Why are people scared of heights?

Acrophobia is an extreme and irrational fear of heights but it is treatable

The Khannas had a beautiful penthouse on the 12th floor, with a sprawling terrace where they held barbecues every fortnight. All their friends would come over and have a gala time, but the Sharmas, Rajesh and Neetu, would come up with excuses to stay away. After several such instances, the Khannas decided to visit them to inquire if everything was okay. After a casual conversation to catch up on the goings on in each others’ lives, the issue finally came up for discussion. It was then that Neetu, embarrassed, told them about her extreme fear of high places. The Khannas reassured her that it was nothing to be ashamed about and that it could be a phobia, which is treatable. They knew a psychologist in their building and promised to connect Neetu to him.

Most people feel a chill, or a little anxious when they look down from an elevated place. For some people this is an extreme and irrational fear, where the person can panic even when they are comfortably indoors but on a high floor. This becomes a problem when it limits the life and activities of a person, who may try to avoid situations such as visiting people who live on high floors of buildings, taking up a job at an office that is on a high floor, air travel, to name a few. The various symptoms that people with acrophobia portray when in such situations are:

  • Racing heartbeat
  • Dizziness and nausea
  • Feeling a loss of control
  • Shortness of breath
  • Panic attack

Causes of acrophobia

While most people have a general fear of falling, acrophobia is an extreme and irrational fear of heights. In most cases it is believed to be due to past experience linking heights or falling with emotional trauma. This could be an incident that happened to the individual in their childhood, or even an event they observed.

Treatment

Treatment of acrophobia involves a combination of therapy and medication and depends on the severity of the problem. While medication is used to treat the anxiety symptoms, the main component is gradual desensitization through therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is commonly used where the person is exposed to the triggers and taught ways to prevent the panic response.

 

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