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What is the fear of heights?
The medical definition for the fear of heights is “acrophobia.” So what exactly is acrophobia? It is an abnormal and persistent fear of heights. The word “acrophobia” is derived from the Greek words “acron” (height) and “phobos” (fear). Acrophobia, the fear of heights, is a natural fear. To a certain extent, there is nothing wrong with having a fear of heights. It is a healthy God given defense against doing things like walking off a cliff. The problem is when the natural healthy instinct becomes a morbid (unsound or even paranoia) fear. This type of unhealthy fear, acrophobia, is usually overwhelming and debilitating (it will freeze you in your tracks). If you suffer from a fear of heights, don't think that you are alone. Thousands of people suffer from acrophobia including some famous people such as Isaac Asimov, John Madden, Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, and Whoopi Goldberg. I receive many emails from people who share their experiences with me. Many people really identify with the main character of my book (see link below for more information)
Symptoms of the fear of heights:
Many people with the fear of heights experience breathlessness, dizziness, excessive sweating, nausea, dry mouth, feeling sick, shaking, heart palpitations, and the inability to speak or think clearly. Other symptoms of acrophobia also include a fear of dying, becoming mad or losing control, a sensation of detachment from reality or even a full blown anxiety attack.
What causes the fear of heights?
Many psychologists think that the fear of heights enters your life at some point in your past. There was probably an event that happened to you that linked heights or high levels with some type of emotional trauma. They think that the original event may have been a real-life scare of some kind that you no longer consciously remember. They think the condition can also be triggered by multiple events like seeing something in movies, TV, or perhaps even seeing someone else experience trauma involving heights.
There are several “cures” for overcoming acrophobia:
• positive thinking
• gradual desensitization
It is important to realize that drugs do not cure acrophobia. They simply temporarily suppress the symptoms using chemicals. The side effects of the drugs may be worse than a fear of heights. Never take drugs without a doctor's perscription and be sure you know exactly what the drug will do to your body.
Hypnosis also does not cure acrophobia. It also suppresses the symptoms but instead of using chemicals you're allowing someone to temporarily control your mind.
In my book “The Seagull Who Was Afraid To Fly” I used the gradual desensitivitation method to cure the seagull's fear of heights. How does this method work?
• You have to go to an area where you experience the fear of heights (this can be something as simple as a high dive board at a pool). Starting quite far back from the edge (where you feel no fear) slowly start walking toward the edge. Stop walking as soon as you feel any fear. Pay attention to what you are feeling and make yourself aware of those feelings. Don't run away from what you're feeling at this point and don't deny or pretend that those feelings are not there. Don't go any farther towards the edge, just stay where you are. Don't give up on your desire to get over your fear of heights. Accept the fact that you don't have to do it right now. You can choose not to go any closer to the edge at this point in time.
• The next time you repeat this process start from the same place you started the first time. Once again, stop walking as soon as you feel any fear. Pay attention again to what you are feeling and make yourself aware of those feelings. As with the first time, don't run away from what you're feeling at this point and don't deny or pretend that those feelings aren't there. You must consciously make a choice - a choice that you are in complete control. You can choose to continue walking toward the edge, leave, or stay right where you are. It is your choice and you are in control.
• Start the process again from the same place you started the first time. The moment will come when you will be able to simply accept what you are feeling, even though you may have no desire to continue on towards the edge. When you accept what you are feeling, where you are standing, you'll find that the fear fades. Every time you repeat this process, stop whenever you feel the symptoms coming on, identify the feelings, locate where you are, and allow yourself feel the as you do, and never lose your resolve to get closer to the edge. Little by little, using this process, you'll arrive close to the edge and you won't be overwhelmed by the fear of heights.