Although fear of heights is a natural instinct that generates adrenaline and adds excitement to various activities, for some of us, it can trigger more anxiety than thrill. The sensation of excessive sweating, dizziness, and heart palpitations while standing on a chair is one that not everyone can relate to. This was my personal experience until a few years ago.
Overcoming my fear of heights was not an easy challenge and required considerable effort. However, I persevered and gained control over it, and it made my life a lot easier.
By sharing my journey, I hope to inspire others who struggle with a fear of heights to take a step forward in overcoming it.
My motivations for overcoming my fear of heights
As a teenager, I sometimes found myself feeling embarrassed and out of control when my fear of heights unexpectedly kicked in. I remember struggling to explain the sudden onset of my symptoms – the shaking legs, the nausea, and the overwhelming urge to sit down – even in situations as mundane as going down a flight of stairs in a shopping mall. This fear had become such a problem in my life that I would go to great lengths to avoid any height-related activity.
I had all the freedom I could wish for, but something in my head was putting up barriers.
How sad is that?! I had accepted this and resigned myself to avoiding my fear, even if it meant missing out on many exciting adventures on my adrenaline bucket list that involved heights.
However, that all changed when I took a solo trip to Langkawi, a stunning island in Malaysia. The Cable Car and Sky Bridge were two of the island’s top attractions, and without thinking as I had never been scared of heights from a bridge before, I decided to check them out. The views from the bridge were breathtaking, but suddenly, I felt the bridge moving in the wind. And it started. I realised was 100 metres above the ground, suspended between two mountains, on “the longest free span and curved bridge in the world”. I was alone, scared and helpless.
I felt sick and paralysed, but I knew I couldn’t stay curled up in fear forever. I had to move, and I wanted to move. SoI took a deep breath and gathered up the courage to walk back to the start of the bridge by myself without any further drama.
It was the first time I had won the battle against my phobia, and I made sure to keep challenging myself after that experience.
I learnt about my fear of heights
If you want to overcome your fear of heights, it’s crucial to understand it better.
My experience in Langkawi taught me a lot about my fear of heights. The most important thing was that I could fight it, which changed my mindset about my phobia. I wanted to understand why it happened, which was key to working on it in other situations.
Although I was able to achieve this by myself, you may want to seek help from friends or healthcare professionals to deal with your fear of heights. It was uncomfortable to reflect on this experience on the bridge, but it marked the start of my new journey and helped me find answers.
Understanding what happens when fear kicks in
What was I scared of? Falling. What could cause me to fall? Losing balance or weak infrastructure. Why did I stop moving? I panicked and froze. What caused me to freeze? Dizziness, weakness, and shortness of breath.
Recognising the symptoms
Overcoming my fear of heights wasn’t about eliminating the fear but getting it under control. I don’t know if eliminating my fear is even possible. So, I felt it was important to consider the symptoms in addition to the cause.
I quickly realized that the symptoms were a form of anxiety. I researched how to reduce anxiety and found something that really helped me. When the fear of heights next kicked in, I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing: slow, deep, and gentle breaths through the nose (in) and mouth (out).
Overcoming a fear of heights step by step
Overcoming my fear of heights was not an overnight success. I had to gradually expose myself to situations that I knew would trigger my fear, with the aim of staying in control.
From the balcony…
I would take a deep breath and get one step closer to the edge of a balcony or platform whenever the opportunity arose. Surprisingly, it became easier for me much quicker than I had expected. I noticed that trust was a huge factor in feeling more comfortable and staying in control. If I trusted the infrastructure, I could reassure myself that it was safe and that my mind was the only issue.
My first victory was being able to control my fear in an environment I knew well and where it was easy to rationalise that I was not going to fall. From there, I progressed to more adventurous challenges.
One of the hardest challenges was abseiling in the Blue Mountains near Sydney. It was a gift from former colleagues, and I felt pressure not to disappoint them, so I accepted the challenge. From the moment I said yes, I regretted it and felt sick just thinking about it. Despite this, I continued with the trip.
To feel better, I researched abseiling safety and the tour operator beforehand.
I would look for everything that could help me rationalise my fear for when the first symptoms of fear would start kicking in.
We started with a “small” cliff, and the hardest part was the start. The first steps along the cliff in such an unnatural position felt wrong, and I was terrified. However, I convinced myself that I would not risk too much if I fell as I was attached and secured by professionals, and we were only a few metres above the ground. It was mentally exhausting, but I did it.
The next cliff was supposed to be only 15 meters high. I used the same breathing technique and arguments and tried not to think too much about it and, of course, avoided looking down. It worked for a while. But suddenly, I found myself hanging on the rope with no cliff in front of me. I looked around and realised I was 100 meters above the ground.
I had misunderstood the activity. We were actually abseiling a massive cliff for only 15 meters, and there was a big crack in the cliff where we would stop. There was no rock to abseil on for a few meters, leaving me hanging there. The guide shouted instructions to let go of everything and that he would take me down, but I was too scared to release the rope. I stayed stuck there for a little while, laughing, crying, and yelling all at the same time. It was a big drama, and I hated the feeling of failure.
However, they gave me a chance to do it again straight away and convinced me that it would be more comfortable the second time. I knew what to expect, and it was indeed easier. I even almost enjoyed the beautiful landscape the second time. In the end, it was a win!
…To bungee jumping…
Bungee jumping was the most significant step I had ever taken. I had been contemplating it for some time. As a child, I found the idea exhilarating, but as I grew older, it seemed terrifying.
I had heard about a super high bungee jumping opportunity in a canyon near Queenstown, New Zealand, for years. When I travelled there, I decided to give it a try.
It was the most challenging experience of my life, both physically and mentally. In reality, the only pleasure came from the satisfaction of knowing that I could do it.
That day, I won the most significant battle against my mind.
…To outdoor climbing…
That was my ultimate goal: to be able to reach new heights while hiking without being paralysed by fear. I knew that rock climbing would be safer with proper skills and strength, so I began practising indoors before venturing outside. At first, I relied on secured ropes, but eventually, I started climbing or rock scrambling without them. Each time, I was still impressed by the height, but I always managed to finish the tracks I started.
My first outdoor climb was a small wall when we hiked Duke’s Nose on New Zealand’s north island. I had underestimated the hike, but as I was the one who planned it, I felt that I had to continue and reach the top. With the help of my trusted partner with climbing skills, I made it to the top quicker than I expected – it was actually easy as long as I didn’t look down.
The next time was during the Mount Barney hike, the most challenging mountain near Brisbane in Australia. Trusting my fitness and ability – which is key to giving me confidence, I climbed an exposed wall without looking down and had no problems. Since, I continue to seek opportunities to practice my skills and have been fortunate to have outdoor climbing options right in front of the city in Brisbane.
Now, I have even managed more challenging outdoor climbs without any ropes during impressive hikes in New Caledonia. The adrenaline was surely there, but the fear of heights didn’t kick in, and I was able to stay in control and enjoy the experience.
I can now proudly say I can fight my fear of heights
Overcoming my fear of heights was a long and challenging process, but it was worth it. It’s never easy to step out of your comfort zone, but it’s often rewarding. It allowed me to appreciate breathtaking views that I would have missed out on otherwise.
I returned to Cradle Mountain in Tasmania and was pleased to find that I had no trouble navigating some of the tracks labelled challenging without even needing assistance from the safety chain. I got stuck there ten years prior, but this time, I made it through with ease, feeling a sense of accomplishment and growth.
Nowadays, I feel much more confident and willing to try new things as long as I feel safe. Of course, there are still situations that make me nervous, especially when there’s no safety gear involved. In those cases, I like to assess the risks carefully and discuss them with a trusted companion before proceeding.
But is this cautious approach a sign of fear or just common sense? I like to think it’s the latter. After all, it’s better to be careful and prepared than to take unnecessary risks. Nonetheless, I’m proud of the progress I’ve made and the opportunities it has opened up for me.
Are you trying to overcome your fear of heights? Share your experience in the comments below!
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