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How to Overcome Your Fear of Heights

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“I started aerial as a way to change my mind about heights. I am still really afraid, but I have learned a few things that make me less afraid.” –Annie H (Aerial student)

Acrophobia, or extreme fear of heights, is among the most common phobias in the world: One Dutch study found that it affects as many as one in twenty people. Even more people suffer from a non-phobic fear of heights—they don’t meet the bar to be technically diagnosed, but they share symptoms with true acrophobes.

All told, as much as twenty-eight percent of the general population may have some height-induced fear!

As aerialists and aerial students, dealing with heights is fortunately or unfortunately (depending on who you ask), hard to avoid.

For those of us on the spectrum of acrophobia (interesting about the ‘acro’ part hey?) this can make training and/or performing aerial particularly challenging. It doesn’t mean we have to stop though, studies have shown that there are ways to overcome our fear or at the very least improve our relationship to heights.

1. Visualize Yourself Overcoming Your Fear

Take a few moments before aerial class or training to close your eyes and to visualize how secure the situation you’re putting yourself into is. Think about the safety mats you will be utilizing as well as the experience of your coach and the strength of your own body.

Try to use your rational mind to tell yourself that you won’t fall or get injured. Allow these thoughts to become one with your subconscious, so that when you start to feel agitated and frightened, you can call on them to help you to stay calm and focused.

2. Go at Your Own Pace

Rather than force yourself to shimmy up that 20-foot rope swing at Santa Monica Pier, or accept that ‘silks from a hot air balloon’ gig (sounds amazing but also..kinda scary!)’ start with small wins.

If you are a newbie aerialist, work on simple combinations right off the floor. Talk to your coach about your fears, there are still sooo many combinations and drills you can focus on that are low to the ground. When you feel ready, climb a little higher.

With this kind of slow, consistent progress, before long you will be inverting like a pro at the top of the silks wishing for more height so you could add an ankle hang to your Quadruple Star Drop!

3. Remember to Breathe

When we feel anxious we often forget to breathe correctly, this is particularly true when we are climbing or attempting a new trick or figure on the silks, which can enhance anxiety. If you feel anxious in the air, ensure that you fill your mind and body with oxygen by focusing on taking deep, regular breaths to restore clarity and calm

4. Be Gentle with Yourself

Phobias cannot be overcome overnight; the same is true if you experience fear of heights. The fact that you are working through these fears in your aerial practice is cause enough for celebration and it will only get easier if you continue to do so.

If your fear of heights is getting in the way of your training though, or even your everyday life, it might be wise to talk to a therapist or other medical professional.

“Don’t be fearless, but tame your fears, and stop at nothing.” – Abhijit Naskar

Have a courageous rest of your week!

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