

According to US research in the field, approximately 8-12% of the population suffer from one or more phobias in their lifetime. 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 behavior: 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 symptoms of fear of heights, don’t worry, there are effective treatments. It is possible to overcome the phobia and improve your quality of life.

How can you treat fear of heights?

Treatment for fear of heights is usually done with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as this method has been shown to be most helpful for phobias. The treatment helps to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors related to heights. They also work specifically on exposure, gradually approaching their fear in a clear and safe way. In some cases, medication to manage anxiety symptoms may also be considered.

It is important to remember that treatment is individualized. It is also important to 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 it gives you effective tools to manage phobias and can change the pattern you have developed that causes 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.

Take the first step to booking a therapy session

Life is too short to let phobias limit you. Therefore, therapy is a step in the right direction to 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 and answers 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. It is estimated that a significant proportion of the population suffers from at least one form of phobia.

What is acrophobia (fear of heights)?

Acrophobia is a phobia where there is an intense and overwhelming fear of heights, which can lead to avoidance.

What causes acrophobia (fear of heights)?

The causes of 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 behavioral therapy (CBT) with exposure and medication if necessary.

Can phobias lead to other mental health problems?

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

What is cognitive behavioral therapy?

CBT is an active evidence-based treatment method that works with thoughts, feelings and behaviors 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 in a systematic and safe way together 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. You can book a first appointment with one of our therapists here at Lavendla. We make the hard things easier.

Treating acrophobia (fear of heights) with cognitive behavioral therapy

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

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 behaviors and patterns

This works on identifying and changing patterns of thinking that are linked to the fear. This 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. Together 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 evaluate 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 a first session with one of our licensed psychologists or therapists to see how we can help you. If you want more information about phobias, you can read the Vårdguiden website.

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Written by Ellen Lindgren

Licensed psychologist

Ellen is a licensed psychologist and has experience mainly in clinical psychology where she has worked with various conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, crises and trauma in primary care and psychiatry. She has also worked with research while studying in the US and with affective disorders and insomnia at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.