A fear of heights affects more than a person’s ability to take a flight and go on holiday. For those living with acrophobia, it can have a real impact on their day-to-day life. Here, we’ll explore what acrophobia is, including its causes and symptoms and how hypnotherapy can help treat it.
What is acrophobia?
Acrophobia is the name given to the specific fear of heights. It's a type of anxiety disorder that's thought to affect about 6% of the population. Even if the person doesn’t appear to be very high up (acrophobia can arise from just being off the ground), someone with a fear of heights can quickly experience an array of unwanted symptoms.
It's human instinct that we’re naturally cautious around heights, particularly if they’re unstable or unfamiliar to us. But for those living with acrophobia, their fear is intense and can send them into an uncontrolled state of panic when they even think about encountering a height.
For people living with a fear of heights, acrophobia can impact their daily life. It may prevent them from visiting a new place, travelling, sightseeing or even doing jobs around the home for fear of climbing a ladder. This fear can be disruptive and may lead the person to become isolated and lack social contact with family and friends.
Acrophobia can have a detrimental effect on a person’s well-being including triggering panic attacks. So, it’s important to take the steps necessary to manage it and intervene as soon as possible. Thankfully, there are a number of treatments available, including hypnotherapy.
What causes acrophobia?
Acrophobia stems from our evolutionary instincts that falling from a height can cause us harm. Frequently thinking about what might happen if you were to fall from a height might lead someone to develop acrophobia. Additionally, a specific fear of heights might be formed if you've had a traumatic experience with heights or have seen someone else fall from a height in the past.
However, as with all phobias, there may not be a clear cause, so they could be shaped by the environment. For example, learned behavioural responses from parents can also be a contributing factor. Someone is also more likely to develop acrophobia if they have an existing anxiety disorder.
Fear of heights or fear of falling?
A fear of heights differs from having a fear of falling, though the two are very closely related. The fear of falling (also known as basophobia) is not necessarily the fear of falling from a height. In fact, it’s very common in older people who may be more at risk of falling due to being unsteady on their feet, especially if they have sustained an injury from a fall before. It's, therefore, associated with the fear of not being able to walk or stand.
Identifying if you have a fear of falling or a fear of heights can be helpful in ensuring you receive appropriate treatment.
Symptoms of acrophobia
As acrophobia presents symptoms closely related to anxiety, identifying what situations trigger your symptoms can help to determine if you have an anxiety disorder or a specific fear of heights. Common reactions for those experiencing this fear include: immediately lowering themselves to the floor, crawling on their hands and knees or kneeling down. Other emotional and physical symptoms can include:
- a sense of panic when faced with heights or thinking about heights
- chest pain
- dizziness or spinning, also known as vertigo
- heart palpitations
- feeling short of breath/gasping for air
- displaying avoidance behaviours
- fear of being trapped when high up
- feeling a strong sense of needing to escape
- panic attacks
- feeling paralysed
If you or someone you know has or suspects they have acrophobia, it’s really important you seek professional treatment to manage it as quickly as possible to prevent it from impacting your life. Finding appropriate treatment will not only help you take back control but will teach you techniques to calm your physical responses and protect your health.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
CBT is a type of talking therapy that aims to change your thoughts and behaviours toward your fear. Working with a therapist will help you uncover your perceptions of fear and reframe the way you think about it. It aims to turn your negative associations with heights into positives, such as recognising when you're safe.
This is the gradual introduction to facing your fear head-on. A therapist will usually do this alongside talking therapy. They will typically start by getting you to talk about your fear of heights, before slowly introducing you to them in person - with images or virtual reality until you feel ready to tackle the real thing. This might start out by peering over a first-floor balcony and gradually increasing the height to which you’re exposed. This is always done at a pace that suits the individual and will be carried out in a safe environment with your therapist.
For some people, remedies such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, yoga and meditation therapy can help them manage their anxiety symptoms. These can help you to feel more in control and support your well-being when living with a specific fear such as acrophobia. Before practising any of these therapies, it’s important to find a professional who can work through them with you.
Hypnotherapy for acrophobia
Hypnotherapy is an effective tool to overcome a fear of heights and, in some cases, can have a quicker success rate than other therapies like CBT. There is no one set course of hypnotherapy and treatment for phobias can vary for each individual. Many people, however, report improvement after just a few sessions.
Hypnotherapy works to reach the subconscious mind and uncover the root cause of your fear. Your therapist will place you in a controlled hypnotic state to analyse your current way of thinking and identify your triggers. Once identified, your therapist will offer you calming phrases and suggestion words that will enter your conscious mind when you encounter heights. The aim of hypnotherapy is to help you self-manage your response to heights so you can maintain control in these situations.
Find out more about how hypnotherapy can help treat phobias.
How can I help myself?
A hypnotherapist will usually teach you some self-hypnosis techniques to practice routinely. By learning to perform hypnosis on yourself, you will be able to work through your response safely and effectively.
In the interim, there are other methods you can try if you find yourself in a triggering situation:
- sit or lay down
- focus on the horizon
- focus on stationary objects around you
- practice mindfulness
- try distraction techniques like naming things in a category from A-Z
If your fear of heights is affecting your life, it’s important to seek professional help. If you’d like to find out more about how hypnotherapy can help your acrophobia, you can reach out to a therapist on Hypnotherapy Directory.