Fear of Heights: Phobia or Rational Fear?

If you are afraid of heights and wondering about getting Acrophobia treatment, one question holding you back might be “Isn’t everyone afraid of heights? Surely being afraid of falling to your death is a perfectly normal, sensible thing to fear?”

You’re right – being afraid of falling off a tall building or of a bridge collapsing under you is understandable! But being afraid of something and having a phobia of it aren’t the same thing.

Some Fear of Heights is Useful

Knowing that heights pose a danger to your life is a good thing. In fact it’s something that we learn very early in our lives at only 9 months old. Knowing to be wary of getting too close to a drop or of being too high up on something that’s not stable is definitely an advantage to our survival.

Our brains are wired to be able to detect threats and learn to fear them. We call this being mentally “prepared” to fear certain things more easily than others. This is why phobias of things that actually pose a risk to our safety- heights, spiders, snakes, thunderstorms- are much more common than phobias of things most people consider harmless.

Phobias are Irrational

So our brains are naturally inclined to fear heights to some extent. But part of the definition of a phobia is that it has to cause you an extreme level of fear that is disproportionate to the threat a situation poses. This means that even though some situations involving heights might be dangerous, to qualify as a phobia your fear needs to be out of proportion to the actual danger.

There’s a slight risk of falling if you stand on the edge of a cliff. Any sane person would feel a slight twinge of vertigo if they looked down at the ground below them and would probably feel a bit of fear. Someone with acrophobia would likely be too terrified to get anywhere near the top of the cliff, or would be utterly convinced they were going to fall and die. One reaction gives you a healthy awareness of the potential danger. The other totally inhibits you and stops you reacting to the situation with anything other than pure terror. Does that sound rational to you?

Do I Have Fear of Heights?

If you aren’t sure whether your fear of heights is a normal reaction to danger or something more severe, there are two simple questions you can ask yourself to find out:

  • Do other people show the same level of fear you do? When you think about people you know, do they seem just as afraid of heights as you do, or is your fear more extreme? Can other people easily do things that you find extremely frightening? If so it could be a sign that you suffer from a phobia of heights
  • Does your fear seriously impact your life? Are there things you want to do but find impossible because you are too afraid of heights? If your fear is causing you significant distress on a daily basis, or if you have to plan your life around your fear, it’s definitely worth doing something about.

Overcoming Fear of Heights

If you think that your fear of heights is more severe than that of others, or if it is causing significant difficulty in your life, the next question is “what are you going to do about it?”

A fear so extreme that it stops you enjoying life is never rational. Fear that limits your actions and makes you feel terrible is never useful. So there’s no reason to try and live with it. Overcoming fear of heights is probably much simpler than you think- it’s just a case of learning to face your fears in a safe and controlled way. It might not be easy, but it’s always worth it in the end.

Are you ready to begin your journey to conquering fear of heights? Read more about our new guide and get started today!

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