People with a phobia of heights feel an extreme, persistent, and irrational fear of being high up. That feeling of panic and anxiety setting in when you’re high off the ground is very real. Many people with a fear of heights may think that the consequences of having to avoid these situations are minimal and easy to avoid. It doesn’t seem like these situations arise very often but by avoiding your fears, you may miss out on a lot of opportunities.
Imagine you’re invited to a job interview on the 20th floor of a city building. Or your kids are begging you to go zip-lining on a family vacation. Or your friends all decide to go on a hike to see a beautiful viewpoint. What do you do in a situation like this when you have a fear of heights? Do you miss out on the job? Do you make excuses for your kids? Do you disappoint your friends? How do you conquer your fears instead of letting your fears conquer you?
Some degree of caution when it comes to a fear of heights is common and sensible. After all, it’s in our DNA and we are born with this instinct as a means to keep us safe. A problem starts to arise when the anxiety around dangerous heights begins to transfer over to other, less risky situations; therefore interfering with daily life.
Understand Where Your Fear Comes From
This intense fear can develop for several different reasons. A traumatic or frightening event like falling out of a tree or off a ladder can lead to pairing heights with the negative experience in that person’s memory. This then leads to that person avoiding all heights because they believe it may lead to a similar scary experience. The more someone avoids heights, the fewer opportunities that person has to learn these situations are generally safe. They miss opportunities that can then begin to develop a positive experience to counter the negative past experience. And so, the fear remains.
Or maybe quite the opposite happens where you don’t have a traumatic experience that this fear stems from and instead, you simply don’t have any experiences. Repeated safe exposure to heights enables most of us to manage this innate fear so when you don’t have the experiences to learn from, you don’t know how to feel in a situation causing that feeling of anxiety.
How to Conquer Your Fear of Heights
Recognizing and understanding the symptoms of anxiety is the first step to overcoming your fear of heights. When we detect a threat, our sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight) kicks in and starts preparing our body for action. This causes our body to pump blood toward our muscles, causing the unpleasant symptoms of anxiety. Our hearts beat faster and we breathe more quickly to get more oxygen to our muscles. We get dry mouth and ‘butterflies’ in our stomach as the energy and blood are diverted away from these regions and towards our muscles.
By understanding the physical symptoms of anxiety, you can begin to see them as nothing more than your body’s natural fight-or-flight response. We can’t simply decide to turn off the imaginary switch to this system, but it’s important to always remember that the anxiety response doesn’t last forever and will eventually pass.
Graded exposure therapy helps you to learn how to tolerate and ride out the symptoms of anxiety. The idea is to gradually expose yourself to the thing you fear by starting small and working your way up to more difficult situations. This helps to create new memories by experiencing your fears without feeling anxious and in turn, gain confidence. This then overwrites the previous association between the stimulus and fear within you, evoking less anxiety when faced with the challenge again.
The key is to start small with a situation that will provoke a small, but manageable level of anxiety. Try it out and stay in that situation until your anxiety subsides and you feel comfortable taking that next step. Try to redirect your focus to the features of the situation or environment, instead of on your anxiety. For example, if you are looking up at a tall building, how many floors does it have? What colors can you see? Focus on your breathing. Always remind yourself that the physical sensations are just the body’s natural response and don’t necessarily mean that you’re in danger. Repeat this practice over and over again until you feel comfortable moving on to the next step. Take steps that are small and manageable but still challenging. Take your time, leaving a situation too early can be counterproductive and you’ll continue to associate these types of situations with fear.
Contact Empower Adventure Park at Nomads!
Once you’re ready to take that next step and conquer your fear of heights, contact Empower Adventure Park at Nomads for an empowering zip line adventure that will certainly leave you feeling ready to tackle whatever is next.