Acrophobia or fear of heights is one of the most common phobias. It affects one out of 20 individuals.
You may have watched a video online of a scenic mountain in China, where tourists walk on a transparent glass floor where they see the ground below.
The company that manages the bridge, installed a computer software which makes parts of the floor “crack” accompanied by a glass-cracking sound, as soon as the nervous tourist steps on it.
While it seems funny watching the reactions of the tourists, you can’t help but feel sorry for some of them especially those who are genuinely terrified. Such is the effect of heights on most people.
Signs and Symptoms of Acrophobia
There are some of the signs and symptoms of Acrophobia:
- Excessive sweating of the palm or forehead
- Palpitations or increased heartbeat
- Uncontrollable shaking
- Rubbery legs
- Feeling dizzy or losing balance
- Panic attack
- Extreme anxiety and fear
Causes and Common Triggers of Acrophobia
Some people say that some people with Acrophobia may have had a bad fall when they were young, thus the fear of experiencing the same pain. Most people have a rational fear of falling. But what sets apart those with Acrophobia is the excessive and irrational fear of heights.
Acrophobia, like all phobias, seems to be an over-reaction of the normal response to fear. Some experts suggest that this could be the result of a previous experience of a fall, or maybe to a parent's unpleasant reaction to heights which the child witnessed.
Treatments of Acrophobia
For most phobias, exposure therapy is said to be the most successful. There are several studies conducted about treatments of phobias using imaginal exposure. This means for people with Acrophobia, they will be gradually exposed to images of the thing that they fear, which are heights, or tall buildings and places. Based on the same studies, 90% of subjected to the treatment exhibited a considerable fear reduction. And around 65% no longer experienced any symptoms of their phobias.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
This is another form of treatment for persons with phobias. It is a psycho-social intervention that aims to improve mental health. What it does is it helps the patient to challenge or change their thoughts or beliefs in addressing their problems. This treatment was originally meant to treat depression, but has since been expanded to treat other conditions including anxiety, which is exhibited by most phobic people.
Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT)
In this type of therapy, the patient is given a simulated experience using computer programs and artificially created environments. They use Virtual Reality gadgets to provide the patient a controlled stimuli as part of the treatment. They then monitor the patient’s reaction. It’s a series of VR-based treatment where it involves adjusting the virtual environment. Sometimes smell or adding vibrations allow the clinician to determine the level of the patient's reaction to the stimuli. Replaying virtual scenes multiple times with or without adjustment depending on the patient's reaction.
Societal and Cultural Impact of Acrophobia
In the film “Vertigo” by Alfred Hitchcock, John “Scottie” Ferguson, played by James Stewart, has to resign from the police force after an incident which causes him to develop both acrophobia and vertigo. The word “acrophobia” was mentioned several times throughout the film.
We can just imagine the extreme fear of heights a person with Acrophobia feels. Their lives will surely be affected both personal and professional. They would find it hard to work in places where they have to be in high places such as in an office building. Traveling may be a terrifying ordeal especially when they need to ride an airplane. This will also impact their relationships as their irrational fear will indirectly and directly affect their loved ones.
How Common Is Acrophobia?
Fear of heights or Acrophobia is one of the most common irrational fears in the world. There are an estimated 3-5% of the world’s population who are suffering from this condition.
A study was made where participants were made to judge the height of a building at ground level and top of the same building. Those who were most afraid of heights judge the building 10 feet higher at ground level, and 40 feet taller from the top. It shows that Acrophobics see buildings taller than they are.
What Should You Do If You Have Acrophobia?
The best thing to do is seek medical help especially if it already interferes with your daily life. Seeking professional help may help you understand why you developed the extreme fear of heights. The treatments we mentioned here have helped a lot of people that have the same condition as you. The first step is to acknowledge that you have a problem and you want to seek help to solve it. To paraphrase a common saying, the first step to healing is first acknowledging that you are not well.
If this is not possible due to financial constraints, you may want to participate in online discussions and join support groups related to Acrophobia. There are many groups whose goal is to reach out and help people with the problem such as yours. Remember that some of them may even have a severe form of Acrophobia than you and were able to overcome it. You will be surprised by the sincere desire of most people to reach out and simply help without asking anything in return.
Acrophobia is one of the most common phobias in the world. With 3-5% of the world’s population as confirmed Acrophobics. We all have a natural fear of heights. Most of us have experienced falling at least once either from a bike, a tree, or worse, a short fence. But eventually, we all learned and made sure that we will be careful the next time. Whether a person's bad fall caused him or her to be an Acrophobic, or because of other reasons, they need our support especially if they are our friend or a loved one.