Climacophobia, or the fear of climbing, is a relatively unusual phobia. It is related to acrophobia, or fear of heights, as well as bathmophobia, or fear of stairs and slopes. The difference is in the focus of the fear. Those who suffer from acrophobia are scared of being at height, regardless of how they got there. Those with bathmophobia may develop symptoms when looking at a set of stairs or large slope, even if they will not climb. Climacophobia, on the other hand, is focused on the actual act of climbing.
Causes of Climacophobia
Climacophobia may be caused by a wide variety of factors. An especially common cause is a previous negative experience. If you have fallen down a set of stairs, had difficulty completing a climb or had a panic attack while climbing, you may be more prone to developing climacophobia.
The negative experience need not have happened to you directly. If you witnessed an accident on stairs or a loved one is afraid of stairs, you may be more likely to develop this fear. Some people develop this phobia after watching someone on television or in film suffer an accident while climbing.
Many cases of climacophobia cannot be traced to a specific past event. Fortunately, understanding the root cause of the phobia is not necessary to treating it.
By definition, a reasonable fear that is caused by a medical condition cannot be diagnosed as a phobia. Many illnesses and injuries cause difficulties with balance or endurance. Other medical conditions can impair the muscles, ligaments or tendons that are involved in climbing. Therefore, it is important to rule out such illnesses or injuries, or determine whether the fear is out of proportion to the risks, before diagnosing climacophobia.
In addition, climacophobia can cause symptoms that resemble vertigo, such as dizziness when looking down. True vertigo is a medical condition, while illyngophobia is the fear of vertigo. It can be difficult to tell exactly which disorder is causing the symptoms, and some people suffer from more than one. It is important to see a mental health professional to determine the precise cause of your symptoms.
Complications of Climacophobia
Untreated climacophobia can cause you to limit your activities. Many occupations require workers to climb stairs or even ladders. In daily life, it can feel awkward to wait for an elevator when only going one floor up or to choose disability access ramps rather than stairs. Many people feel a social stigma as they worry that they will be perceived as lazy or unhealthy. Climacophobia, like other height-related phobias, can also cause you to panic while at height. This could lead you to make sudden, unsafe movements in an effort to relieve your fear.
Climacophobia, like most specific phobias, responds well to cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). In this form of treatment, you will learn to stop your own negative thoughts about climbing and replace them with more rational self-talk. You will also learn to change your behaviors.
CBT may be used alone or in tandem with other treatment options. Medications and relaxation techniques can help you get control of your fear. Different forms of talk therapy may be used, particularly if your fears were triggered by a known event. See "Treatment Options" for an overview of common phobia treatments.
Untreated climacophobia may worsen over time. It can cause you to limit your activities or even behave erratically when forced to climb a slope or set of stairs. With proper treatment, however, you can learn to conquer your fears.
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.