The fear of heights, also known as acrophobia, may be caused by over-relying on visual stimulus to trigger a self-protective and overwhelming caution. Overcoming acrophobia can be difficult because acrophobes can’t help themselves. The fear is a result of the confusion in your brain between what one sees and how the body wants to respond to danger. Lindsey talks about what helped her on facing and conquering this fear, and her goal to climb every wall at Brooklyn Boulders.
- What does it feel like to be scared of heights? About how high do you have to be for it to kick in?
Getting to the 4th step of a ladder would trigger my fear of heights. All of the anxiety and stress kicks in to your nervous system (sweaty palms, butterflies in your stomach, nausea, dizziness and unfocused eye site). It’s completely debilitating!
- What inspired you to start climbing in the face of The Fear?
I’ve always been involved in the outdoor community and was regularly invited to climb at BKB, but I always declined invites because of my fear. Because of my non-profit and outdoor education background, I was employed with the Brooklyn Boulders Foundation (BKBF). At that point, I decided I’d give it a try but knew it’d be a very long journey.
- What was your first climb, and how did you feel?
I started climbing with small goals (and still do). My first goal was to try climbing within my first week of employment at BKBF. I knew if I didn’t get take the initial leap quickly, it’d be that much harder to start. My first climb was terrible. I got about 3 feet up the bouldering wall and about 4 feet off of the top roping wall. I was terrified and very anxious. I had to wait about 5-10 minutes between each attempt to get my heart rate down. My coworker also showed me how to traverse so that was a great way to work on coordination on the wall too.
- What helped you work with and/or overcome The Fear?
–Telling people: sharing my fear with my coworkers and the BKB climbing community made it so much easier to try and fail. People are so supportive and a lot of climbers told me they were afraid of heights too and would give me tips on how to manage the stress. Sharing your success is an amazing feeling too!
– Find a patient climbing buddy: My coworker, Kade, is my go-to climber. I knew early on I needed someone chill and patient to help reduce my anxiety. I like that she didn’t make my baby climbs a big deal and would just give me beta on how to get to the next hold. For me, I didn’t want to be around super competitive climbers while I was managing the fear.
– Exposure! The first time will suck but I just kept going back to the wall. I joke that rock climbing for me is “Exposure Therapy”. And it’s working! I went from 4 feet off of the top roping wall to reaching the top in 2 months! I still don’t make it to the top of all my climbs but seeing the improvement over the past three months makes me dedicated to reaching the top of every wall at BKB.
- Have your feelings about climbing changed? If so, how?
It’s as if there’s a spectrum of “terrifying anxiety” to “exuberantly fun!” and about a month into climbing I started to slowly favor the fun. The fun factor has been growing ever since!
- If you have goals for climbing, what are they?
I feel like now that I’ve been able to conquer the mental barrier I can finally focus on the physical strength! My most recent goal was to get belay certified, which I successfully did two weeks ago. I’d say my next goal is to complete a route on the 30 wall. One day I’ll make it to The Beast!
- What would you tell someone who’s scared of heights and is interested in climbing?
Share your fear with your fellow climbers, always look down before you get off the wall, share your success and come back! Exposure is key. Oh, and if you can’t find someone to climb with, ask for Lindsey 😀
For those looking for guidance in overcoming the fear of climbing with practice, exposure, and technique, check out our classes.