Nearly 1 in 20 adults worldwide suffer from acrophobia, a debilitating anxiety disorder that causes the individual to have a deep fear and aversion to heights and tall buildings, skis, sky scrapers, Ferris wheels, high hills, balconies generally.
Acrophobia may affect the compliance of affected individuals to recreational activities that involve heights and in severe cases, can affect the daily activities in the long run.
For example, driving on bridges may induce panic attacks, dizziness, thanatophobia, and nauseous feelings in acrophobic patients. Also, acrophobia victims working in large cities and companies may encounter the need to use elevators, railings and/or staircases which may cause dizziness and other symptoms of acrophobia.
SYMPTOMS OF ACROPHOBIA:
Firstly, the three general symptoms of the fear of heights are; anxiety, panic and fear. However, these symptoms must be superfluous of the actual situation and must cause the individual to show physical distress and significant impairment.
Acrophobia symptoms are usually excessive and unrealistic.
The physical symptoms of acrophobia depends on the situation, stimulus and individual reaction, one might experience muscle tension, headaches, panic attacks, palpitations, or dizziness.
A full blown panic or anxiety attack can cause breathlessness, trembling, sweating, heart palpitations, loss of control and even thanatophobia (thoughts of dying).
CAUSES OF FEAR OF HEIGHTS:
Expert psychologists have blamed the main cause of acrophobia to be negative thoughts. These thoughts are;
1. If I stand on the ledge I will be tempted to jump or someone will push me over.
2. I will lose my balance.
3. The building structure is weak and will collapse, or the elevator car will crash.
4. I will get dizzy or have a heart attack and fall.
These thoughts are simultaneous and short lasting and the acrophobic is not aware of these thoughts. The fear also arises from the imagination of great pain and discomfort that may be experienced on the impact of falls from such great heights, unlike a non-phobic’s, these thoughts are extreme and irrational.
Common to most anxiety phobias, the subconscious mind reflexively creates a protective mechanism to “prevent the oncoming fall”.
Emotional trauma can also act as an accelerator for the fear of heights , such as movie scenes, tragic events to loved ones associated with height. Although the fear of heights might be manifested constantly and persistently, some phobics do not experience this fear unless there is the presence of a direct stimulus (e.g. elevators, railways, etc).
TREATMENT OF ACROPHOBIA:
Utmost dedication and commitment is required to overcome the fear of heights. Medications such as anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds can help reduce the effects of acrophobia. These drugs aid the phobic in reducing and calming the mind and easing anxious thoughts.
Other techniques such as positive meditation, hypnosis, positive thinking are powerful in overcoming the fear of heights.
The use of systemic and/or gradual desensitization is a powerful tool that has recorded close to 75% success cases in treating acrophobia, here, cognitive behavioral therapy is employed as the phobic is introduced to various ranges of stimulus that aggravate acrophobic symptoms. This is done progressively as the individual is exposed to the stimulus from the least to the most fearful, while imagining their fear components and relaxing.
Newly emerging methods like the virtual reality are also a helpful tool in combatting the fear of heights.