Why You’re Not Alone if You Have a Fear of Heights

Have you ever been afraid to step up to the edge of a tall building, ride on the Ferris wheel, or stand at the very top of a staircase? If so, you’re not alone: Many people have some degree of fear of heights, also known as acrophobia. In fact, it’s the most common phobia in the world, affecting approximately 40 million Americans (and 3% of all people in general) regularly and making them avoid places like tall buildings and high bridges out of fear that they’ll fall or jump off.

Afraid of Heights, Rock Climbing Hat, 3000 Hats

The science behind why we’re afraid of heights
A fear of heights is called acrophobia, and it’s not uncommon. Studies show that 8.5% of people have acrophobia, which is the fear that leads to avoidance behavior. Avoidance behaviors are exhibited by those who are afraid of heights in many different ways: they might refuse to walk on elevated surfaces, they might refuse to look out windows higher than their eye level or they might try to distract themselves from what they’re feeling by looking at their phone. For some people with acrophobia, being around high buildings can trigger feelings like anxiety or panic attacks because we may associate them with danger.

How our brains trick us into thinking we’re in danger
A fear of heights is an example of how our brains trick us into thinking we’re in danger. When you see a steep drop in front of you, your brain will read this as dangerous and react accordingly. This means that it will activate the sympathetic nervous system which will cause your heart to race, your hands to sweat, and your palms to become clammy.

Ways to cope with a fear of heights
One way to cope with fear of heights is by trying to stay in the moment. This means that you should try not to think about other things, like how high up you are or what could happen. Focusing on being in the moment and staying calm can help you feel less anxious about your surroundings. If you find yourself getting anxious, take some deep breaths or do something else that calms you down.

When to seek professional help
If you have an intense fear that is interfering with your daily life, it’s best to see a professional for some help. This could be your counselor, doctor, or psychologist. If the fear isn’t severe enough to interfere with your day-to-day activities, there are still things you can do on your own to overcome this fear. Asking yourself What am I afraid of? and answering honestly can help you get in touch with what you’re really afraid of and why this is so scary.