Overcoming Fear of Heights

Fear of heights can take different forms. One form is Vertigo, a feeling of dizziness triggered by looking from a height. With normal dizziness, a person will feel that their surroundings are spinning or moving. Vertigo is different in that the person with Vertigo feels as if they themselves are moving. The person with Vertigo may actually fall due to an instinctive reaction to that perceived movement.  True Vertigo can occur without any heights being involved. People who get the dizziness or Vertigo symptoms can’t ride in glass elevators, or stand close to windows in high rise buildings. They also have trouble with aerial tramways, chair lifts, and escalators. They don’t like window seats on airplanes. They may even be bothered by scenes in movies that depict a view down from a height. Vertigo is generally a medical condition (which should be evaluated by a doctor to rule out serious causes);  some forms can be medically treated. Otherwise one option is to avoid the triggering views.

Some coping techniques:

  • Glass elevators–stand facing the (opaque) door
  • Aerial tramways–stand in center of the car, hold to the center pole, look at the floor
  • Airplanes–get an aisle seat, or close the window shade
  • Escalators–use an elevator or enclosed stairway instead
  • Heights in general–don’t look down!

Another form of fear of heights is a fear of falling. Some people primarily have trouble with heights in a natural setting; they can’t walk along a cliff because they feel like a wind is pulling them over the edge. Others have trouble with descending long escalators (but are okay riding escalators going upward). Some even have trouble with upper level walkways in shopping malls–they fear they will trip and fall over the rail. So for these people, it is what they imagine happening that causes their fear. Because of that, there is a technique that can cure the fear in a single treatment.

Your brain can’t imagine two different things at the same time. So to prevent yourself imagining a fall, instead imagine singing the Star Spangled Banner. That particular song is used because it is hard to sing, and takes more concentration to imagine. If this technique works for you, it will work the first time..  I know, because it worked for me. I can now ride in glass elevators, walk to the edge of a cliff, etc. If it doesn’t work for you, then your options are: a more in-depth therapy, or avoidance/coping techniques.

More coping techniques:

  • Cliffs–stay at least one body length back from the edge
  • High rise windows–close blinds, install frosted coating at least up to waist high, or place a piece of furniture (maybe a chair) in front of the window
  • Mall balconies–stick close to storefront walls, even touching them as you walk

All of these coping strategies are for fear of heights while walking. Related fears, like fear of driving across bridges of certain types usually need different coping techniques.

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