We’re all born with a little acrophobia, or fear of heights. But when a healthy fear turns into crippling anxiety, it’s time to get help.
Step 1: Learn breathing exercises Learn to calm yourself through deep breathing. Being able to control your breathing when you’re in the anxiety-provoking moment, like on a ladder, will help fend off the physical aspects of fear, like nausea and heart palpitations.
Step 2: Distract yourself Find ways to distract yourself when you are doing something frightening. Try a mental exercise, like adding large numbers in your head, or bring along your favorite music.
Step 3: Get virtual therapy If your phobia is more serious--and you can afford the treatment--find a therapist who offers virtual reality exposure therapy. A computer will put you in a simulated scary situation, like standing on the edge of a cliff. This is considered the gold standard of phobia treatment.
Step 4: Try graded exposure therapy If virtual reality treatment isn’t available, go for graded exposure. A therapist helps you tackle small challenges (like standing on a platform) as you gradually work up to your biggest fear (say, going to the top of a skyscraper). Eight to 15 sessions are generally needed.
TIP: Experts say continued exposure to the fear is the key to overcoming it, so keep forcing yourself into high places after therapy officially ends.
Step 5: Consider flooding If you want a quick cure, consider flooding. That’s when a therapist makes you confront your greatest fear in one brutal, on-site session.
: Flooding can be an intense experience--be sure to do it under the guidance of a trained professional.
Step 6: Ask about medication Ask your doctor about prescribing a medication you can take when you’re forced to be in a terrifying situation.
TIP: The drug D-cycloserine has been proven effective in treating fear of heights when combined with therapy.
Step 7: Try talk therapy Try talk therapy. Though behavioral therapy works best for phobias, traditional talk-it-out counseling can be helpful for people who developed their phobia as the result of a specific incident, like a childhood fall.
FACT: Some of the more obscure phobias include ereuthophobia (the fear of blushing), scopophobia (the fear of being stared at), and gymnophobia (the fear of seeing a naked person).