Overcoming anxiety through skydiving
Would you like to make a skydive but fear your anxiety would cause you palpitations or even panic attacks? Have you ever felt totally messed up when standing on a high building or boarding an aeroplane? Would you like to overcome that? Read on.....
Everything starts with Motivation
Each of us different and we have our own reasons for the way we are and for wanting to change. The reason I personally went to do a static line parachute jump in the first place, was to cure myself of a fear of heights. As a boy, going higher than the third floor of a block of flats (open-air type) I’d cling to the walls while delivering my newspapers and knew something wasn’t quite right even then. Did parachuting help me overcome my fears? Well yes, although if I’m standing on a tall building or fixed object I still feel much happier if I’m wearing a parachute system Since that time I’ve helped many people overcome their fears and go on to make their skydive, and in many cases they’ve gone on to become licenced skydivers. The things I’ve learned are just as relevant to anyone who even wants to be better at even simple activities, such as talking to new people, confined spaces, open spaces, spiders or snakes.
Does anxiety from fear of heights get worse the higher you go?
Surprisingly no. In fact it gets better.
One way to think about it as an optical illusion.
You’re standing at the top of a tall building, looking down. Your eyes automatically take in the connection between you and the ground and your brain tries to estimate your height above ground (turn the clock back a few thousand years now to caveman days – “can I jump off this to safety away from that predator or must I try to find another way down”. It doesn’t matter if your brain doesn’t come up with a figure it’s tried and it didn’t like the estimate, so it shifts back into ‘freeze’ mode and backs away from the edge, looking for something to hold onto.
Now you’re looking down from the open door of an aeroplane at about thirteen thousand feet, with a harness on and you’re attached to your instructor and you know you’ll soon be getting out. Strangely, you don’t feel the same anxiety at all. Why is that?
Why anxiety is less in an aeroplane than on a building
One theory is that this fear of heights was developed hundreds of generations ago and became embedded in what Carl Jung called the ‘Collective Unconscious’ which was also the same place where the brain stored its fears of the dark, and spiders, snakes and a few other ‘nasty’ things. It’s a kind of central repository inside the brain for all our ‘general settings’ related to the culture and accepted wisdoms of the human race, or at least in our own ancestral gene pool. During the times that fear was developed (and later reinforced) the human brains of our ancestors took account of what they saw and felt, which was likely, standing at the top of some fixed object (cliff, tree, mountain). When one of your tribe fell off the cliff and got hurt, the others learned that they should keep away from high places so the same thing didn’t happen to them. When they looked at birds flying, invariably they wanted to eat them, or maybe after a big meal they’d lie there and just wonder at birds in flight and enjoy the sight. Therefore, these ‘flying things’ got partly left out of the collective unconscious because there wasn’t any actually ‘downer’ personal experience which could be attached to the feeling of height. It turns out that the brain learns much better when it associates a fact with a feeling. Fear of heights (a feeling) therefore, is a general survival instinct experienced by the human race, and which has gotten weaker by the active choice of individuals over the generations to overcome the effects of the collective unconscious. So, what are the other influencing factors?
Who suffers from Anxiety? - ‘sensitive people’
By this I mean those who have never had the opportunity to ‘de-sensitise’ themselves. Some reading this might say “Hey! I’m proud of being sensitive and I don’t want to lose that positive part of me” and my reply will be something like “that’s fine luvvy, and I’m not really talking to you anyway so may I suggest you stop reading here and leave the rest of this article to those who, thousands of years ago may have been called ‘hunter/gatherers’, as opposed to ‘priests’,‘artists’ or ‘courtesans’. Mind you, I’ll still invite those ‘luvvies’ to place a bookmark here though, because in my work I’ve met many ‘sensitive people’ who, at some point in their life, for various reasons have decided they wanted to see and develop another facet of their personality using the medium of ‘adventure’. On the other hand, I’ve also met ‘outdoors adventures’ who have later on sought to discover the spiritual or emotional side to their personality. For both of these, the opportunity is to ‘stretch themselves’ and in so doing, become ‘better’. Lara Moritz decided to face up to her fear of heights directly by going for a tandem skydive and if you feel you're ready to find out more about skydiving, this article on tandem skydiving gives more detail and options. Remember, Tandem Instructors are trained not just to deal with the skydiving aspects, you'll find that they are also 'people persons' and they know how to help you get through this.
Anxiety at it’s most extreme form
Anyone can experience anxiety, to the extent of panic attacks even - even those outdoorsy ‘macho types’. One of my most esteemed officers suffered from panic attacks and was consequently given a desk job when we served together in the military. At its most extreme form panic attacks are recognised as a clinic condition which is treated with drugs, counselling, ‘alternative remedies’ or all three. I’ll go on to expand on alternative remedies and why there are such an important option for dealing with anxiety. If your own anxiety takes the form of a feeling of complete hopelessness and palpitations, then you should certainly include your doctor in your treatment strategy, and they will have significant resources available to help. One word of warning however. doctors have to work to budgets and if your reason for asking help you want help is to go skydiving then you'll be paying through the nose. So let’s consider options for managing anxiety in skydiving or indeed in any situation where we want to reduce our stress levels.
If the idea of making a skydive still isn't working for you, consider doing an indoor skydive for the lowest risk and least scary option. It could also be a good way to prepare yourself for the next step, to face your fears, which seems to be the strongest way to overcome them.