Many people feel uneasy in high places; for example, at the top of a high building or looking down over a bridge.
However, while you might feel a little dizzy, uncomfortable, and prefer to get back down to ground level, this differs from acrophobia, which is an extreme fear of heights.
Acrophobia is one of the 10 most common phobias in the UK and it can be difficult to live with. However, the good news is that there are a number of things which can help to make things easier.
With that said, we’ll be looking at what acrophobia is, what can cause it, and ways to cope.
What is acrophobia?
Acrophobia is defined as an extreme fear of heights and situations that involve being far off the ground. For example, climbing a ladder or standing at the top of a tall building.
Acrophobia is categorised as a specific phobia, which means it revolves around a specific object, situation, or activity.
Data suggests that up to 25% of people in the UK struggle with acrophobia.
Acrophobia is often confused with vertigo (the feeling that you, or your environment, is suddenly moving or spinning). But while the two conditions can sometimes go hand-in-hand, they differ. Acrophobia is a type of anxiety disorder, while vertigo can be a symptom of a range of conditions.
What can cause acrophobia?
We know from research that having a certain level of caution around heights is normal, and is possibly an evolutionary survival mechanism.
However, like all phobias, acrophobia is an extreme reaction of a normal fear response. Experts believe that this hyper-reaction is often a learned response – for example, due to a previous fall or through observing a parent’s reaction to heights.
There’s also evidence that having an irrational fear of falling plays a significant role in a person’s perception of height, and can aggravate acrophobia.
And, like many other phobias, it’s also fairly common for acrophobia to occur alongside other mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
What are the symptoms of acrophobia?
Acrophobia can cause a range of emotional and physical symptoms, and it’s common for people with the condition to intentionally avoid situations that might trigger their fears.
Emotional symptoms of acrophobia can include an extreme fear of being trapped somewhere high and constantly worrying about encountering heights in the future.
When it comes to physical symptoms, acrophobia mirrors those of most other phobias. For example, when exposed to heights (or even just the thought of being far off the ground) can cause nausea, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, trembling, and shortness of breath.
The extreme anxiety caused by acrophobia can also cause people to intentionally avoid situations that could involve heights – even if it makes everyday life difficult. For example, worrying about being put in a high-floor hotel room on an upcoming holiday or avoiding visiting peoples’ homes if they have balconies or large upstairs windows.
If any of these symptoms sound familiar to you, it’s worth making an appointment with your GP.
I’m still struggling – is there any treatment available for acrophobia?
Some people find that they’re able to manage their symptoms with home remedies, but if you’re still struggling, there are treatment options available in the form of therapy too.
We’ll cover two of the main types of therapy for phobias below…
Exposure therapy is a technique used to help people overcome fears, anxieties, and phobias by working to break the pattern of fear and avoidance. Some experts believe it’s the most effective form of therapy for acrophobia.
Treatment could involve looking at pictures of mountains or tall buildings, watching videos of them, and eventually walking up stairs or over a bridge.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is one of the most common forms of therapy. It can be useful for people suffering with phobias by helping unravel negative thought patterns, develop coping strategies, and get to the root cause of their anxieties.
You can find out more in our introduction to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
5 tips for coping with acrophobia
While acrophobia can feel difficult to overcome, the good news is that plenty of people find they’re able to improve – or at least manage – their symptoms through the use of self-help methods.
Below we’ll cover some of these methods. You can also find more general advice for coping with phobias in our article; Understanding fears and phobias and how to overcome them.
1. Be open with others about how you feel
If you suffer from acrophobia, it can be helpful to be open with loved ones about your fears.
Not only can this help them to better support you, but it’s likely to reduce your anxiety too.
2. Use relaxation techniques to help manage anxiety
Remember, the more practise you have, the more effective these techniques tend to become, so it’s worth persevering even if you don’t notice a difference right away.
3. Consider the likelihood of any harm resulting from the situations you fear
By definition, phobias are an irrational fear of situations or experiences that most people wouldn’t find threatening. For this reason, considering the accuracy of your fears (and the genuine safety of your triggers) can be useful.
For example, skyscrapers, which are a common trigger for acrophobia, are actually incredibly safe and specifically engineered to be as secure and sturdy as possible.
4. Recognise and understand your triggers
Aside from being high up, some people also find that certain memories, sensations, sights, or even smells can trigger symptoms of acrophobia.
As a result, by recognising and understanding your triggers, you can be better prepared to anticipate difficult situations and have coping mechanisms in place.
To help with this, when you feel your fear or anxiety peaking, try to observe the environment or thought patterns around you that may have triggered it.
5. Consider joining a support group
Acrophobia can affect quality of life. But while things can feel difficult, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone, and there’s treatment and support out there to help you.
Whether that means practising self-help methods to manage your symptoms, or having therapy to get to the root cause of your fears, just remember to always be kind to yourself, do what’s best for you, and take it one step at a time.
For further reading and mental health support, head over to the healthy mind section of our website. Here you’ll find information on topics like how to improve confidence and self-esteem and powerful ways to conquer self-limiting beliefs.