Fear of Heights? These Tips Will Help You Cope
Many phobias have a logical explanation. The fear of spiders prevents you from picking up a black widow spider. The fear of snakes stops you tickling the chin of a rattlesnake as it rises up to warn you off. Claustrophobia might prevent you from getting stuck in a place that is life threatening, a collapsed cave for example. Your phobia is a primitive response, triggered by the amygdala in your brain. One research study found that the amygdala in participants with panic disorder was smaller than those without.
Phobias and panic disorders are slightly different, but have similar symptoms and certainly overlap. Panic disorder causes random panic attacks and the panic that comes with a phobia relates to a specific thing or experience. Some people have a panic disorder and develop phobias of situations because they fear experiencing a random panic attack in the situation. Some people will not use public transport, for example incase they have a random panic attack and cannot get off or away. They may view this as a fear of public transport but it is slightly different.
Expert in cognitive style, Dr. Karl Albrecht, condensed all human fears into five basic fears. He believes every human fear or phobia fits into one of the five categories. His fearachy consists of
An alternative view to the fear of death. This is the fear of no longer existing. Albrecht believes thinking of no longer ‘being’ creates a primary, existential anxiety in most humans.
The fear of mutilation is Albrecht’s title for all things that result in a loss of body structure. The thought of having your body boundaries invaded, or of losing the integrity of any body part, natural function or organ. He believes that phobias of animals and other creepy things come from a fear of mutilation.
Loss of Autonomy
The fear of a loss of autonomy includes anything that puts you in a situation where you feel controlled by circumstances beyond your control. This often presents as claustrophobia, but also extends into your social relationships and interactions.
Albrecht’s fear of separation is the well known fear of rejection. A loss of connectedness or becoming a non person. This is a situation in which no one wants, respects or values you. Rejection, from a primitive perspective, is dangerous. Rejection from the tribe is a vulnerable, life threatening position to be in.
This is a fear of the implosion of your sense of lovability, capability and worthiness. Anything that threatens the loss of your integrity causes feelings of humiliation, shame or self disapproval.
Deconstructing your Fear of Heights
So, according to Albrecht, your fear of heights sits under one of the five above categories. When you work out which section your fear relates to, it is easier to deconstruct it and begin to rebuild yourself without the phobia. For most people, the fear of heights is a fear of extinction.
Anxiety manifests physically. One of the most important things to do when you begin to feel anxious is breathe, abdominally, with a longer exhale than inhale. When you do, you calm your body, slowing your heart rate. Focusing on your breath in this way will ease the symptoms of anxiety, so you can begin to put some things into place to overcome your phobia of heights. (Read more about that here)
Rarely do we put ourselves in unsafe situations. A lack of trust in your own ability to keep yourself safe often accompanies a fear of heights. You might trip and fall, for example, or a feeling that the safety mechanisms will fail. Perhaps the railings of the bridge will fall off. To reduce your fear of heights, spend some time working on your trust in your ability to keep yourself safe.
In some situations, you can test the safety process. When I went to Go Ape, I tested the harness on a part of the course where I wasn’t too high. This gave me the confidence to complete the course and even play around with hanging for fun in areas where there were ropes and bridges to stand on.
Consider your Fear of Heights Mindfully
Panic attacks are horrendous, no one wants to endure one unnecessarily, and it is understandable that your fear of a panic attack prevents you from testing frightening (for you) experiences. However, your feelings are not harmful. Put yourself somewhere high, and notice how you feel from a mindful perspective. Note your feelings without judgement. Permit any feelings that arise, and allow them to remain for as long as they do. If they gradually fade away, notice it. Again without judgement, and allow new feelings to come in and take the place. What does it feel like to let these different feelings drift in and drift out? Always remember to focus on your breathing simultaneously to maintain a calmer state.
The (Only) 5 Fears We All Share. (2022). Retrieved 5 July 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/brainsnacks/201203/the-only-5-fears-we-all-share