However, fear and above all fear of heights can also trigger such panic attacks that it massively impairs people in their lives and leisure activities. Fear of heights can therefore be pathological.
What is fear of heights?
According to abbreviationfinder, fear of heights manifests itself in repeated states of anxiety and panic. The symptoms appear in situations associated with altitude.
Most people feel uneasy about being at high altitude. Looking out of the window of a skyscraper or climbing sights like the Eiffel Tower in Paris is associated with respect for heights, a certain innate caution leads us humans to behave prudently so as not to endanger our lives.
Fear of heights cannot be defined in centimeters or meters, which generally cause problems for those who are afraid. Fear of heights is rather individual. While the view from the third floor causes stomach ache and anxiety for some, climbing a ladder can cause panic attacks for others.
People with a fear of heights usually panic, they could fall to the ground, the apparent loss of control over the situation bothers them. Confidence in structural safety precautions, such as railings or thick window glass, suddenly disappears and the person feels at the mercy of their fear.
The causes of fear of heights can be manifold. Usually the cause lies in traumatic experiences in the earlier history, for example in childhood or simply in the fear of height as an unfamiliar event because one has never been confronted with great heights before.
The new situation can be so difficult for anxious, insecure people that a fear of heights develops as a result.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
Fear of heights manifests itself in repeated states of anxiety and panic. The symptoms appear in situations associated with altitude. While some sufferers experience anxiety only at high altitude (for example, when looking straight down from a high-rise building), others experience anxiety even on bridges or the average stairwell. For some sufferers, the fear of heights is so severe that they cannot stand on a ladder or in a chair.
In addition to the feeling of anxiety, anxiety and restlessness can also occur. In addition, specific phobias are often accompanied by symptoms that manifest themselves physically. These include tingling sensations in the arms or legs, sweating, dizziness. Nausea, shortness of breath, hyperventilation and tachycardia. Phobics can also feel a tightness in their chests or be very conscious of their heartbeat. This often gives the impression that the heart is beating unusually loudly.
The symptoms of fear of heights can resemble those of a heart attack. For this reason, it is important that medical causes that could explain the symptoms are ruled out. Other symptoms may manifest in response to repeated anxiety attacks. Typical is the avoidance of situations in which the fear could occur. Many sufferers are ashamed of their fear because they recognize it as unfounded or exaggerated.
Diagnosis & History
The symptoms of fear of heights are also expressed individually, but in principle they coincide with all significant symptoms of other neuroses or states of anxiety, such as claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces), agoraphobia (fear of claustrophobia) or arachnophobia (fear of spiders).
With a slight increase in altitude, for example when climbing a staircase to a very high floor, the first nervous symptoms such as sweating, difficult breathing, increased pulse (tachycardia) and/or inner restlessness appear.
Stomach pain or headaches, dizziness or similar psychosomatic symptoms can also occur. The greater the feeling of imminent threat, the more violently the fear begins to express itself. The stressful situation can lead to outright crying fits and screaming fits, aggressive behavior, but also to temporary fainting.
As a rule, the fear of heights itself does not lead to any particular complications or dangerous health conditions. Life expectancy is not limited by this disease. However, the fear of heights can have a negative effect on the psyche of those affected, so that many patients suffer from inferiority complexes and reduced self-esteem.
Especially in children, fear of heights can lead to social exclusion, teasing or bullying. The patient’s quality of life is greatly reduced in such situations. It may be that certain activities or work are not possible for the patient, and flying in an airplane can also be affected by the fear of heights.
This results in relatively large restrictions in everyday life. However, if the patient does not go to great heights, there are no further complications. The fear of heights usually manifests itself in breathing difficulties and an increased heart rate. The affected person can also lose consciousness and possibly injure themselves in a fall. A direct treatment of the fear of heights is not possible, although the symptoms can be reduced with therapies. For this reason, no further complications arise.
When should you go to the doctor?
Consultation with a doctor is recommended as soon as the person concerned notices that they are developing unnatural fears. If the fear causes emotional stress or life changes, a doctor’s visit is advisable. If you break out in a sweat at high altitude, have a racing heart or have high blood pressure, you need to see a doctor or therapist for a check-up. Headaches, indigestion or tearful behavior should be examined. If there is inner insecurity, a strong experience of stress or increased irritability, a doctor must be consulted. If the fears increase in intensity or new states of anxiety develop in other situations, a clarification of the state of health is necessary.
If everyday tasks can no longer be carried out as usual, if withdrawal behavior develops or if you no longer leave your own home, the complaints should be discussed with a doctor. If the person concerned consumes drugs or addictive substances because of their inner experience at altitude, they should consult a doctor. It’s alarming when you can’t go to work because you’re scared or when you have panic attacks. In these cases, medical help should be sought as soon as possible. If the fear of heights develops continuously at lower and lower altitudes, a doctor or therapist should be asked for advice and support.
Treatment & Therapy
Anxious patients or people with a fear of heights should under no circumstances be forced to face their fear, unless they are trained specialists who make the fearful situation a part of the therapy.
In most cases, the only way out of the fear of heights is therapy. Psychological measures can help the “sick” person to break free from the fear that is limiting him. Essential pillars of fear of heights therapy or the treatment of anxiety neuroses in general are, on the one hand, to find out where the fear comes from and whether there was a specific event in the past that triggered the fear.
On the other hand, the fear is then approached step by step, in that the therapist accompanies the anxious person into the fear. First, an attempt is made in stages to increase the height that the person undergoing therapy has to deal with. The therapist may confront the patient with a ladder and carefully investigate and reflect on what is going on in the patient’s incipient fear. The therapist usually increases this intention slowly until the desired success occurs.
This approach to exposure therapy is part of the classic psychological model used in behavioral therapy approaches. There are of course a number of other models. Hypnosis, acupuncture or other applications of traditional Chinese medicine are very popular here. Homeopathy also promises long-term improvement if the correct remedies are used. Still others swear by measures such as yoga or meditation to increase self-confidence.
It is primarily important for the anxious patient to determine that he would like to accept help. Without the patient’s compliance (willingness to cooperate), therapy for fear of heights is not possible. Only the patient can find out which form of therapy is the right one. The patient may have to try many approaches and measures before he decides that he can be helped.
Not every fear of heights needs to be treated. Many people live with it and do not feel significantly affected by it. However, if the fear impairs the quality of life and is perceived as stressful by the person themselves, treatment is definitely recommended.
There are hardly any preventive measures against the fear of heights, but parents can take a certain amount of prevention at a young age by getting their child used to heights and showing that appropriate safety precautions have been taken. If these are observed, the height is usually not dangerous.
If the fear of heights has been successfully overcome, for example with a suitable therapy or another method, it is important to keep working on it and not to assume that you cannot get this fear again. Overcoming your fear of heights is often temporary.
A small remnant of the fear of heights often remains for life, even if it does not seem likely after the recently ended therapy or method. If, on the other hand, everyday life gradually resumes without paying particular attention to the fear and the fear of heights is no longer sufficiently counteracted, it can increase again. If you start again to avoid areas and situations at high altitude, further therapy is required.
It is relevant to discover this development in its early stages in order to avoid wasting time, money and energy. In order to notice the onset in time, situations can be brought about regularly in which fear was felt before the treatment. If comparable feelings can be perceived again as in the time before the healing process, the fear of heights should be actively combated repeatedly. However, if fear is still not felt, the situations to check for the return of fear can be spaced out over time.
You can do that yourself
In many cases, those affected show increasing avoidance behavior when afraid of heights. This usually increases gradually over a longer period of time. However, it has been scientifically proven several times that it is helpful to face your fear. This can be done in a number of ways, both cognitively and physically. In order to avoid uncertainties, cooperation should take place with a therapist or psychologist. This allows the anxious to have positive experiences and receive new information.
Daring situations on your own should be avoided as a matter of principle, as they can lead to an increase in fear. Running away or prematurely breaking off a stay in a higher position also leads to an increase in the fear that is already present. It is therefore necessary to wait for the moment when it is realized that after fear comes habituation, habituation and then relaxation. For physiological reasons, there is no risk of circulatory collapse or loss of consciousness in these situations.
In order not to be alone, the person concerned can ask someone they trust to go with them to situations that trigger fear for them. A visit to a high-rise building or a secured roof of a house is sufficient for this. Everyday situations should be looked for so that there is a realistic reference to the lifestyle of the person concerned.