What is Acrophobia? The Fear of Heights

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Acrophobia means phobia or fear of heights, i.e. when someone is afraid of the heights that can cause panic and anxiety, they have acrophobia. The word comes from the Greek word acron, which means heights and phobos, which means fear.

It is said that fears are nothing but a state of mind. But still, for many of us, fears are often limiting and detrimental to our well-being. The fears or phobias are synonymous with shadows walking with us in crowds and in our lonely times. Among the countless phobias that exist in the billions of people existing on this planet, the fear of heights or Achrophobia is the most common.

So, what is this phobia of heights? When was it first studied? What are its symptoms and treatments? These questions must be surfacing in your mind by now. Don’t worry! We will surely find apt answers to these questions in the upcoming paragraphs.

What is This Acrophobia?

The well-learned psychologists and researchers define this phobia as an ultimate, unreasonable, and steady fear of heights. Most people suffering from this phobia fear the thoughts of a variety of things associated with being far above the ground. This fear may exist even at times when there is no actual danger. 

Take the example of a person who is afraid to visit a friend’s place just because his friend lives on the topmost floor of a residential building. In such a scenario, this person’s fear of heights is also disrupting his normal behavioral activities and his relationships. This is where the phobia of heights has taken a real good shape of a daunting, stressy horror for the individual.

What The Visual Cliff Experiment Tells Us About This Fear of Heights

Many active researchers believe that a certain degree of reluctance to height is natural for the visual animals including Man. However, research psychologists Richard D.Walk and Eleanor J. Gibson provided us with an in-depth idea about the entry of acrophobia in our body mechanism.

The Visual Cliff experiment conducted by these two manifested that the crawling babies along with the newborns of the various species distinctly showed the unwillingness to cross a thick glass panel. This glass panel was supposed to cover a honed decline or drop-off. 

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It was revealed that even the mothers calling for their children, could not convince the infants to cross the drop-off. This scientific-cum-psychological experiment suggested vividly that this fear from heights is a definitive part of the evolutionary survival mechanism present in the living. 

acrophobia the phobia of heights

Where Does The Acrophobia Come From

As already stated, evolutionary psychology considers the fear of height as an intrinsic fragment of our need for survival. On the other hand, many modern psychologists have the opposite opinion. It is also believed to a very large extent that the phobia of heights can be labeled as a learned response to an antecedent fall. 

Considering from a genetic point of view, the fear of heights can also arise in the younger generation due to the parent’s frightened feedback to heights.

Immediate Symptoms Of Phobia of Heights

The nine-time Grammy Award winner Sheryl Crow is not very easy-going when it comes to climbing heights. She is one of those people who depict some immediate symptoms of acrophobia. Let us try to understand the world of a person who has this phobia, through his/her displayed marks or symptoms.

Bodily Symptoms

The physical or bodily symptoms are the first major signals that help us to detect the condition of an acrophobic person. For most of the people suffering from achrophobia their:

  • Limbs start shaking
  • Sweat appears as beads on the forehead
  • Heart palpitations
  • Body feels paralyzed
  • The mind gets clouded with numbness and inability to think 
  • Crying or yelling

Psychological Symptoms

The emotional or psychological symptoms are the next thing that counts while deciphering acrophobia: the phobia of heights. These are:

  • Uncontrolled anxiety
  • Urge to cling to some object for protection
  • Lack of faith in one’s ability to balance
  • Crawling on all the four limbs
  • Lowering the body or bending
  • Descending from height immediately

Avoidance: This can be called as an aftermath or rather a reaction to a person’s fear of heights. Since a person suffering from this fear tends to dread different situations, he very easily wants to avoid them. In the long run, this can be harmful to his emotional growth and spirit for survival.

What Is The Way Out of This Fear of Heights

Often, it is found that acrophobia patients share common symptoms with vertigo (a medical condition that causes a sensation of dizziness) and other kinds of phobias like Bathomophobia (fear of stairs and slopes). Although a person suffering from Bathomophobia can also be a host for phobia of heights, the vice-versa is not always true.

Responding intelligently to this phobia or any other condition is one way to deal with it. When talking about the phobia of heights we know that – “It isn’t the fear of heights that keeps a person from trying his wings, it’s the fear of hitting the ground”. As such, both empathetic and medical approach can construct a better storyline for the sufferers.

Medicines

On viewing a particular height, the sympathetic nervous system of an acrophobic gets aroused. This response of the nervous system results in the fight or flight reaction (as in an emergency). Therefore, sedatives or beta-blockers can provide short-term relief to the panic attack. 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), when done together with medications, can have wholesome effects on the patients.

Relaxation Therapy

Giving relaxation to the mind of the acrophobic is undeniably important. Yoga, exercise, muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and meditation are extremely effective as a treatment for the fear of heights.

Psychotherapy

CBT is done to treat acrophobia. Here, systematic desensitization (gradual exposure to a situation) and flooding (rapid exposure to a situation) are implemented. Emotional control is also taught.

Overcome Fear Through Exposure

Not only exposure to real-life situations but also to virtual reality can do away with the phobia of heights, as stated in a 2017 research. Exposing a patient to virtual reality can also save money and time as a therapist is not required officially.

Conclusion

One in every 15 people is estimated to be affected with acrophobia: the fear of heights. This phobia can turn out to be dangerous if a person loses control of himself on a certain height.

Therefore, now is the time to not only comprehend the issue but also spread awareness about the same. After all, one way to eliminate any fear is to receive love and cooperation from others as well. 

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Sonali Sharma
Sonali Sharma is a BSc (Medical), graduate. She has a fine interest in Psychology and writing. She has been a regular blogger for several websites.

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