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How to Overcome Your Fear of Heights

Published 30 March 2016

Alexandra Gregg

Travel can be eye-opening, stress-relieving and life-affirming – but it can be a strain on the system too. There’s so much to consider: the itinerary, getting there, getting around, documentation, money and more, that it’s unsurprising that a lot of people get anxious during the planning process. This angst can be amplified even more when you’re not just worried about navigating unfamiliar territory, but you have a phobia to tackle too.

Fear of heights is one of the most common problems when it comes to travelling – from your mode of transport (flying) to which travel icons you see (skyscrapers, mountains and more). We’ve compiled some advice for coping with this travel trauma and, hopefully, overcoming your fear.

Trolltunga Norway, fear of heights shutterstock_173684489

Diagnose your phobia

Most people confuse vertigo (an inner ear imbalance) with acrophobia. Where vertigo makes you think you’re moving when you’re not, acrophobia has symptoms like feeling as though you’re going to fall or jump off an edge, panic attacks and feeling faint or dizzy. It can be a scary and crippling sensation, and particularly frustrating when it prevents you from doing the travelling you want to do. Take comfort in the fact you’re not alone in your fear though: around one in seven people in the UK suffer with acrophobia.

Not sure whether you have vertigo or acrophobia? Vertigo can be triggered by any movement – standing, sitting or walking – rather than being on a precipice somewhere. Still can’t decide? Speak to your GP for advice.

Sutter Buttes mountains California USA shutterstock_113382817

Slowly build up your tolerance for heights and tall buildings

Gradually exposing yourself to your fear is a key component when it comes to improvement. Don’t jump in the deep end – we’re not suggesting you climb Everest or anything like that – but don’t simply tolerate the condition either, especially if it inhibits the way you live your life and the things you want to do. Start small: if you want to tackle mountains for example, why not kick off your peak-bagging career in Sutter Buttes (pictured above), a once-volcanic range in California, thought to be the smallest in the world (max heights of 610 metres)?

If travel icons are your thing, tick off the Empire State Building (380 metres) before taking on the world’s tallest skyscraper, the 838-metre Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Or, if you want to fly long-haul – Asia, west coast USA or even Australia and New Zealand – start with some short-haul or mid-haul trips first, to get you used to being in the air.

View from Empire State NYC shutterstock_144982891

Take it one step at a time

…literally. So if you’re climbing the stairs of the St Paul’s Basilica in Rome or tackling Mount Kilimanjaro (the highest walkable peak), concentrate on reaching the next step or safe platform. Plan ahead, but not beyond the next step – this will make each stage more manageable and not overwhelming.

The Vancouver Lookout Tower from below shutterstock_222719944

Consider the likelihood of actual harm

We’re not saying acrophobia is irrational, but in most cases, if you carefully consider the situation, you’ll realise how safe you are. Think about the Vancouver Lookout Tower in Canada – you may be gazing out from 168 metres, but there is a thick panel of glass between you and the outside world. As for aeroplanes, they’re still officially the safest way to travel, so if you’re happy getting in a car or boarding a train you shouldn’t be afraid to take flight. Not just that, but aviation is only getting safer as stronger, better and more aerodynamic fleets are created.

If flying in particular is the problem, i.e. aviophobia rather than acrophobia, consider having distractions to hand – audiobooks, music, books and games can help as they encourage your brain to think, which in turn can calm any anxieties. If this doesn’t work, speak to your GP. He or she may be able to prescribe a small dose of a mild tranquiliser, like diazepam, for the journey. Certain airlines, including big hitters like British Airways, offer fear of flying courses.

Aeroplane window shutterstock_282535355

Seek help from a professional

If you’re still struggling, there’s no shame in seeking outside help. In fact, sometimes it’s the only way of getting past the problem and making your travel wish list a reality.


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