Although I am obsessed with travelling and adventures, a hobby known to involve facing heights at one point or another, I’m a total heights phobe. I can’t go on the Brighton i360 and haven’t changed tube trains at Westminster underground station in years as the futuristic-like escalators scare me to death.
Crossing bridges, my heart pounds, my legs turn weak, I go dizzy, and feel the urge to lie down in case I involuntarily throw myself off. Irrational, I know. Strangely though, I sometimes forget I have a fear of heights. I know, it sounds silly! I think it’s because I work from home in Brighton, a situation which doesn’t involve facing heights that often! As a result of my optimism/forgetfulness, I’ve been caught out a couple of times on trips.
I once had to be rescued by a sympathetic tourist as I froze to the spot, white-faced and sobbing in the middle of the Millennium Bridge in London. Another time in Canada, I got excited about a gondola ride up Sulphur Mountain in Banff National Park. Then completely freaked out half way up, as we sat suspended and swinging at a great height.
This is how it goes for me:
Me approaching bridge/gondola ride: Wow look at this bridge/gondola ride! This is going to be fun! I can do this, it’s going to be absolutely fine. Look at that beautiful view! You haven’t had any issues in a while. It’s not that far… let’s go!
Me on bridge or gondola: (Vertigo and fear kicking in) Oh my god, I can’t see straight. I think I’m going to jump out. (Tears start coming…) Please god make this stop.
So you can imagine my reaction when when I saw this terrifying video of people crossing a glass-bottomed suspension bridge in China. OMG! Dan told me not to watch it but curiosity got the better of me…
I used to get upset and frustrated that it happened, unexpectedly. But I’ve learned ways to deal with it, especially if I’m on my own. So here are three tricks I use to help get over my fear of heights (or, at the least, reduce the anxiety):
1 Accept it and plan ahead
I’ve tried to get over my fear of heights but the exposure technique hasn’t yet worked for me. Eventually the fear kicks in at some point up high. So for me, I’ve found accepting the fear the first step. Don’t fight the fear and take it from there. I like to plan ahead so I know what I’m up against. Find out what challenges you’re likely to run into. Find out if there’s an alternative route – like a lift, instead of a scary staircase with gaps. Or a different way to get across a river or something without going on the bridge?
2 Learn some breathing and meditation techniques
When I’m facing a walk across somewhere high that’s unavoidable, I like to imagine myself as a normal person. What would a person who isn’t afraid of heights do right now? They would be calm and just walk across the high place. They wouldn’t even be thinking about it. So, I try to tell myself it’s OK, you’re not going to fall off, there’s no way you can fall off, this is a solid bridge, you cannot fall off. I move away from the edge if that’s possible, take a deep breath, and focus on the floor and walk. I tune out my fear and pretend it doesn’t exist. I distract my mind and have it focus on something else. This trick works wondersand by the time I tune back in, we’re past the halfway point and I’m near the end. It helps if I’m in the right headspace at the time, too.
3 It’s OK to ask for help
Sometimes though, this technique doesn’t work, especially if you’re already feeling anxious about something else in your life. If there is no other way of getting to where you want to go without navigating a high place, it’s OK to ask for help. Asking a stranger to walk you over a bridge feels weird at first. Us Brits are pretty reserved, after all. But you’ll be surprised how people just want to help and be nice. Give them some credit. You’ll feel really good that you reached out, and got to the end of that bridge.
Pssst. Fancy dinner in the sky? (I’ll watch from below…)