Although it is normal to feel fear when we are at high altitude, on a bridge, on footbridges or skyscrapers, due to the logical fear of falling into the void, the truth is that after all that is still a matter of common sense, that has nothing to do with acrophobia.

On the contrary,  there are people who are unable to carry out everyday actions such as climbing a ladder, leaning out of a viewpoint or crossing a bridge . They do suffer from a phobia that can become quite limiting for their lives and that consists of having a fear of heights or acrophobia.

There are other phobias that also impede, or limit, people’s lives. (for example, agoraphobia), hemophobia, claustrophobia, or aerophobia.

This phobia goes well beyond the impression that moving away from the ground can cause.

What is Acrophobia

It is  a disproportionate and irrational fear of heights based on a pathological fear of the subject to fall  and die.

This disorder entails a series of physiological and psychological effects so negative that they are not controlled, paralyzing the person. Thus, those who suffer from it tend to avoid all situations that involve being at a certain height.

On the other hand, the one we are dealing with is one of the most common phobias in the world, to the point that it is estimated that it affects between three and five percent of the world’s population, to a greater or lesser extent. There is no specific profile of people who develop this disorder, although it seems that young people and women are more likely to suffer from it.

What are the causes of the terror of heights

The most common causes of this phobia that can limit the life of those who suffer from it are:

  • Cognitive biases.  The person who tends to think too much about a potential danger ends up developing a feeling of fear and, the more he influences it, the more fear he will feel, even when the height or uneven situation is no longer present.
  • Previous experiences.  Having suffered a mishap in the heights makes the fearful situation that occurred on that occasion be remembered, appearing every time the situation reappears. This is the reason why the possibility of it happening again is magnified, along with its possible consequences.
  • Pictures of vertigo.  Vertigo responds to a dysfunction in the balance system, resident in the ear, or to a cervical problem, which produces a sensation of fainting or dizziness. A person with vertigo problems, whether for physical or learned reasons, is a candidate for developing a fear of heights.

Differences with vertigo

From what we have just explained it follows that vertigo and acrophobia are not the same, despite the fact that the former is often referred to as a synonym for what a person experiences through fear of heights.

The main difference between the two concepts is that vertigo is, specifically, an illusion that makes the individual think that the things that are around them (including the ground) are turning or shaking, causing them to lose their balance.

When it is in a situation such as the proximity to the edge of a precipice or similar descending void, the phenomenon is known as  vertigo of the height .

That said, it cannot be denied that acrophobia is related to height vertigo, but without being technically the same and, at best, the latter can be found among the symptoms of fear of heights.

As is found in any type of phobia, the one we are analyzing is expressed through a series of symptoms that are manifested in specific situations.

Some of these symptoms are shared with the rest of pathological fears, the trigger (source of fear) being the one that varies the most.

The main symptoms of the terror of heights are:

  • Agitation and muscle tension.  This disabling fear is expressed, among others, through a state of muscular tension that causes the whole body to shake with tremors. The reason is that the sympathetic nervous system is highly activated, causing the muscle fibers to receive more activation signals in order to prepare to react quickly.
  • Panic.  In those cases in which the feeling of fear is very extreme, becoming abrupt, panic attacks may occur.
  • Anxiety.  Anticipating accidents and misfortunes at the sight of a cliff triggers the appearance of anxiety, or what is the same, of a state of cognitive and physiological activation, in which possible dangers concentrate the focus of attention
  • Lost of control.  This phobia has among its cognitive aspects the loss of control, that is, the inability to adequately manage executive processes of the style of attention management
  • Headache.  The strong increase in the blood pulse also causes a sensation of shortness of breath.
  • After the appearance of the rest of the symptoms, the experiment of a headache produced by the sudden changes in blood pressure and by the over-activation to which the nervous system is subjected is frequent.

How to overcome this phobia (by exposure)

The  cognitive-behavioral therapies  have proven to be the most effective in this regard. In particular,  exposure  is widely used in both this and other phobias and involves gradually confronting the source of fear, setting simple short-term goals.

Achieving this involves physically going to high places in the company of the psychotherapist or using the valuable tool of virtual reality. Each time an objective is exceeded, such as staying 30 seconds on the edge of a cliff, a more complex phase is passed.

In this way, the individual passes a series of tests ordered according to their level of difficulty, accumulating progress, always under the careful supervision and direction of a professional instructed in these techniques.

Some of these disorders are often thought to be normal, yet they are not. There are many people who can suffer from irrational fears and are not even aware that they suffer from such fear

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Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.

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