Acrophobia Fear of Heights: Symptoms, causes, therapy

Celine Saade
By Celine Saade
Acrophobia Fear of Heights: Symptoms, causes, therapy

What is Acrophobia?

Fear of heights is known as acrophobia. Acrophobia, as contrast to a specific phobia like aerophobia, which is the fear of flying, can make you fear a wide range of things associated with being far from the ground. You might be as afraid of being on a high floor of a building as you are of merely mounting a ladder, depending on how severe your phobia is.

The signs and symptoms of acrophobia

The way the body and mind react to acrophobia is the same as it is to any other phobia. Despite the possibility that you will never feel dizzy, acrophobia may cause you to experience the following symptoms:

When you believe that you are far above the ground, you could experience emotional symptoms like terror. If you find yourself struggling to trust your own sense of balance, you might naturally start looking for anything to hold onto. Many people will immediately start to descend, crawl on all fours, or lower their bodies in some other way. Physical symptoms will start to manifest such as: you can start to tremble, perspire, get heart palpitations, or even scream or cry. You can experience paralyzing fear. Thinking could become challenging.

Acrophobia causes anxiety and avoidance, so it's likely that you'll start to dread circumstances that could force you to spend time in the air. For instance, you might be concerned that a forthcoming trip will place you in a hotel room on a high floor. For fear of utilizing a ladder, you could put off doing home maintenance. If your friends' houses have balconies or upstairs picture windows, you might want to avoid going there.

The development of acrophobia in some people may potentially be explained by something known as evolved navigation theory.

This idea holds that certain human functions, such as height perception, have evolved naturally. Your risk of dangerous falls can be decreased by perceiving something as being higher than it actually is, which increases your chance of living to reproduce.

What kinds of heights cause acrophobia in people?

Acrophobic could be afraid of the following circumstances or heights: ascending a set of stairs, being on an escalator , using a parking garage with several levels, being on a bridge or crossing one, being on an amusement ride, standing on a building's roof or next to a balcony, looking out of a lofty building's window.

You might have aerophobia, or the fear of flying, rather than acrophobia, for instance, if you have a severe phobia of flying in airplanes, which happens at a considerable height. It's crucial to consult your doctor so you can receive a thorough diagnosis and therapy if you're dealing with acute fear that restricts your life and experiences.

Phobias come in a variety of forms, making diagnosis a little difficult. Acrophobic typically have a fear of multiple heights or high places. Other phobias include a fear of situations that involve substantial heights, but the height isn't the primary trigger for those phobias.

The possibility of restricting your life and activities in order to avoid the feared event is the largest threat most phobias pose. Acrophobia is uncommon, though, in that having a panic attack when elevated might actually bring about the feared threat.

What causes acrophobia?

According to research, all visual animals, including humans, are capable of experiencing a certain amount of apprehension when it comes to heights. The "Visual Cliff" experiment, conducted in 1960 by renowned research psychologists Eleanor J. Gibson and Richard D. Walk, revealed that newborns of many species, even crawling infants, refused to cross a thick glass panel that concealed an apparent abrupt drop-off. The baby did not sense that it was safe despite the mother calling him and being present.

As a result, acrophobia appears to be engrained at least in part, maybe as an evolutionary survival strategy. However, the majority of kids and adults are cautious but not excessively terrified of heights. Like many phobias, acrophobia appears to be an exaggerated version of the body's natural fear response. This could be a traumatic response to a prior fall or a nervous reaction towards heights.

Acrophobia and other particular phobias can have certain symptoms in common with vertigo, a medical condition with numerous potential causes. For these reasons, it's crucial to get expert assistance as soon as you notice any acrophobia symptoms.

Acrophobia Treated

How is acrophobia treated?

Following are some acrophobia treatments:

Psychotherapy: The major therapy of choice for specific phobias is cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT. A lot of times, behavioral strategies like systematic desensitization or flooding are utilized to expose you to the fearful circumstance. 4 Additionally, you learn how to halt the panic attack and regain emotional control. ​

Exposure: Historically, the most popular remedy has been direct exposure to heights. A 2017 research study, however, showed that virtual reality might be equally efficient.

What medications are used to treat acrophobia?

The medication D-cycloserine has been undergoing clinical studies for the management of anxiety disorders since 2008. A 2012 study discovered that utilizing the drug in conjunction with cognitive-behavioral therapy may enhance outcomes. 6 The authors of the study noted that additional research on dosage and duration of treatment was required.

Relaxation: You can reduce stress and anxiety by practicing yoga, deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation. Regular exercise is also beneficial.

Acrophobia and other particular phobias can have certain symptoms in common with vertigo, a medical condition with numerous potential causes. For these reasons, it's crucial to get expert assistance as soon as you notice any acrophobia symptoms.

Specific phobias like acrophobia are not typically treated with medication. When undergoing psychiatric therapy or in unavoidable situations, people with acrophobia may occasionally take drugs to temporarily help them ease symptoms of dread and anxiety in order to treat their phobia. Medications that are occasionally used to treat acrophobia include:

Some beta-blockers are prescribed to treat or prevent the physical signs and symptoms of anxiety, such as a rapid heartbeat.

Relaxants (benzodiazepines): You can temporarily lessen your anxiety by taking medications like benzodiazepines, which are designed to help you relax.

Acrophobia Prognosis

What is the acrophobia prognosis (outlook)?

Only 10% to 25% of persons with specific phobias, like acrophobia, seek therapy because many are able to avoid the situation they are afraid of. Acrophobia can make it difficult for you to carry out regular chores like climbing a flight of stairs or crossing a bridge, which can negatively impact your quality of life as a whole. A panic episode while you are at a significant height, such as while on a ladder, might be harmful if you have acrophobia. It is crucial to seek treatment for this reason.

According to research, acrophobia can be successfully treated with exposure therapy, particularly virtual reality exposure therapy. Acrophobics who refuse treatment have a twofold increased risk of developing a generalized anxiety disorder or depression unrelated to their specific phobia.

How can online therapy help?

One of the most prevalent phobias is acrophobia. It might be worthwhile to speak with a therapist if you have a fear of heights and discover that you avoid particular situations or spend a lot of time thinking about how to avoid them.

A therapist can assist you in creating the coping mechanisms you need to face your fear and stop it from interfering with your regular activities.


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Celine Saade
Celine Saade

Celine is a psychologist and a researcher. She likes delving into new topics and her main focus is on developmental and clinical psychology. Her motto is “I don’t empower you,I recognize you are powerful”

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