Whether you are an individual suffering from the fear of heights, or knows someone who does, this brief guide is written for you. Here we shall study the causes, symptoms and treatment options for the fear of heights, which is also known as acrophobia.
What is Acrophobia or the fear of heights?
Fear of heights or Acrophobia is a debilitating anxiety disorder that affects nearly 1 in every 20 adults. The word is derived from the Greek word “Acron” meaning heights and “phobos” meaning fear. Individuals having the fear of heights generally avoid tall buildings, Ferris wheels, roller coasters, skiing or even standing on high hills or balconies. Acrophobia generally affects the recreational activities one can enjoy. However, in some extreme cases, the phobia can affect one’s day to day life. For example: driving on bridges may trigger panic attacks or dizziness or individuals living or working in large cities might find it difficult to attend meetings on higher floors of a building or may experience dizziness in escalators, glass elevators, railings, and on staircases etc.
What are the symptoms of Acrophobia?
According to authors, Martin Antony and Karen Rowa’s book Overcoming Fear of Heights: How to Conquer Acrophobia and Live a Life without Limits, to be considered a phobia; the fear of heights must be excessive and unrealistic. Thus, the symptoms of the fear must be in excess of what the actual situation indicates or must cause significant impairment and distress in the individual.
Three main responses are generated by Acrophobia. These include anxiety, panic and fear. Depending on the situation, stimulus and individual reaction, one might experience muscle tension, headaches, panic attacks, palpitations, or dizziness. A full blown panic attack resulting from the fear of heights can cause breathlessness, loss of control, and even thoughts of dying.
Causes of fear of heights
Psychiatrists mainly blame negative thinking for Acrophobia. Negative thoughts include:
- If I stand on the ledge I will be tempted to jump or someone will push me over.
- I will lose my balance.
- The building structure is weak and will collapse, or the elevator car will crash.
- I will get dizzy or have a heart attack and fall.
Acrophobics tend to experience such thoughts quickly and automatically, so much so that they are often unaware of them. The fear also stems from the physical sensations associated with heights. The thoughts of pain arising from injuries and falls (which are often normal and rational) are taken to extreme levels in Acrophobic individuals.
Like in case of most fears and phobias, Acrophobia also stems from the unconscious mind that tries to create a protective mechanism. Emotional trauma in the past, such as a tragic event one associates with heights, or sometimes seen in fictional scenes in movies can be a catalyst for such phobias. The difference lies in how the phobia manifests in individuals: in some people, the fear of heights may be present all the time; in others it may be present only from direct stimulus.
Treatment for Acrophobia
A great deal of commitment is necessary to overcome the fear of heights. Individuals must show a strong dedication to overcome this fear. Sometimes, drugs can help the individual calm the mind and ease anxious thoughts. Hypnosis, positive thinking and meditation are a few other techniques that are known to help phobics overcome their fear of heights.
Systematic or Gradual desensitization is another recommended tool that can help one overcome Acrophobia. This technique makes use of cognitive behavior therapy where the patient is encouraged to face the triggers or stimulating situations that lead to thoughts of fear. The individuals are made to relax, imagine their fear components and then work in least fearful to most fearful situations. Nearly 75 % cases of Acrophobia are curable using such techniques. Virtual reality is also being tested and explored to understand Acrophobia and also as a possible tool for the treatment of fear of heights.
Taitum Waits says
My acrophobia is really bad. This helped so much.
Rebecca Behrent says
Finally! A site where I, as someone with Acrophobia, can really participate and join in on the conversation. So many health and research sites seem to be run by those who do not have Acrophobia but are telling us how to cope with it! It seems they want no input from those with ideas who might help their research!
I’ve had Acrophobia since I was little. Over all the years, I’ve tried various methods to fight it, but only one simple trick has made Acrophobia bearable in situations such as hiking to high places.
I put Vaseline on the I side of a pair of dark, wraparound sunglasses – just enough to blur the scene before me yet still be able to hike through those high spots that strike terror into me.
In my opinion, the connection between what the eye takes in and how the brain processes that information must be interrupted in such a way as to affect the perception of or interpretation of the visual information by the brain. It must be a careful balance so that distortion of the scene before you does not compromise safety. It has worked tremendously for me when hiking in the mountains, but when driving, I wouldn’t dare try it! However, there must be a way of affecting how the brain interprets visual information when it comes to driving over a high mountain pass that does not compromise safety. I know there is some research involving virtual reality therapy, but eventually, you have to be out experiencing the real world, and there must be a better bridge between the two than currently exists. Shutter shades, maybe?
Laila B says
Are there any celebrities with acrophobia? If so, can you please tell me? I have been searching for one, but all the sites I have been on haven’t shown them.
I don’t think anyone has a fear of heights. It’s a fear of depths.
I don’t really get the symptoms, but will be shaking if I stand on a ladder, and hate watching people high up.
It’s more a feeling that I’m slowly going to overbalance and fall, like I’m being pulled by an invisible force. Hence I don’t have any anxiety when in an airplane for example, or in a building. Unless the building has glass windows to the floor, then as I lean on them, they will pop out, I just know it.
sunayana palan says
That is exactly how I feel and as you mentioned, I don’t mind being in an airplane and looking out of the window but the moment I am somewhere high up without any form of protection, my legs start to shiver and then I feel like I lost all my balance.
Hello, I have a fear of heights actually! So just to keep you informed, there are some people with fear of heights, 3 to 6% of people.
I’m not really scared of heights I just get scared of falling down and busting something. Can you suggest something to get rid of it
It will be. Don’t let your thoughts take over your body. Push yourself and have someone with you.
Why are you telling people to push themselves?
I am not scared of heights and can drive over bridges, stand on a cliff, go up in a plane etc. with no anxiety at all. Put me on a mesh-work mezzanine, glass floor, plank platforms with gaps (like seaside piers) or fretwork staircases, and I start to sweat, hyperventilate, shake, and generally panic. I am not scared of heights, just being able to see the ground through what I am standing on. I don’t have to be all that high, as for the fretwork staircase, I had only gone up 3 steps for the sweating and feeling that I couldn’t breathe kicked in.
How can I feel comfortable on a mountain at cloud base level, on cliffs, bridges, or flying a plane, and then bug out on some open stairs?
I don’t have an extreme case of Acrophobia, more like I just HATE heights. I remember vividly I was at a summer camp, and there was this zipline. The instructor told me just to “step off”. I would be so afraid I just stood there shaking until I started crying. And what was worse, was that the counselor tried pushing me off and pictures of someone sitting really high up gets me really nervous and anxious.
I don’t have a fear of heights or falling per se, but I don’t like being on ladders or anywhere that I’m high up and the surface is unstable since I have somewhat of balance issues. Once I was hanging with my cousin and his friends over an abandoned rail bridge over a large creek, at night, probably 30 feet over, my anxiety was about 8.9/10 that moment. Then they decided not to get off to go home, but walk down to a private school which was about a mile away and this bridge went on for 3/4’s of it. We screwed around there until the school security chased us away and we had to go back over the bridge. One plank at a time.
But I don’t like watching people standing on ledges, high ladders,etc. Even pictures of people working on tall buildings give me a bit of anxiety.
Marie CK says
Im the same way. Even movies of heights or pictures of heights scares me. Like that picture if the all the men sitting on a beem eating lunch of the empire state building back in the 1920 or 30’s
Ella C says
Yes! It completely freaks me out. I feel like I am going to throw up just looking at it. Any photographs of heights or from heights make me feel the same way, as does actually being up high. This is something that has gotten much worse as I have gotten older.
Marie CK says
Ive been fearful of heights since I was little. Im not sure what prompted it, perhaps when i fell out of my crib and onto a radiator when i was 1 or when i feel down our stairs several times when i was like 4 or 5, but now I cant handle ANY heights. Not even standing on a chair! I see pictures or movies of heights and I freak out with horrible sweaty palms and dizziness. I cant even handle steep stairs! Even 3d movies that have heights I have sweaty palms and dizzyness. I have to hold onto my husbands hand. My mom can sit on the edge of a cliff and not have any problems, but not me. Its crazy!
I have acrophobia horribly, and it really bothers me. We moved to Oregon and ride motorcycles, and my friends and husband want to ride over the Astoria bridge to Washington this coming summer and I get anxiety just thinking about it! My sister visited me over the last summer and we went to Silver Falls and they were all looking over the steep cliff, and I could not. I get extremely anxious, and feel like fainting.
I drove them over one of the taller bridges in Portland and had NO idea we were going to drive over it until I got right up to the bridge, (since we just moved here 1 year ago.) Everyone in the car was hanging out the windows, yelling, “Wow, look how high up we are!!” It took every ounce of my inner strength not to pass out due to anxiety. I am so frustrated over it.
We also have a walking bridge that’s pretty high in Salem, and I have been taking my dog with me alone, to walk across the bridge, and of course he is not scared at all. I seem to be slowly, (very slowly) overcoming my fear but I am sick of it. I love to hike, and visit places, but my fear of heights is really a issue.
Ron M. says
When I was 21 I went through Airborne Training in the Army. I spent 2 1/2 years jumping out of various aircrafts with usually no fear or anxiety. As the years went by I developed an overwhelming fear of heights. I recently went to the Grand Canyon with my wife. When we got about 50 yards from the canyon, every cell in my body went flippity flue and I could not approach the canyon. My wife could not understand this and wanted to hold my hand while I got closer, which was not a solution. I finally got to about 25 feet from the rail. It was beautiful, but I was in full quiet, panic mode the entire time. My wife driving away from the canyon towards Flagstaff was a relief I did not know was possible. No more high places.
i am doing a report on this any little known facts?
I suffer from Acrophobia since I was 4 and Your website gave ways to calm myself down when at a high point. Sometimes just looking at pictures of high points or watching T.V. shows such as Ground Zero Rising makes me have the chills! I’m saying thank you for making this website.
I meant to say suffered. Sorry
hayden jnohnson says
fear of heights is terrible
When i was younger i was scared of heights.. i climbed onto a 7 feet high shed and was laid flat for 2 hours till someone helped me off. I couldnt walk up the school staircase alone as the gaps between steps were too much, id be late for class… i never climbed trees etc but i managed. In my adult life, my stomache turns even when i see a height on tv. I cant walk over bridges, i manage to drive over small bridges but i stare ahead the whole time and hopefully if its dual carraige i drive in the lane further away. Seeing other people up high, for instance standing on a ledge makes me ill, my body shakes. My son got stuck on a climbing frame and i couldnt get him.. i stood half way holding out my hand, embarrased i could go and get him… ive many more stories and fears.. anything i could try would be a big help.. i get the urge to jump or the feeling im going to somehow fall off the edge when near a height.. its mental. Ive never met anyone who understands
Lisa Lego says
Wow I feel for you, I suffer too. But it’s weird for me and I have trouble explaining it to my husband and his mom when they ask certain questions. I live in Pittsburgh Pa. and when I first moved here in 2004 after getting married, I used to struggle real bad with driving over the bridges here, cause at that time my husband had me doing all the driving around places. but now some of them I drive over all the time no problem, and others that are really high up I can’t do them or look at them without a feeling coming over me can’t do cliffs or ledges that are real high up or the inclines here or roller coasters either. Also can’t sit in balcony’s at base ball games, and or the hockey arena, and can’t go up stairs that are out in the open, and have the spaces between them,and go up high. But now weird thing is I can climb trees no problem, I can go out on second floor roof of our house and put lights up. I can sit in the balcony’s inside theaters for shows and plays. I can climb a small ladder to do projects around here. So I get really frustrated with myself when they don’t understand how I do some heights and others really bother me, and I get upset that I can’t have as much fun as others do, because of my fear of heights. Oh and for some reason I freak out if have to go on a plane especially smaller sized ones. Cause I can tell were up high. when I was like 7 or 8 maybe I took a few short plane trips to somewhere and they did not bother me as much then. but went on two seperate plane trips in in my 20’s and 30’s, and I could not look at anything, and could not wait to land and get off. Very frustrating.
That’s exactly how I feel! Like I am somehow going to go over a railin . The longer I’m on a balcony or bridge it’s like I feel a pull and my mind starts to immediately replay scenes of me going over and it plays on a loop until I remove myself from the area. I know it’s all in my head but it doesn’t make it any less terrifying. And I’ve never had an incident of falling that I’m aware of.
I have had acrophobia since I was very young. I still have problems driving over bridges, and I am very scared of roller coasters.
My acrophobia only reacts when I have to drive mountain roads or highways. It seems to be any height over 2000 feet. It’s horrible. I have to pull off the highway. My thoughts are logical, but my body feels terrified of going off the cliff. As if the car Iis going to take control. Crazy.. I think this fear came from a driving instructor, back when I was 15. We were going over a small overpass, and he felt I was going to slow, so he sped up to 50 and I got scared and kept going straight. He took control of the stearing wheel, and turn the car around the curve. I need to get over this, as I drive from Northern California to Southern California. HELP
I have the same problem, any road that climbs high with a large drop below me i start to panic, breathing fast, hot sweats etc. I really need someone to help me. There are roads I used to have no trouble with that I have serious difficulty driving over now.
Stella Owens says
I have very bad panic disorders. My first one was when I was in my twenties. I have a fear riding with others, and I cannot do stairs or elevators. I have talked to a phycologist and a psychiatrist. I am willing to try the hypnosis and the view master technique that put you in the place you are afraid of. I need serious help! If there are any suggestions for group therapy, or anyone that will share their story and trails with me, please do. I am very desperate now. I am getting to the point that I am afraid to travel at all. I stopped seeing the phycologist because of the distance from my home to her office. This is not good quality of life. Even as a child I was not able to ride in cars and never on ferris wheels or other fun things that children do. The large trucks on the road frightens me, and guess what, last July, 18th after a session with the phycologist on the 17th, a tractor trailer hit me and now I am really afraid. Help.
I have a fear of rollercoasters and the thought of falling :( how do i go about trying to love the experience of one?
Kim Mueller says
I am not normally afraid of heights, however, this weekend I went on a hiking trip that had me walking along a goat trail on the side of a mountain. Going in on the trail, with the drop-off to my right was not a problem. Coming out with the drop-off to my left was terrifying to the point that I wasn’t sure I could make my way out. I can’t find any information on this happening to other people and I am extremely curious.
When I’m driving on a high bridge and the cars are bumper to bumper, I feel closed in, trapped, and afraid of the height. If someome else is driving, I do much better.
i totally agree ;)
Lisa Lego says
Ok so I am not the only one like this then. I live in Pittsburgh Pa, and in case you don’t know we are the city of bridges, and hills. Some of the bridges here I do fine driving over as well as areas. But some bridges freak me out and can’t drive over them and some areas of roads here are too high up for me, and I panic. But now it’s weird depending where we are driving if someone else is doing the driving I am sometimes fine. Unless we are really high up or near an edge driving I close my eyes. Also a while back there was this one bridge here that I was doing better at driving over but this one day it was just me and I had to drive over it, and well traffic was back up so it took forever to get over it, and a few times while stuck on the bridge going slow I started to panic and get this feeling of fear coming over my body.
Who is the publisher of the article? I am doing research and this was a great source. I need to know who the publisher is.
I’m glad you like my article. Check your email.
Yeah I used the fear of water one Aquaphobia. It helped me a lot.
Hi, Jacob, I am also doing research and this was a great source.
Can you send me link to your website?
I’m not sure what you mean. Can you please explain?
Krislee Santiago says
I first got my fear of heights because of a dream I’ve had since I was 6. The dream was in an apartment building on a hill so I almost fell that time in the dream and when I woke up I started crying. Till now I don’t want to go to really high places since I get dizzy a lot and I’m scared of it. Even if I close my eyes I feel as if I’m going to a high place. And my imagination is really strong so when I imagine I’m in a high place I get dizzy. For example right now I’m dizzy because of imagining a really high place.
Yeah same here. A couple days ago my grandpa asked me if I would like to go up to his deer stand (where people shoot deers from) so I said sure. So we went to see it and it was like twenty feet off the ground. My little sis did it though…
I am not scared of heights I am just scared of falling.
that is what most people fear when fearing acrophobia :)
I’m trying to get over acrophobia.
Hi I feel you guys in every way. I drive trucks and lately bridges and mountain freaks me out. I get hot and very nervous then it feels like I go into a tunnel vision. I hate this feeling can someone help me please
This is exactly my problem as well. I drive truck and I can’t function properly because my fear of a high bridge or the edge of a hill. Very annoying and costing me a career because of it.
Fearof heights says
I just came out of truck driving school and never thought i was as fearful of heights until we went over a bridge then into the mountains and i had a severe panic attack. Now i couldn’t finish my training because of the fear. I just got my CLASS A license and now what do i do. This was something i worked hard for now i can’t do it because of this fear- someone has to have a solution.
Your website is amazing. I have acrophobia and have suffered from it since I was 7-8 years old. Like a lot of people who have commented on various articles, I am doing research and would appreciate the publication date of this article. Thanks so much!
I’m glad you like my website.
This article was published 22 December and has been revised a few times since then.
Publisher this was helpful but i have a fear of the world turning upside down.
I was a worker in a company, and I used to work on ladders over 60 feet high. I was never afraid of heights, but now when I drive at night or mostly over a bridge, I feel like I can not control the car, my arms and muscles get so tight and I feel so scared. It is only at that moment, then when I do hiking I feel the same, or inside the elevator I feel like I am drunk. This has only been happening for the last 8 months. So I am trying not to drive but I am a mechanic and I love to drive to Oregon, Reno, Nevada, San Francisco.. so sad.
I have imaginations of falling down from a higher place, it gives me panic even when I am not in any building.
I freak out completely like if it’s a bridge I have to have two friends on my side, but if I run over a bridge I’m fine and I burst out crying, like for example when I went to the state fair one time, I went on this ride that goes up really slow and then takes you down really fast and I opened my eyes and I couldn’t stop crying and I just started panicking. Sometimes when I walk anywhere high I go forward then step back because I panic and I have to stay by the walls, but I still have that feeling inside me where my whole body is surrounded in fear and I can feel it throughout my body and I look everywhere and get scared of the littlest things.
Lisa Lego says
Yup that’s me, I understand. Also my husband works for the bank in downtown Pittsburgh Pa where we live, and he is like 8 or more floors up in one of the tall skyscrapers, and I have never and will never go up to see his office.
I have a fear of expressway bridges, high ramps, and falling over a cliff. Even if I’m in a car I become terribly afraid. I get cross eyed, dizzy, and I feel like my heart is going to explode. I need help as this fear interferes with my daily life.
When I’m on top of a building or on a moving bridge or stairs without a handle I get nervous and my whole body starts to shiver because I always feel like I’m going to fall in a way.
Waseem Quadri says
I am scared of climbing ladders, what is the remedy? Please help. Thanks.
Pictures of builders eating lunch sends my legs into jitters. Yet I like looking at penthouse rooms. I don’t stay in a hotel room higher than two stories up. You fear ladders, let other people get up on them.
What school do you go to Steve, I want to know please and thank you.
I am not suicidal, but I’m afraid I will have a panic attack while crossing a long high bridge and jump over the side in panic.
I could have written your comment. I feel exactly the same way you do.
Why would you jump off a bridge..