By Michaela Scherr » I’ve been terrified of heights for as long as I can remember.
Riding in glass elevators, taking rides on Ferris wheels (large or small), checking out revolving restaurants atop towers – each of these is a white knuckle experience for me, with vertigo thrown in for good measure.
So what possessed me to voluntarily take a hot air balloon flight, I’ll never know.
Hot air ballooning is a different kettle of fish. Now I know hot air balloons fly (sort of). However there are no in-flight rations, flight attendants, movies, headsets, or pressurized cabins.
There is just a big balloon (also called an envelope – I paid attention during the pre-flight briefing), a basket, a gas burner and a group of excited people. To me this was not flying, more like drifting and floating randomly above the earth.
A flight was booked and, as luck would have it, we had perfect weather conditions. We arrived at the departure point on a cool, crisp morning before the sun rose. The other passengers had already arrived and were eagerly awaiting the pre-flight briefing before take-off.
That was the good bit.
Fear washed through me, it became difficult to breathe, and my heart was pounding rapidly. It took supreme effort to keep my panic in check and instead, not wishing to put a damper on anyone’s enthusiasm, tried to appear as nonchalant as possible.
As time for take-off approached, my fear intensified. Finally, as the ropes were released from the basket and the balloon slowly made its way upward, my knees turned to jelly and the urge to rid myself of the previous night’s dinner became overwhelming.
Totally trapped, I silently screamed as we rose higher and higher from the ground.
What did I do next to overcome this panic?
I changed my state.
I remembered to breathe, and with that was able to centre myself (knowledge of meditation helps!) to step fully into the present moment. It also helped to shift my focus and become more curious, about the purple hills I could see on the horizon.
My focus then shifted to experiencing how serene it was up in the sky, only occasionally hearing the sound of the burner as it blasted hot air into the balloon above.
From experiencing this serenity my focus turned to the burner and feeling the heat of the flames.
Happy with experiencing what I was, I began asking myself probing questions about my fear. With each answer I would then ask “And what is important about that?”
Remaining centred and controlling my breathing, I continued to answer each question fully to myself until there was nothing left to ask.
From answering my own questions I discovered my fear was based on the fact that there was no jet engine, steering wheel, seat belts, escape chute and we were in a basket attached to a really big balloon!
From those answers I then:
- Determined that the likelihood of disaster was minimal to nil.
- Knew the present moment was the safest place for me.
- Future paced me. I imagined myself eating my champagne breakfast with the other passengers after the balloon flight, and retelling my story.
- Realised I was actually having an experience of a lifetime which I probably will never do again and decided to make the most of it.
Not only that, the captain seemed to know what he was doing (always encouraging), I knew the equipment was in great shape (I had a good look), and there was someone following the balloon in a vehicle below.
Taking several deep breaths, I refocused on my internal world and connected with peace again, silently giving thanks to my years of meditation practise.
At last I was able to truly enjoy this exhilarating experience! The peace and tranquillity above the earth with the sun rising in the East, and the green rolling hills below was absolutely awesome – I was in heaven!
Being in the present moment, focusing on controlled breathing, as well as becoming centred helped enormously in dealing with my anxiety.
Not only that, by asking the question “And what is important about that?” got to the heart of my fear.
Try asking yourself that question sometime when a need crops up. You might be surprised as what you discover about yourself.
•Michaela Scherr is a transformational coach and writer. She is the author of several e-books and publisher of a monthly newsletter called From My Desk.
Scared of heights? Here are some tips
Many people are afraid of heights. This fear is called acrophobia. This fear can get in the way of life. It can stop one from performing tasks that needs to be done (climbing a ladder to reach a shelf, to change a light-bulb, to paint) or it can even get in the way of fun (climbing the monkey bars at school, riding many different types of rides at amusement parks, etc.)
But there are steps you can take to help yourself to overcome this fear.
First, think about how your life would be better if you could overcome this fear. What would you do that you can’t do now? What do you long to do? Is it something basic like climbing that ladder to paint your house?
Then you need to understand why do you have this fear in the first place? Did something happen to you as a child? Did you fall from a high place? Did you see someone else fall?
How bad is your acrophobia? Are you extremely terrified of taking even one step up a ladder? The degree of your acrophobia usually is gauged on how bad the event was that stirred the phobia in the first place. If the event seems like a huge event your phobia is going to be greater than if the event was smaller. Say you fell off a ladder only by two rungs up and sprung your arm as a child, the event was a small event. Your phobia may only be minor. Now if you had fallen off the top of the ladder and broke your arm, your phobia could be much larger.
Here are some of the different treatment options for acrophobia:
Drug therapy: No, there are no drugs that will diminish phobias. There are drugs that may suppress some of its symptoms by using chemicals. But the side effects may be worse that the fear itself.
Hypnosis: Hypnosis can be an effective tool if you do not remember why this phobia began in the first place.
Positive thinking: With this method you are telling yourself that you can get over the fear and it is usually combined with the desensitization method.
Desensitization method. This method is not a quick fix. This method takes time. You just basically take small steps, in this case upward. You slowly make your way up that ladder. One day you take one step upward. You continue this for a few days. Then you add another step. You continue taking those two steps for a few more days. You keep doing this until you make it up to the top of the ladder.
What if you cannot do these steps alone? What if your fear is too much to handle? What if you feel faint? Then you may want to face your fears with a professional.
But remember one thing. Your phobia did not begin overnight. It became a phobia over time. By the same token, it cannot be cured overnight. The cure will take time, too.
Patience. Self confidence and learning more about yourself are the keys that will help you overcome the fear of heights or any fear.