Acrophobia (fear of heights): what is it and how to overcome it?

There are a variety of phobias; virtually any situation we can imagine can become the hotbed of pathological fear. Acrophobia or fear of extreme heightsIt is one of those types of phobias that, in varying 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 is, what symptoms it produces and what measures of psychological intervention can be useful in dealing with it.

What is acrophobia?

Acrophobia is an extreme fear of heights which is to some extent incapacitating for those who experience it and therefore affects the quality of life. Hence, it is an irrational fear, as it is not an adaptive response to danger that is truly a threat.

Fortunately, in city life, there are usually not as many places where the person is exposed as places where they can feel dizzy compared to natural mountainous environments, but this phobia can also appear in elevators with transparent walls, roofs, steep or raised stairs by hand. , decks and balconies located at high altitudes or glass floors.

Outraged, in many cases, it is not necessary to be near an elevated area for the symptoms of acrophobia to dissipate.; sometimes, imagining situations in which there is a precipice nearby, the feeling of intense discomfort already arises. This is why the fear of such heights can affect many people, no matter where they live. In fact, acrophobia affects between 2 and 5% of the population and is much more common in women than in men.

    Differences between acrophobia and vertigo

    Dizziness and acrophobia are not the same, although the former is often taken to be synonymous with what we experience for fear of heights.

    The difference is that vertigo is specifically an illusion which makes us notice as if things around us, including the ground, are spinning or shaking, causing us to lose balance. When this occurs in a situation where one is near a precipice or similar descending void, this phenomenon is known as vertigo in height.

    So acrophobia has to do with vertigo of height, but technically it is not the same, and in any case, the latter can be one of the symptoms of fear of heights.

    Symptoms of extreme fear at height

    As with all types of phobias, acrophobia is expressed through a number of symptoms that are expressed in specific situations. Outraged, many of these symptoms are shared with other pathological fears, Being the most varied source of fear (or trigger).

    So, the main symptoms of acrophobia are:

    1. Muscle restlessness and tension

    The fear of incapacitating heights is expressed among other things through a state of muscle tension which makes the whole body tremble. This happens because the sympathetic nervous system is highly activated, which causes the muscle fibers to receive more activation signals so that they are ready to respond quickly.

    2. Anxiety

    The anticipation of accidents and misfortunes due to the presence of a precipice reveals the anguish that it is a state of physiological and cognitive activation in which all attention is focused on possible dangers. This causes discomfort and also prevents you from thinking as rationally as you might in other contexts.

    3. Panic

    A wave of fear in which all of the person’s mental activity is directed towards the experience mixture of sensations produced by the anticipation of pain or death and, at the same time, sensory stimuli which arise from the current situation and which, in the case of acrophobia, have to do with the constant appreciation of the distance between oneself and the bottom of the precipice or the slope.

    When this feeling of fear is very extreme and comes on suddenly, panic attacks can occur.

    4. Loss of control

    One of the cognitive aspects of acrophobia is loss of control, that is, inability to properly manage executive processes such as managing attention or establishing coherent action plans and sequences.

    5. Tachycardia

    The sudden increase in blood pulse also causes it to appear a feeling of shortness of breath.

    6. Headache

    Once the other symptoms appear, it is very common to experience a headache as well, produced by changes in blood pressure and overactivation of the nervous system.

    Overcome fear at height

    Fear of pathological heights can be treated with psychological intervention, thanks to which most of the symptoms go away (although in most cases they do not go away completely).

    Cognitive behavioral therapies are the most effective in this regard. Specifically, the exhibition is widely used both in this and in other types of phobias

    Treatment of acrophobia by exposure

    The exhibition consists of gradually confronting the source of the fear, set simple, short-term goals.

    To do this, you can go physically to high places (at first, accompanied by the psychotherapist) or use the virtual reality resource.

    Whenever a goal is exceeded, like staying near a precipice for 30 seconds, you move to a more complicated phase. This way it is stopped by a series of tests classified hierarchically according to their level of difficulty, And progress is piling up. Going through this series of situations marks an ascending difficulty curve.

    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 to be devoted to the field of health psychology.

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