The Real Reason You're Afraid Of Heights

Are you afraid of heights? Do you get highly anxious when you're too high off the ground? Maybe it's driving over a bridge or being in a tall office building. About 5% of the world is afraid of heights, according to Remedy Health Media, and it is called acrophobia. If you have acrophobia, you have extreme fear and anxiety about heights. Standing on a ladder can cause you to panic. So can glass elevators, escalators, flying on a plane, staying in a hotel room on a high floor, or hiking a mountain.

Psychology Today notes that you might feel disconnected from the ground and that you're scared you will fall. When you're in an enclosed space, such as an airplane, you feel out of control because you can't just walk away from what's frightening you. Like climbing a mountain, open spaces are also terrifying for people who are afraid of heights because of your proprioception — five senses that help you determine your body in space. 


Though not everyone is afraid of heights, all generally have an innate uneasy feeling of falling and injuring ourselves. When you're fearful of heights, you might dwell on this natural fear of pain that ultimately develops into acrophobia. This illogical fear of places you perceive as high is an exaggeration of the typical fear response (via Remedy Health Media).

As far as your personal history, it is highly debated how acrophobia stems from a person's past. Some medical experts argue that acrophobia is a learned response. For instance, you may be triggered by having previously injured yourself from a fall, or it could be caused by your parent's fear of heights.

Lastly, control or lack thereof can cause agoraphobia. Your body has five systems (inner ear, eyes, touch, smell, and hearing) that allow you to sense your physical location in relation to the environment around us. If a single system is not relaying information, that lack of information lessens how you sense your location. Consequently, this decline in orientation causes acrophobics to be scared and anxious (via Psychology Today).


Acrophobia symptoms can appear in three primary forms — emotional, mental, and physical. Verywell Mind notes signs of ​​acrophobia are not that different from other phobias.

The primary physical symptom of a fear of heights is vertigo, a sensation that you or the environment around you is spinning. In addition, you might find it difficult to think clearly and become unable to move. Other symptoms are sweating, shaking, crying, yelling, and heart palpitations.

Emotional symptoms include feeling terrified, panicking, trying to grasp something for support, feeling off-balance, or trying to sit or lie on the floor. You might feel like you're having an out-of-body experience. You'll want to get out of the situation you're in and feel like you're disconnected from reality.

Mental symptoms of a fear of heights is feeling extremely anxious. You'll cringe at the thought of tall buildings. Going into your attic or standing on a balcony is a nightmare. You may experience panic attacks as a result of these places or situations. Due to these symptoms, you'll avoid any places that trigger these symptoms.


Even if you are sure that you have ​​acrophobia, only a licensed mental health professional can provide an accurate diagnosis. To get diagnosed, your doctor or therapist will ask you a series of questions related to how you feel in elevated environments. It is essential to discuss emotional, physical, and mental effects in addition to how long you have had these symptoms. Writing all of your symptoms and experiences down in a journal can help you prepare for your appointment, so you don't forget anything. Likewise, write down any questions you have for your mental health professional, so you don't forget those either.

Per Healthline, a mental health professional will likely diagnose acrophobia based on several factors. Generally, acrophobia is diagnosed if you stay away from heights at all costs, are overly anxious about experiencing heights, spend an unusual amount of time stressing about heights, and are immediately terrified upon encountering heights. Additionally, you must have experienced such symptoms for at least six months before a diagnosis.


According to Medical News Today, exposure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and hypnotherapy are the different treatments that have helped treat those with a fear of heights.

With exposure therapy, you're gradually introduced to the source of your fear. For example, with acrophobia, exposure therapy may include using ladders, standing on a balcony, or traveling on an airplane to face one's fear of heights. Instead of jumping in head first, virtual reality has been recognized as an effective method of exposure therapy. 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) means talking to a mental health professional to identify, understand, and change your thought processes. For example, you and your therapist will talk about the root of your fear of heights, and your therapist will teach you verified techniques to help you swap your current thoughts with authentic ones. 

In hypnotherapy, you'll enter a deep state of relaxation to help you disregard the excessive fear response you feel when not hypnotized. Therapists rely on visualization and suggestive techniques to do so. While informal evidence indicates hypnotherapy may be an effective way to treat acrophobia, additional scientific research is critical to recognize the possible value of hypnotherapy.

Outside of therapy, Psyche gives the nod to additional methods of handling your fear. For example, if you want to overcome acrophobia, you can use relaxation exercises like mindfulness, deep breathing, meditation, mental visualizations, and more. Try experimenting with a variety of exercises to figure out which one or ones are most beneficial. These relaxation exercises are valuable before, during, and after exposure to heights.


Antidepressants have proven to be more successful in treating this disorder than anti-anxiety drugs. Your doctor can help you find a medication that works for you. For example, some antidepressants are prescribed for panic disorders associated with acrophobia. Commonly prescribed drugs are fluoxetine and sertraline. On the contrary, anti-anxiety drugs or benzodiazepines are used to temporarily mitigate anxiety symptoms. However, these drugs are known to be habit-forming, so those who struggle with addiction or deep-rooted anxiety are not ideal candidates (via Mayo Clinic).

Alternative medicine can also be helpful for fear of heights. Dietary and herbal supplements can have sedative and anti-anxiety effects. Kava, ashwagandha, passionflower, and chamomile are just some supplements that can treat anxiety. Before taking any supplements, you should consult with a doctor to determine any potential health risks, especially if used with prescription medicine.