Acrophobia or Fear / Phobia of Heights
Fear of heights is a proportionate issue because naturally heights can be dangerous. Therefore the fear becomes a phobia or irrational fear when the height is present, but the fear is disproportionate. For example the distance may not be great, or the risk may be negligible, but the fear reaction remains high.
It is important with this issue to ensure that there is no medical condition present. Sometimes phobia of heights can be confused with vertigo caused by inner ear or other balance related issues, which can have medical causation. Please have a check up with a GP just to be certain.
Why are we afraid of heights?
Heights can be dangerous. In illogical or disproportionate fear, the sufferer is unable to discriminate between the real risk in some cases, and the low risk in others. This partly happens because the fight and flight response floods the sufferer with anxiety related chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol, and the frontal lobes of the brain where rational thought is processes take a “time out”, instead passing control to the fear centre at the rear of the brain. Once this happens rational discrimination is virtually impossible.
How do you tackle fear of heights?
NICE recommend cognitive behavioural based psychological therapies for most anxiety based conditions. MBSR or mindfulness based stress reduction and related therapies can also reduce the anxiety or stress response, allowing rational thought to prevail.
A combination of cognitive behavioural based therapy to adjust perception and behaviour, mindfulness training to reduce anxiety response and enable rational thought, and hypnotherapy based work to change perception and reactions, can all combine well.
How straight forward is it to tackle such a phobia?
It is important to remember that there are no “quick fix” therapies that are reliable for phobia treatment. The sufferer needs to learn about their condition (psychoeducation), change perception and behaviours (CBT), maintain calm (mindfulness) and then reengage with situations and employ the new methods learnt (Stress Inoculation Therapy / desensitisation). Therefore a series of sessions are required, with work being done by the client between sessions in the clinic, to ensure real measurable change out in the real world!
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