Warning: These tips do not replace advice from a phobia specialist. We encourage you to take professional advice if your fear of heights handicaps you too much when hiking.
Good to Know: The Difference Between Vertigo and Fear of Heights
But first, what are we really talking about? Is vertigo or fear of the heights? The term vertigo is normally used in a general way whereas it is a physiological phenomenon. People suffering from vertigo are actually disturbed by the difference between the signals sent by their vision and their inner ear (which manages the balance). To put it simply, if you stand in a glass cage above, your eyes will tell you that you are in a vacuum, although your feet may be firm on the ground.
If you are experience dizziness, consult an ENT to detect if there is any injury in the inner ear. On the other hand, the fear of heights, or acrophobia is a real phobia. Like any phobia, it may irrational and rather difficult, but not impossible to treat. So here are our tips to help your hiking not to turn into a nightmare.
1. Share With Other Hikers
Do not be afraid to talk about it as you may encounter more people who are suffering from the same problem. Nobody will judge you and this fear does not make you a worse hiker!
You may be lucky to meet people who have overcome acrophobia. They will be able to share their experiences and help you. This is a good reason to meet other hikers!
2. Have Confidence in Yourself and Your Equipment
There are no bad tools, only bad craftsmen.
You can, however rely on a small placebo effect that your equipment may give you. Invest in shoes in which will make you more confident in addition to having resilient walking sticks and a backpack that does not interfere with your movements or make you lose balance. To make sure you have the best chance, discover how to balance the load on your backpack and also how to adjust it properly to feel safe and more able to do face your fear.
3. Quantify and Rationalise
If possible try to identify what triggers this fear. Is it the slopes? Bridges?
According to you what are the specific situations which trigger the feeling of your legs being restless?
Place your fear on a scale of 1 to 10. This will allow you to rationalise and to take a little distance from the situation to regain your calm. If you are not a severe acrophobic, ask yourself in each situation what is the imagined risk and the real risk. Put into perspective and take control of your fear in specific situations.
4. Face The Fear Step By Step
You can get help in your endeavour. There are special therapies for this kind of phobia. The best known are cognitive-behavioural therapies (CBT). The principle is simple: to gradually confront the fear to regain control and subdue your thoughts.
This does not mean that you have to make the big jump immediately. Take your time. The first steps for the more phobic ones will be to think about the heights while remaining calm.
5. Relearn How to Breath
Anxiety largely feeds the fear of heights. There are very simple yet very effective breathing techniques to help you regain your composure and get through this difficult passage that stops you reaching the summit. Meditation, sophrology and yoga breathing exercises, such as those that are very well explained in our articles by our yogi friends at Domyos, who can help you reduce your daily stress and also while hiking. During your trek, be careful not to hyperventilate (breathe very quickly). You should slow down your breathing by breathing in deeply with the belly.
6. Don’t Look Down
You have surely already heard it: never look down. Heights will only increase your fear. If you find yourself facing the heights during your hiking without being able to turn around, you should instead focus your sight on a fixed point in the distance. Do not forget to raise your feet and test unstable ground to avoid slipping or falling.
7. Do Not Fear Ridicule
In the most frightening situations, forget your ego and walk on your hands and knees if necessary. A moment of ridicule is better than a severe crisis followed by a long slip. You can help yourself with the wall or branches after checking their strength beforehand.
Avoid clinging on your hiking companion who may lose balance and lead you both to fall! Do not hesitate to use the poles to steady yourself on steep slopes. Find out how to adjust them properly in our article.