We’ve all dealt with fear of heights at one point or another. Looking down at what looks like a mile high drop (even if it’s only 10 ft) and feeling paralyzed at the thought of falling.
But that isn’t necessarily fear of heights. We all possess an instinct that makes us wary of steep heights. After all, death can be imminent if we fall from high enough, so this instinct is normal and even necessary.
The fear it produces in us is simply the exhibition of that instinct and our natural reaction to keep us safe.
A phobia of heights (acrophobia) is an irrational fear of heights, even when one is not very high up. These tips are aimed toward those who deal with a rational fear of heights, but those with a phobia can certainly benefit as well.
Get up high
It might seem a bit counterintuitive to some, but getting up in high places is the number one way to combat the fear of heights. Why?
Let’s take a scientific approach.
The amygdala is the part of your brain which holds fear memories. It initiates a fight or flight response when you enter certain situations. However, if a new memory were to be created which contradicts the fear, that memory can override the amygdala and form a new response to the fear.
Therefore, steps to overcome the fear of heights are as follows. Go up to a moderately high (and safe) place, and let yourself be fully aware of how high you are. Once you realize you are not in danger, go up to an even higher place. Continue doing this — within reason — until you are no longer afraid of being up high. The new memory in your brain — the one that says being up high isn’t so bad — will begin to override your amygdala response and calm you down.
Of course, I don’t condone being reckless and going up to dangerously high places just to recondition your brain. Likely instead you will become more afraid of heights this way.
The best practical way to fight your fear of heights is rock climbing.
It’s a completely safe(mostly) way to get up high and face the fear head on. You climb up a vertical wall (maybe steeper) sometimes 20 to 30 feet above the ground with the intention of getting as high as you can or reaching the top.
You are basically running straight at your fear and drop-kicking it in the face.
For some this will work wonders, but for others it may cause greater fear. If you’re thinking about doing this, do yourself a favor and ease into it slowly.
Like any fear, small but meaningful steps are very important when overcoming it.
When executing the steps above, do not simply jump to the last step. Don’t go up as high as you possibly can the first time. That big of a step will cause your amygdala to initiate your fight or flight response and you probably won’t want to try it again.
Here is another example of using baby steps to overcome fear.
When I was a kid, my family would always go to the shooting range. Growing up in the semi-rural south, this was a common pastime and hobby for many people.
I didn’t hate it, but I sure was scared of it at first. A 10-pound rifle that could knock my 80-pound butt to the ground at my own command — sounds like a nightmare.
That’s why I started on something smaller. Something I could handle. A little 20 gauge shotgun and a few pistols were much less intimidating to shoot — so I started there. Not long after, I began to realize that these big pieces of metal weren’t going to hurt me as long as I did it correctly. I was in control and once I became accustomed to that, my fear faded.
Before long, I had worked my way up to much more powerful weapons. I knew that — if I had started with these stronger guns — I probably would never have shot again.
Baby steps can go a long way over time.