Acrophobia, or fear of heights: causes and ways to overcome

The word “phobia” is translated from ancient Greek as “fear”. First of all, it should be said that this feeling is completely natural for any living creature. Fear of anything and fear for one’s life and health are directly related to the instinct of self-preservation, which is basic, ensuring the physical survival of both an individual and the entire species as a whole.

The feeling of fear forces us to take care of ourselves and avoid potentially dangerous situations. Primitive man was afraid of fire, thunder, darkness, and attacks by wild animals. In the process of evolution, our distant ancestors learned to cope with most of these dangers, and some of them even put them at the service of humanity, but many remained with us forever, transformed into feelings of anxiety and restlessness, which are sometimes difficult to explain.

Our fears can be either absolutely normal or irrational, arising in the face of an imaginary threat. An inadequate and illogical reaction to non-existent threats may indicate the emergence of one or another mental disorder that subjugates the individual’s consciousness and prevents him from living a normal life and enjoying simple things.

When the fear of an object or phenomenon becomes excessive and begins to cause psychological and physical discomfort, with a high degree of probability we are talking about a phobia, which is a deviation from the norm.

There are a great many different phobias. Just think: experts call the figure approaching 40 thousand! Among all this diversity, there are some very common ones that are heard by everyone: claustrophobia (fear of closed spaces), social phobia (fear of what can happen to a person in society), thanatophobia (fear of death), nyctophobia (fear of the dark), glossophobia ( fear of public speaking), autophobia (fear of loneliness), and quite specific ones. So, there are people who literally physically feel and are afraid of the passage of time (chronophobia), teenagers (ephebiphobia) and even... chewing gum (chiclephobia).

Phobias have different effects on the body, depending on the degree of neglect. They can cause not only moral suffering, but also physical discomfort in the form of attacks of arrhythmia and hypertension, nausea, and fainting. Thus, it is obvious that phobias not only interfere with living a full life, but also lead to various kinds of health problems, which is why it is so important to recognize the problem in time and seek help from a qualified specialist.

You can read about some of the listed fears in the materials of FAN . Today we decided to talk about one of the most famous and common phobias, which to one degree or another occurs in hardly every second inhabitant of the planet - acrophobia, or fear of heights.

Nikolai Chadayev about how this illness manifests itself, what its causes are, and how to overcome the fear of heights .

History of acrophobia

Acrophobia (Greek acros - upper; phobos - fear) appears in people, causing serious worries. According to the theory of evolution, phobia is necessary for humanity to develop internal resources in extreme conditions.

Primitive people, when in danger, ran away or attacked. Fear is a natural reaction to danger: adrenaline is produced, accompanied by increased heart rate, increased blood clotting, and increased blood glucose levels.

People discover internal resources of endurance. As evolution progressed, physical threats became fewer. People learned to control fire, weapons, and make tools. But some primitive phobias remained. One of them is acrophobia - an internal conflict in front of heights. Fear of heights is holding me back. Small elevations are difficult.

A famous Athenian spoke of the appearance of symptoms of fear of heights when crossing a bridge. Anxiety, increased heart rate and muscle pain. The same descriptions exist in ancient Chinese texts and ancient Roman mythology. Fear of heights has been around for a long time. Originally from the ancient world.

Where does this come from

Any phobia appears in childhood. Psychologists say this. Fear of heights appears as a result of one’s own bad experience or a clear example: a child saw a loved one fall from a stepladder and injure his arm. Or he himself, while playing, fell off the sofa and hit himself painfully. But why doesn’t every adult have a fear of heights?

This is due, first of all, to the emotions that arose at that moment. If this caused terrible panic, screaming and tears among others, then in most cases, acrophobia in adulthood is guaranteed.

Since the fear of heights has roots from childhood, this problem must be solved gradually and not wait for an instant cure or therapy in the form of a few words from a psychologist. This problem requires an individual approach to each person.

Causes of fear of heights

In medicine, fears are divided into:

  • Pathological. Fear of heights is completely inadequate, like many other phobias. A man walks across a bridge, afraid, although he knows that it is impossible to fall. He stands on the closed loggia of a multi-story residential building, his knees shaking from the sight of the height.
  • Normal. Anxiety occurs when there is real danger.

There is a line between pathology and normality. Acrophobia lives in the subconscious. Irrational fear. People are aware of this fact and cannot cope with it.

Causes of fear:

  1. Too strict upbringing. Many phobias follow throughout life. Problems from childhood. In childhood there was little approval, encouragement, only humiliation, the result was fear.
  2. In overly suspicious, anxious persons. People who are subject to emotional experiences are more likely than others to develop phobias. This category includes people with thyroid diseases. Patients with hypothyroidism are more sensitive than healthy people.
  3. Heredity. Parents showed the child that he should be afraid of heights - the child will be afraid in 90% of cases.
  4. Frequent exposure to the situation. For people who are constantly at heights, the fear worsens at first. After a while, they get used to the situation.
  5. Alcoholism, drug addiction. The use of psychotropic substances leads to impaired consciousness. Such people are highly susceptible to phobias.
  6. Brain lesions.
  7. Rich fantasy. Impressionable people are prone to such experiences.
  8. Problems with the vestibular apparatus. Caused by physiological reasons.

How to deal with fear

You already know why people are afraid of being taller than usual. It's time to consider what ways you can fight your phobia.

  1. First of all, you need to recognize your fear. Imagine that you climbed to the second step of a stepladder, your knees begin to shake, thereby increasing the risk of falling. In addition, you need to think about what terrible things will happen if you fall from such a height. You won't get hurt in any way.
  2. You need to get used to the change in altitude gradually. If a person has such a phobia, he should never be forced to skydive. We need to start from small heights. Rise to a level where you only feel discomfort. Then go higher, you will have a slight feeling of anxiety. At this level, you need to spend some time thinking that you are still completely safe. It’s better to overcome these peaks together with a person in whom you trust. The process of mastering new heights should take more than one day, but sometimes several weeks. It is also recommended to write down all the peaks achieved and praise yourself for these successes.
  3. The work of imagination. You need to mentally imagine that fear has already been defeated. Imagine yourself on the edge of an abyss, but at the same time feel like a fearless person, not afraid to fall. This visualization must be done every day. Over time, a person will believe in his fearlessness.
  4. You can fight fear using various techniques aimed at spiritual relaxation. This could be breathing exercises, listening to calm music, meditation or yoga.
  5. It is possible that you will have to contact a specialist. In this case, you need to carefully approach this issue and choose a good, experienced psychotherapist, preferably one who specializes in acrophobia. It is possible that in addition to a course of psychotherapy, the doctor will prescribe medications. A specialist can prescribe antidepressants, benzodiazepines, betaine inhibitors. The first are prescribed to reduce stress, the second will help get rid of anxiety, the third - from problems with the heart, shaking hands, profuse sweating, symptoms that arise from a feeling of fear.

Symptoms and types of acrophobia

The most common signs indicating the presence of a phobia:

  • cardiopalmus;
  • chest pain;
  • hands become cold;
  • dry mouth;
  • diarrhea, nausea;
  • frequent urination;
  • insomnia;
  • pale skin;
  • lump in throat;
  • poor sleep;
  • loss of consciousness.

These symptoms are the body's physiological response to stress. Mental symptoms: people experiencing stress are prone to fear. They look aggressive, restless, fussy, irritable. External assertiveness is accompanied by great fear.

Types of fears associated with heights:

  • fear of flying - aerophobia;
  • fear of changes in height and depth - bathophobia;
  • illingophobia - fear of dizziness at heights;
  • fear of climbing stairs - climacophobia.

The mechanism of occurrence of phobia

According to the famous psychoanalyst Sigmundt Freud, a phobia is a disguise of an unconscious psychological threat associated with childhood experiences and fears.

Anxiety with phobias completely takes over a person and the only way to resist it is to avoid the traumatic and frightening reality. Gradually, neurotic fear begins to seem quite real and justified and occupies a central position in a person’s life.

Fear influences a person’s thoughts so strongly that he begins to perceive reality distorted.

It seems to him that when he goes down the stairs, his leg will definitely turn in. The balcony on which he is standing will certainly collapse, and the plane on which he is flying will certainly fall from heaven to earth.

Rational explanations do not in any way eliminate his fear, but only instill in him the feeling that “they don’t understand me.”

The line between phobia and fear

Are there limits to fear? Conditional. People who have a fear of heights learn to cope with their fear, gradually getting used to it.

A sociological study was conducted in Germany. Scientists have found that there are twice as many women suffering from acrophobia as men. Conducting a study: people were sent to walk along the stairs, cross a bridge, they noted the manifestation of symptoms of phobia. Many reported that they were being drawn into the abyss.

People who were afraid to walk on open areas of the bridge, with holes or broken railings, developed fear - a normal reason. For people who are afraid to look at a tall building, the phobia is a pathological reason. It is possible to overcome it on your own. Those who are afraid of non-fearful things have a phobia.

Which people are especially susceptible

We know that what we really need is fear. Without them, people would die in batches from their ideas of getting higher and more comfortable.

But why does this particular fear arise? Why do some people become very vulnerable to heights? There are several reasons for this:

  1. There is an innate tendency to be afraid of heights - there are children who, from the cradle, are afraid to climb stairs, especially onto taller objects.
  2. Past experience - if you once fell from a height, much less injured yourself, then there is a high probability that you will now be afraid to climb to heights.
  3. Wild imagination - some, not yet having had time to climb 3 steps of the stairs, have already imagined in all their colors how their foot stumbles, their balance is lost and they fall, overthrowing everything in their path. Closing their eyes, the last thing they see is their whole life from A to Z. There are very impressionable people.
  4. A real threat - well, here the goat understands that in case of a real threat there is no need to take risks, but it is better to watch a beautiful sunset from below, for example.

You and I have decided that we need anxiety and worry about heights, but only in small manifestations. If fear overwhelms the whole person, he cannot cope with the excitement, then it’s time to do something about it, to solve the problem.

Acrophobia in a man

How to get rid of acrophobia

Psychologists recommend sticking to the rules. With their help, overcome fear at height.

  • take a stable position while at a height;
  • lean on something solid or pick up a solid object;
  • better sit down. When sitting down, anyone subconsciously feels themselves at a lower height than when standing;
  • try to focus your gaze on something motionless;
  • when crossing a suspension bridge, look ahead at trees or houses that are visually stable;
  • don't look at the clouds, they are moving. This will cause discomfort.

It has long been noted: those who are not afraid of heights develop confidence. Obsessive images prevent people from living peacefully.

Methods for relieving anxiety attacks:

  • breathing practices are widely used for fear of heights and suppress the beginning of a phobia. Resistance to stress increases and understanding of the problem comes;
  • visualization method. Awareness of the drama - transition to action. Accuracy of perception of the picture of fear. Concentration on your own feelings. Looking at pictures showing heights. Computer games related to heights. Books about flight and peaks;
  • record the moment of fear. 1 meter from the floor or higher. Analysis of the situation. The unfoundedness of fear leads to awareness and getting rid of the problem.

Overcoming feelings of fear helps to reassess your own strengths and values. Climbing mountain peaks, paragliding - such activities will strengthen your sense of personal power and help you overcome your fear.

Case from practice

In conclusion, we will tell you about a case from the practice of our expert, which inspires optimism and gives hope that getting rid of a phobia that interferes with life is quite possible.

Already an adult married woman, she experienced a painful fear of heights. This greatly limited her travel, which she and her husband loved passionately. However, any kind of activity associated with climbing to a height was closed to them due to the panic horror that the wife experienced, which greatly limited their interests and opportunities. She couldn't climb the mountains, although she really wanted to. The Eiffel Tower and the beauty of Paris that opened from it were completely inaccessible to her.

In the process of working with a psychologist, it turned out that the cause of everything was childhood trauma. As a little girl, on the way from school, our heroine saw a crowd of people who were animatedly discussing something. Coming closer, she saw a man lying on the ground who had fallen to his death from the balcony. What she saw shocked the schoolgirl so much that from then on she became terrified of heights.

Only after the treatment she finally found freedom from her phobia. Some time later, the patient sent the psychologist a photo in which she posed next to her husband on a suspension bridge, confirming that she had completely gotten rid of her fear of heights.

Treatment of fear of heights

There are special classes. People are exposed to problem-related stimuli. Such influences are accompanied by relaxing stimuli, special techniques, to learn how to relax in dangerous conditions. It is easy to overcome acrophobia with the help of a psychologist-hypnologist, for example, Nikita Valerievich Baturin. There is a video on YouTube about this problem. This video provides an exercise for fear and anxiety. Correct application and successful use when working with fears:

Thanks to special exercises, you can easily cope with acrophobia. The main thing is regularity of classes. Virtual reality therapy is widespread. Special glasses are put on the eyes, in which everything looks very realistic.

Basic methods of treating phobia:

  • System arrangements. The method is aimed at introducing the individual into a semi-trance state. There is a correction of his attitude to the situation.
  • Hypnosis. The person is put into a state of suggestibility. Fighting pathology with the help of attitudes that correct his behavior.
  • Ericksonian hypnosis. The author of the method is Milton Erickson. Therapy is aimed at activating internal processes. No installations.
  • Desensitization. Reducing the intensity of phobias through special exercises.
  • Moreno method. Scenes of disturbing situations are played out. Also called psychodrama.
  • Cognitive-behavioral technique. The specialist and the client visit various “dangerous” places. They work through reactions and learn to relax.
  • Body-oriented psychotherapy. The point is to study unconscious behavior. Allows you to work with people who cannot verbalize the problem. Resolves issues with the cover of psychological defense.

Treatment of the disease sometimes includes medication aimed at suppressing anxiety. It includes:

  • antidepressants - reduce anxiety levels, remove apathy;
  • benzodiazepine - blocks anxiety;
  • beta inhibitors - control adrenaline levels.

It is imperative to treat the problem. Negative emotions adversely affect the state of the cardiovascular system. Constant stress wears out the nervous system.

Acrophobia can be treated with techniques that alleviate the client’s condition. A phobia is different from fear. The fear passes, the phobia lingers. They fight fear on their own, using knowledge. Phobias are dealt with by specialists. Psychologist-hypnologist Nikita Valerievich Baturin knows how to get rid of phobias. The protective mechanisms of the human body are aimed at protecting against dangers.

How to stop being afraid of heights?

Before starting treatment, experts recommend checking how advanced the phobia is. Standard therapy will relieve discomfort and neurosis, but will not cope with dangerous conditions. If a person refuses to leave the house or go to work because he is afraid of heights, then take more serious measures. In addition to sedatives, the patient will need the help of relatives and a psychotherapist.

How to stop being afraid of heights?

Assess the degree of harm. Determine when you become afraid. You are afraid of flying on airplanes or riding roller coasters, or fear appears when riding in an elevator to the upper floors of a building. Then look at the statistics on how many people are physically injured in the event of a disaster, ride or elevator breakdown. As a rule, the numbers come down to one in a million. Learn to relax. Any technique you know or are interested in will do. Do meditation, yoga. During attacks, practice deep breathing techniques. Such exercises give you control over your own body and allow you to observe from the outside the symptoms of panic: sweating, rapid heartbeat, breathing. Connect virtual methods. First, look at the pictures showing the city from above. If you manage to look at the photo without shuddering, then move on to computer games or special programs. Modern technologies allow you to design various situations, for example, you are standing on the edge of a cliff. Intellectually, a person understands that the situation is not real, but quite real. The level of fear is lower, try to cope with panic.

A healthy person is less prone to worry and panic. A normal lifestyle is influenced by the quality of food consumed, the amount of physical activity and prolonged sleep. These recommendations will not completely eliminate acrophobia, but they will reduce symptoms.


– Why did I start to be afraid of heights?

– There was some point of departure where the release of negative emotions occurred. But the reaction to a certain type of fear begins to accumulate in childhood. Look for the root there.

– Can you quickly remove your fear of heights?

– Each person is individual. For one, 2 hours of consultation with a psychologist is enough, and the second year he goes. Both may even achieve the same results. The speed of getting rid of such fear depends on the intensity of emotions, their repression into the subconscious and the person’s willingness to work on himself.

– If I’m afraid of heights, will I be afraid of flying an airplane?

– Fear of flying on an airplane has a separate name, has other symptoms, and these two phobias will not necessarily manifest themselves in you. But the probability is high.

– Can men be afraid of heights?

- They can. But, as statistics say, women are more susceptible to this fear.

Symptoms of the disease

It's normal to feel fear. This emotion is present in every person from birth. If a person begins to be afraid when standing at a height, then this is natural, because he worries about his safety. But, if fear acquires acute forms of disorder, then the help of specialists is required.

Symptoms in adults

The symptoms of acrophobia do not differ between men and women. There are two types of body condition: mental and somatic. Somatic conditions in adults include the following factors:

  • dizziness occurs at altitude;
  • due to fear, the heart rate increases;
  • disturbances in the functioning of the stomach;
  • pupil enlargement;
  • legs and arms are shaking.

Mental disorders include the following factors:

  • an emotional outburst when a person begins to think about the consequences of falling from a height;
  • fear of accidentally falling while walking;
  • strong impressionability and suspiciousness: such people are afraid of heights even in their dreams, the fear is present in the mind.

Fear of falling while walking is a disorder

Symptoms of childhood acrophobia

If a teenager has symptoms of acrophobia, this does not mean that the disease is congenital. In childhood, psychological factors play an important role: the child began to walk, climbed onto the sofa, fell and began to cry. This situation remained in his subconscious for many years. Fear of heights often puts children in a state of shock, their temperature rises, and they cry a lot. For children, such factors are quite dangerous, because panic can lead them to a nervous breakdown.

To prevent symptoms from starting to appear in childhood, it is necessary to enroll children in sports sections. Many sports (bicycling, football, basketball, figure skating) well develop coordination of movement and significantly strengthen the vestibular apparatus. Cartoons and books will help you overcome a phobia: the characters often encounter obstacles, fight them and win.

Positive actions quickly help to cope with mental problems and develop leadership qualities in a child.

Cartoons and books will help overcome children's fear of heights

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