Acrophobia is an exaggerated and irrational fear of heights which is based on a pathological fear of falling and dying. In some cases it can condition the life of the affected and need psychological treatment.
It is natural to feel a certain uneasiness if we are many meters high, something that can happen when, for example, we rise to an elevation where we run a certain risk of rushing to the void if we do not walk with care, or if the surface that we step on is unstable. In such cases it is more a question of prudence and common sense. However, there are people unable to perform everyday actions such as climbing a ladder, peeking out a window, walking on a bridge or peering into a lookout. They suffer acrophobia , a term known to fear the heights and, like any other phobia, can end up conditioning the life of the sufferer.
Acrophobia goes beyond the impression it can cause to be far from the ground. It is an irrational and disproportionate fear of heights that is based on a pathological fear of falling and dying. This disorder carries negative physiological and psychological effects, so much so that if it is not controlled it can even paralyze a person. That is why those who suffer tend to avoid any situation that implies being in a position of height.It is one of the most common phobias in the world, and it is estimated that between three and five percent of the planet’s population suffers acrophobia to a greater or lesser extent. Experts have not drawn a concrete profile of the people who develop this disorder, but point out that young people and women are more likely to suffer from it.
Do not confuse acrophobia with vertigo:
Although they can keep a certain relationship, do not confuse acrophobia with vertigo . The first is the fear of dying if you fall from a height in which you are located, while vertigo is a sensation of movement of the objects that we have around us. It is an illusion, and not an obsession, such as fear of heights.
Vertigo is a pathology derived from alterations in the inner ear, which is associated with loss of balance. Moreover, it appears at any time and does not necessarily imply that it is situated in a high place; Can happen while you walk, or even if you remain seated in a chair. Therefore, vertigo and acrophobia are not synonymous.
Both disorders are linked, however, when the feeling of imbalance adds to the fear of rushing from above. In that case this disturbance is known as “vertigo of the heights”.
Causes of fear of heights:
The acrophobia is associated with fear to rush from a high altitude and to lose life. However, it is an irrational fear that produces exaggerated reactions in relation to the real risk that exists. Researchers who have delved into the motives for this alteration have come to different conclusions. They point out that the causes of acrophobia are:
- Self-suggestion: Some therapists assert that acrophobics tend to think, for example, that if they look at a balcony they will end up crashing to the ground. They develop their fear by constantly turning that idea around.
- Instinct: for other researchers fear of heights is part of the instinct for survival. It is a self-defense mechanism of our body that appears when we run the risk of suffering a fall.
- Result of bad experiences: It is a widespread idea that phobias are born from a traumatic experience of the past, whether lived in the first person, experienced by a close being or, simply, by having witnessed it.
- Locomotion: According to a study last year with babies, and published in the journal Psychological Science , fear of heights depends on the peripheral vision that we have when we move.
Inheritance: Within the possible causes of fear of heights, some specialists assert that it is an inherited disorder. Although the detractors of this idea think that, in fact, parents spread the fear of their children with their behavior.
Treatment of acrophobia:
When acrophobia or fear of heights becomes a problem that affects our daily life, it is necessary to go to a specialist to help us deal with the problem. Acrophobia has a solution, but if it is not treated properly it can aggravate and incapacitate us to perform certain activities.Currently there are different treatments to deal with acrophobia. Sometimes the specialist uses drugs as a reinforcement of his consultation, but the solution to the fear of heights is not really found in medicines. The usual is to resort to a combination of cognitive and behavioral therapies, to which are added relaxation techniques :
- Cognitive: is to help the patient to control their emotions. The therapist helps the acrophobe to delve into the motives of his fear and invites him to rationalize it. He is made to understand that there is no real reason to fear for his life by the mere fact of being in a high place.
- Behavioral: cognitive therapy is usually combined with behavioral techniques, in which the patient faces his phobia in real situations; That is, he is exposed to his fears until he becomes accustomed or proves that his life is not in danger. Within the behavioral therapy there are several modalities:
- The most common is systematic desensitization , in which the patient is subjected to his fears gradually.
- Another practice is the flood , more direct, in which the person is placed in the context that can most frighten her (for example, climbing to the roof of a skyscraper).
- In recent years research has been carried out to defend the validity of virtual reality to deal with acrophobia. Researchers who support this resource say it offers more possibilities than live exposure and has fewer limitations.
- Relaxation techniques: with them, the acrophobic learns to control their stress when they are in the range that causes them restlessness. These may include breathing exercises, meditation, or stretching of muscles.
Cognitive-behavioral therapies can help 75% of people with a phobia such as fear of heights, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
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