Do you feel nervous and anxious while looking down from a skyscraper or a hilltop? Mild feelings of anxiety and insecurity related to heights are normal, but if your feelings are extreme in nature and severely impact your daily life, you could be suffering from acrophobia or a fear of heights.
Acrophobia can manifest in a variety of ways from a fear of extremely tall structures to a fear of crossing a bridge or even climbing a ladder. You could obsess about falling from a high place or being trapped there, and spend all your time trying to avoid these frightening scenarios. Merely thinking about objects associated with heights can also trigger an anxiety or panic attack.
The physical symptoms of acrophobia include:
Rapid heartbeat, tightness in the chest
Falling, loss of balance
Causes and risk factors of acrophobia
The exact cause of acrophobia is unknown. You can develop it because of a traumatic experience related to heights, which you yourself may have experienced, or you may have witnessed someone else undergoing it.
As with other phobias, genetic factors are also involved in the development of acrophobia. If someone in your family suffers from acrophobia, your risk of developing it increases. You may also get influenced by a close caregiver or family member suffering from acrophobia, and develop it yourself.
How is acrophobia diagnosed and treated?
Acrophobia is diagnosed by a mental health professional who will conduct a detailed clinical interview and evaluate your medical and psychiatric history.
Psychotherapy, which includes techniques such as exposure therapy and cognitive behaviour therapy, is the most effective treatment for acrophobia.
Exposure therapy is a powerful technique that involves gradual and repeated exposure to the source of your specific phobia. You could start by looking at a picture of a tall building, progress to climbing a short flight of stairs, and systematically expose yourself to gradually increasing heights to overcome your fear.
Virtual reality is increasingly being considered as an exposure therapy-related treatment option.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is useful for changing and reframing your negative thoughts and beliefs related to heights.
You don’t need medication for acrophobia but your doctor may prescribe a short-term drug to help you cope with the intense anxiety it triggers. Relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep breathing may also help you better manage your anxiety and improve the quality of your life.