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Fear of Heights

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I'm currently in Springdale, Utah visiting Zion Canyon (which I highly recommend) and I attempted the Angel's Landing hike which is built upon a quarter-mile knife's edge. All of a sudden I looked down and I felt myself starting to lose control of my physical movement - so I turned around.

I was wondering:

1. Is a fear of heights a rational fear? I usually have this fear that I will either slip or lose my balance and the worse the fear becomes, the more probable a loss of balance feels.

2. If it is irrational, how do you overcome it?

Thanks.

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I'm also afraid of heights. I have trouble sleeping on the top bunk of a bunk bed, running on an elevated track, and standing on my third-floor balcony.

However, my fear has become less potent lately. Earlier this summer, I took a vacation in Las Vegas. I went on top of the Stratosphere, the fourth tallest building in the United States. There's a ride at the very top where you're strapped in a chair and go all the way up and down very quickly. After crying for about ten minutes, I was finally convinced that I should go on this ride. I screamed the whole way and opened my eyes at the top. I also went on the roller coaster at the New York New York that goes up pretty high. I was afraid of that ride initially, but once I got on I found it rather enjoyable.

The outcome of this experience was very positive. I now know that I can be very high up and still be physically safe. When fear threatens to overcome me, I remember that I was on top of that building and overcame one of the strongest fears in my life in that one moment.

I'd recommend trying to overcome your fear in that manner: just dive in headfirst rather than going in inch by inch . However, what works for one person doesn't always work for another.

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You mean, over the edge of the cliff? :nuke:
I don't recommend it. I accidentally slipped of a 50ft cliff (hence the screen name). I landed feet first and it totally sucked. I'm sure headfirst would be a real game ender.

edit - screen name explanation

Edited by FeatherFall
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Is a fear of heights a rational fear?

It depends. If you're very tired, or have difficulty concentrating for some other reason, then it is rational to be "afraid" that you might slip, stumble, or misstep, so it is indeed not a good idea to go to a place where that could have fatal consequences. On the other end of the scale, if there is a window or a sufficiently high railing between you and the abyss, it is perfectly irrational to be afraid, regardless of your mental state.

If it is irrational, how do you overcome it?

I think the key is to learn to tell with confidence how much concentration you need in order to maintain your safety in a given situation, and whether you are capable of the required level of concentration. And, of course, to act on this knowledge: to avoid situations that demand more than you can do, and to go confidently into situations where you are safe. Knowing you are safe is the opposite of being afraid.

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I was wondering:

1. Is a fear of heights a rational fear? I usually have this fear that I will either slip or lose my balance and the worse the fear becomes, the more probable a loss of balance feels.

2. If it is irrational, how do you overcome it?

Thanks.

Being a roofer, I spend most of my life in high places, and my experience has been that there are essentially 2 types of afraid.

The first and most common type I have encountered is fairly rational and consists of a couple parts. First, your balance is thrown off quite a bit when you have no horizontal plane of reference. So when walking across a 4 inch iron beam for example, it is necessary to develop the ability to either extend an imaginary plane out frim the beam or to simply focus on the 4 inch surface exclusively as your point of reference(this is what "not looking down" helps with. On a pitched roof it is similiar. Even though you have a plane, the plane is tilted, so in combination with only acknowledging the surface you are on, it is necessary to develop a good feeling for your center of gravity in order to make sure it always stays above your feet. These skills take a bit of time and practice, so most people are initially uncomfortable up high when any of these necessary elements are missing. The worst for me is walking a beam on a barrel roof(curved) because all of those elements are involved plus the tangent angle of the roof changes as you move up and down it.

The other type I have seen is more properly described as horror then fear. Knees literally knocking together, white knuckled grip on anything and irrational behaviour that puts himself and everyone else at risk. On guy after getting up onto a flat roof with a 3 foot tall parapet wall surrounding it refused to move within 6 feet of the edge. So literally no chance of falling but scared anyways. To get him off the roof it took me and 2 other guys to literally lift him up and set him on the ladder.

So to sum up, there is the rational discomfort you feel from not having the necessary skill set to keep yourself safe and then there is the irrational fear that makes you frantic and puts you in more danger then you were ever in if you could keep your head together.

The first, like I mentioned comes with a fairly small amount of practice. It is what many roofers refer to as "gettin your roof legs". The second, I have not yet seen anyone over come. Not that it can't be done...just that they don't stay in a job that requires heights for very long. I am not sure how people could get past that.

Hope that helps a bit.

.

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I don't recommend it. I accidentally slipped of a 50ft cliff (hence the screen name). I landed feet first and it totally sucked. I'm sure headfirst would be a real game ender.

edit - screen name explanation

Wow-- did you hit a loose piece of ground, or what made you slip (if you don't mind me asking)? (It's flat here in Houston, so I have only limited experience with cliffs). Any permanent injuries? I've always heard, when falling, the important thing to remember is-- protect your head.

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I think it is irrational when there is no danger. Let´s try to compare standing on the edge of the cliff and standing on the flat ground. Have you ever slipped whilst standing on the flat ground? I don´t remember myself doing that one time. But the posture is same in both cases and the chance is same too. So it is rather irrational to be afraid on the edge of the cliff. There isn´t bigger chance to fall down than it is on the flat ground. This thought process help me when I am afraid by the height. I tell myself that I have never felt down from the railing which was 1 meter height so why should I be afraid when it is right upon the abyss?

It is rational when you are doing something dangerous and there is some risk of falling down even If you weren´t upon the height. For instance on the muddy ground where the chance of slip occures.

To the cure of the fear: There is one method in behavorial (and cognitive also) therapy called systematic desensitization. Another one is called flooding and refers to exposing to the strong stimulus which is normally causing the fear. It is supposed to work by the fact that you realize that there is no danger because you have endured it once yet without any harm. You can try it yourself or you can attend a psychologist. But you have to have a motivation because it can take some time.

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Getting over any kind of fear is essentially identical to the way you change any emotional response; change your evaluation. It takes time, buy in the case of fear, familiarity breeds contempt. The first time you have to go up the rickety ladder to get boxes off the top shelf, you might feel a twinge. Do it for weeks on end and you'll quickly cease to notice.

I used to have tons of irrational fears that essentially conglomerated into a complete terror of doing anything I'd never done before. (Seriously.) It's sort of a Catch-22, in that the fear actually made me more likely to have trouble doing something new, and thus have a bad experience that reinforced my evaluation. Over the past few years, though, I've been trying all sorts of new things with very good experiences and I'm not nearly as frightened as I used to be. At most, I'll be nervous, and I can still do what I want to do.

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Wow-- did you hit a loose piece of ground, or what made you slip (if you don't mind me asking)? (It's flat here in Houston, so I have only limited experience with cliffs). Any permanent injuries? I've always heard, when falling, the important thing to remember is-- protect your head.
It's kind of an embarrassing story, but its a little funny too, so I'll oblige. Actually, I kind of ran off.

Some friends and I were enjoying the outdoors near an old quarry, and at some point I began to jog around near the top (stupid). In my mind I had a very clear idea of where the cliff face was, which turned out to be 90 degrees off. I ran over a little hill and jumped off, then I saw another small hill in front of me. I could see the tree line a hundred feet or so behind it and I assumed steady decent to the trees. I also saw one of my friends next to the little hill and I decided I would run past and startle him with the rush of motion.

When I reached the summit of the little hill (about 4-5ft above where I was), I realized that I was running straight for a short downward slope that extended approximately 3ft out before becoming a sheer drop. The short hill concealed a tree that was just short enough not to be seen from the other side of the hill, and for a split second I considered jumping to it (It was about 7ft in front of me). It looked a little flimsy and I decided that the best plan was to try to not fall at all. So I spun around and tried to go flat at the same time. I had enough forward momentum to slip off despite clawing desperately at rock. The branches of the tree helped me measure my descent by tapping me on the butt, and I think I might have bounced about 4-5 feet after hitting the ground.

My thought process was almost exactly this: I'm going to jump the top of this hill then run down it - Should I jump to the tree? No - Where's a hand-hold - I'm out of ideas.

I was knocked out when I hit the ground and came to maybe 20 seconds later. I recognized where I was and what happened then remembered to breath. The shock stopped me from feeling anything but a vague sense of pain, and I tried to get up until I saw that my foot was in the wrong place. So I waited for the paramedics.

There was really no terror involved, but my friend said he saw my expression. He mimicked it and it was pretty chilling. The adrenaline stopped me from panicking afterwords (it also made time pass very quickly), though it didn't stop one of the paramedics from shaking and crying. They were pretty concerned about my neck and head, so I'd say that protecting your head is probably very important. That's why I recommend landing feet first if you can.

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They were pretty concerned about my neck and head, so I'd say that protecting your head is probably very important. That's why I recommend landing feet first if you can.

I am not sure about that...landing feet first from that height can probably damage your spine quite a bit. I have seen a few guys fall from roofs and land on their feet and they get hurt pretty bad, whereas the ones who land horizontally often times hop up and walk away. I would think(if you have any say in the matter) a somewhat relaxed horizontal landing might be best. The force of impact would be distributed over a wider area. Not the sort of thing I'd like to test though.

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Not to mention the amount of damage it does to your legs. However, if you land feet-first, you can tuck-and-roll and hopefully kill some of the force that way. There are ways to fall great distances and not get hurt, but spreading the force over as much area as possible (by rolling with it) is the way to go.

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There are ways to fall great distances and not get hurt, but spreading the force over as much area as possible (by rolling with it) is the way to go.
And I suggest a practice: :) fall off your bike. I have made quite a few rolls over the front bar. Funny thing is I would have problems doing the roll intentionally, but during accident there is not time to feel nervous - you simply want to survive.

[Hmm, I rolled over my head during tennis game once. No injuries or bumps.] :P

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Not to mention the amount of damage it does to your legs. However, if you land feet-first, you can tuck-and-roll and hopefully kill some of the force that way. There are ways to fall great distances and not get hurt, but spreading the force over as much area as possible (by rolling with it) is the way to go.

That is a good theory for falls below a certain height(20 feet maybe?) where you still have forward momentum, but that curve turns into a vertical line pretty quick. Not sure you could roll out from it when goin straight down.

Also, since we are not cats, adjusting your position is a relatively difficult thing to do without a bit more time then a 50 foot fall provides(a little more then one second). Your best shot at position would probably be in the slipping stage where you might be able to push off of the cliff edge.

Hehe....this discussion of how best to fall and land from great heights can't be helping anyone get over a fear of heights.

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I have had a fear of heights my whole life.

However, it isn't nearly as bad as it used to be. When I was in my early twenties, and after I had become a mom, I realized I needed to do something about it.

I decided to combined that with my love of hiking (which can be wierd if you don't like heights.)

I use to take my son hiking up a small mountain in NH. There was a fire tower at top, and you were allowed to climb up top, so we we did. It wasn't that tall, but it still spooked me a bit. After a few times I felt more comfortable.

Then we started hiking up a bigger (yet still small) mountain. Each time I would make a point of going a little closer to the edge each time. It got to a point that I was a lot less nervous.

I still am not a fan of heights, but it isn't the same, and it doesn't stop me from enjoying things like it did as a kid. I used to be afraid of going on some of the jungle gym equipment that was more than 4 or 5 feet off the ground, or the tall slide or big diving board at the local pool.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I think that certain fears can take hold of a person even if they are very rational people. For example, brave soldiers who go through a near-death experience, and suffer from Trauma. The Trauma is basically, from neurological point of view, a neurological path that gets hard wired in the brain. I guess that during the frightening experience there is a lot of adrenaline and other chemicals in the brain that cause the strengthening of the specific path from the neurons that are responsible for identifying the certain sounds and sites connected with the incident and the region of the brain that is responsible for the sensation of fear to get much stronger. And that's why the next time those people hear something, even the slightest, that sounds like the thing that frightened them during that near-death experience they react automatically with anxiety, and they have little or no control over it.

It is wrong to believe that human beings can control every aspect of their mental function by accepting a certain philosophy and using a certain method for gaining knowledge (reason).

There are things that our brain does automatically, which we have no control of. (for example see pavlovian conditioning)

I don't think that trauma is understood in the brain level today, and the treatment for chronic fears is psychological one (which eventually changes the wiring in the brain).

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