Acrophobia (fear of heights): what is it and how to overcome it?
There is a great variety of phobias; practically any situation that we can imagine, can become the focus of a pathological fear. Acrophobia, or fear of heights that is extreme , is one of those types of phobias that, in different degrees of intensity, assault some people when they are near a precipice or a steep slope or even when they imagine it.
In this article we will see what acrophobia consists of, what symptoms it produces and what measures of psychological intervention can be useful to face it.
What is acrophobia?
Acrophobia is an extreme fear of heights that is to some degree incapacitating for those who experience it and that, consequently, damages the quality of life. Therefore, it is an irrational fear, since it is not an adaptive response to a danger that really poses a threat
Fortunately, in urban life there are usually not so many locations in which the person is exposed to places where they can suffer vertigo compared to natural mountain environments, but this phobia can also appear in elevators with transparent walls, roofs, Steep or hand stairs, bridges and balconies located at high altitude or glass floors.
Further, in many occasions it is not necessary to be near a high place so that the symptoms of acrophobia are unleashed ; Sometimes, when imagining situations in which there is a precipice nearby, the sensation of intense discomfort appears. That is why the fear of heights of this type can affect many people, wherever they live. In fact, it is considered that acrophobia affects between 2 and 5% of the population, and is much more frequent in women than in men.
- Related article: "Aerophobia: when the fear of flying is pathological"
Differences between acrophobia and vertigo
Vertigo and acrophobia are not the same, although often the former is spoken of as synonymous with what we experience through fear of heights.
The difference is that vertigo is, specifically, an illusion that makes us notice as if the things that are around us, including the ground, rotate or agitate, which causes the balance to be lost. When this occurs in a situation where you are near a precipice or a similar descending vacuum, this phenomenon is known as vertigo of height.
Thus, acrophobia is related to the vertigo of height, but technically it is not the same and, in any case, the second can be one of the symptoms of fear of heights.
The symptoms of extreme fear of heights
As occurs in all types of phobias, acrophobia is expressed through a series of symptoms that are expressed in specific situations. Further, many of these symptoms are shared with the rest of pathological fears , being the source of fear (or trigger) what varies the most.
Thus, the main symptoms of acrophobia are the following:
1. Agitation and muscular tension
The fear of heights that is incapacitating is expressed among other things through a state of muscular tension which causes the whole body to shake with tremors. This occurs because the sympathetic nervous system is highly activated, causing the muscle fibers to receive more activation signals so they are ready to react quickly.
The anticipation of accidents and misfortunes due to the presence of a precipice causes the anxiety that it is a state of physiological and cognitive activation in which the whole focus of attention focuses on the possible dangers. This produces discomfort and, in addition, prevents thinking as rationally as it could be done in other contexts.
A wave of fear through which all the mental activity of the person is directed to experience the mixture of sensations produced by the anticipation of pain or death and, at the same time, sensory stimuli that come about the present situation and that, in the case of acrophobia, have to do with the constant appreciation of the distance between oneself and the bottom of the precipice or slope.
When this sensation of fear is very extreme and arrives abruptly, panic attacks can occur.
4. Loss of control
One of the cognitive aspects of acrophobia is the loss of control, that is, the inability to manage executive processes well as the management of the attention or the establishment of plans and sequences of consistent actions.
The abrupt increase of the blood pulse also makes it appear a feeling of shortness of breath .
Once the rest of the symptoms have already appeared, it is very frequent to also experience a headache, produced by changes in blood pressure and by over-activation of the nervous system .
Overcome the fear of heights
The fear of pathological heights can be treated through psychological intervention, thanks to which most symptoms will remit (although in most cases they do not disappear altogether).
Behavioral Cognitive Therapies are the most effective in this regard. Specific, the exhibition is very used both in this and in other types of phobias
Treatment of acrophobia through exposure
Exposure involves facing the source of fear gradually, establishing simple and short-term objectives .
To do this, you can physically go to high places (at the beginning, accompanied by the psychotherapist) or use the virtual reality resource.
Each time an objective is exceeded, such as staying close to a cliff for 30 seconds, you move to a more complicated phase. In this way, it is stopped by a series of tests ordered hierarchically according to their level of difficulty , and progress is accumulating. The passage through this series of situations marks a curve of ascending difficulty.
Of course, To carry out the exhibition it is essential to have the supervision and direction of a professional sufficiently educated in these techniques and that is dedicated to the field of health psychology.