If you are afraid of heights or of mountain exposure, you are not alone. The fear of falling came first in our recent Facebook group fear survey. (Yes, he beat avalanches, lightning, bears, and even failure.) So I think it’s time to publish an article on how to beat the fear of falling.


Now. Lest you think I have all the answers on this one, I too am sketched by the exhibit.

In fact, just a few days ago I sat on a scary ridge and refused to go any further. (A sympathetic friend convinced me to continue. More on the power of positive people below.)

But since I’m not one of those crazy aliens who eat breakfast exposure, I think I can speak with some empathy on the subject.

Besides working on my own fears, I also have a counseling degree and practiced for six years. So I can tell you a little bit about what the brain research says about fear and how to overcome it.

So here are my top tips for overcoming your fear of being exposed while rock climbing, snow climbing, or scrambling. Many of them also work for others for anxiety in other areas of life


According to brain research, the fastest and most effective way to overcome fear is to do what terrifies you the most.

The more you crash into your fear, the faster it will lose its hold on you.

(In counseling, we call this flood therapy, in case you want to know more about it.)

The best way to overcome the fear of heights is therefore to get to exposed terrain as often as possible. Get out there and do some rock climbing and scrambling routes that scare you (as long as they are suitable for your experience and skill level).

Is this AF uncomfortable? You bet. But if you have the mental toughness to overcome major anxiety quickly, you may find that your fear goes away completely soon.



When working on your fears, it is necessary to push yourself until you feel anxiety. But being too agitated can backfire and make you more afraid.

So, when standing on the ridge looking at a jamming problem, rate your anxiety on a scale of 1 to 10. (With 1 being “not at all scary” and 10 beings “no f * cking way.”)

1–3 is the FUN area. Climbing this thing will be fun, but it won’t necessarily prepare you for more difficult things.

4–7 is the GROWTH zone. It is the ideal point where you face your fear and stretches your possibilities, but you are not so afraid that you are traumatizing yourself. Hanging out in this area will generally decrease your fear of exposure over time.

8–10 is the PANIC zone. Operating in this zone could actually create bad experiences that will torpedo your confidence, exacerbate your fear, and even make you give up completely.

Use this ladder to self-regulate minute by minute as you climb. If you feel yourself slipping past 8, you can stop. Or ask for an insurer, if it’s safe and feasible in your situation.


If you’re not ready to crash headlong into your fear of falling (and that’s okay), start by climbing some routes with light exposure and gradually increase the difficulty.

Often times, surviving minor exposure will boost your confidence. This allows you to tackle more serious terrain without freezing or snacking on your climbing partner.



Humans are essentially social learners. When we watch others approach “scary” situations in a playful and exciting way, we tend to adopt the same attitudes.

So try to create a playlist of extreme sports YouTube videos that inspire you and give your courage.

One of the two guys jumping off the Burj Khalifa in squirrel costume always does it for me:
You can also practice proxy learning in real life. When scaling a difficult route, grab a friend who is playful and welcoming in the face of challenges – and who is ready to begin. Follow in their footsteps and their attitude.

Proxy learning can also be negative. If you are preparing for a scary climb, don’t discuss it with people who will panic and increase your anxiety. You can tell opponents anything when you return. Neener.


Sometimes the fear gets worse when we hold on to control with all our might.

So if there’s something you want to do that you just can’t get your arms and legs to cooperate with, let go of control. (No, not your take. Mind control.)

Give your destiny to God (dess), the spirit, the universe, or any other higher power. Trust him to watch over you.

Sometimes when you can’t trust yourself, you can always trust something bigger.


Your brain is an incredible product of evolution. It is designed to keep you alive, safe, and secure.

Yes, it’s a bit like your parents wanting you to be a doctor, even though you missed the math and passed out at the sight of blood. (Because for brains and parents alike, a medical career is ultimate security.)

Anytime you think about doing something “risky” or upending the status quo, your brain sends warning signals. Sometimes these come in handy (no, you probably shouldn’t cheat on the hot yoga teacher).

But it also panics when you envision a positive change, like climbing a mountain or quitting your corporate job to start a business.

Basically your brain doesn’t like awesomeness. If you listen to it, you will always be a sad, mediocre version of yourself. So don’t hesitate to ignore his warning signs



When it comes to dealing with a difficult situation, your perception is everything. So when you are faced with something difficult, ask yourself:

What if it was easy?

What if it was fun?

At first, your brain might be like, “Dude. There’s nothing funny about that Class 4 descent, okay? It’s a fucking death wish.”

But if you stay with these questions, you may find that you are making the situation much more difficult than it needs to be.

Magic questions are also useful when you are packing your bags to achieve your goal and stressing the details. (Yes, it happens to me today.)


Fear doesn’t have to rule you. No feeling can dominate you if you decide to stop reacting and take the driver’s seat.

When you feel an emotion, you basically have four choices (use the acronym RARE to remember):

  • Resist
  • To avoid
  • React
  • Experience

The first two tend to intensify the sensation. You may be able to suppress the fear for a while. But it will take a lot of energy and keep coming back.

And of course, reacting out of emotion gets you nowhere quickly. Have you ever said no to a fun climb with friends because there were aspects that scared you? Then you know the cost of the reaction to your fear.

(This is, of course, different from saying no to trips that require physical fitness or technical skills that you don’t have. Knowing your safety limits is smart.)

Sit with your fear and live it. Feel its vibration in your body. Accept it without judgment or questioning.

When you discipline your mind to experience your emotions without reacting to them, you will truly be in control of your own life. And you will feel more powerful and less shaken by your feelings.

Are you the type of person who is frustrated with your own emotions? Yeah, now instead of being scared you’re crazy and scared. Who needs it?

Looks like you could be a great candidate for meditation.

Meditation and mindfulness practices aim to develop non-judgmental awareness of your bodily thoughts and sensations. Meditating before a climb is a good way to sit back and feel your fear so that it loses its grip on your behavior.



Doing scary things is inherently exciting. It can even be fun.

Have you ever ridden a roller coaster and screamed with laughter all the way with a smile on your face? It’s actually a great feeling.

My favorite part of the Burj Khalifa video above is when Fred says, “We don’t do this to scare each other. We love to fly, you know? We love to have fun.”

Is jumping off the Burj Khalifa a little scary for these guys? Well, I guess they don’t have the same fear of being exposed as we do.

But I guess deep down there’s a little spark of fear. Because otherwise jumping off the Burj Khalifa in a squirrel costume wouldn’t be exciting. It wouldn’t be fun. It would be just like, Jump. Fall. Earth. Meh.

Embrace the excitement and fun in frightening situations, and you will be able to face them with more courage.


If you’re a perfectionist by nature, you might be afraid of dying the first time you make a mistake in the mountains.

But this is empirically improbable. Consider some stats from everyone’s favorite mountaineering bible, Freedom of the Hills:

For every death in the mountains, there are:

20 serious injuries

200 minor injuries

2000 near misses

200,000 dangerous acts

Yeah, 200,000. God really smiles on fools and children.

Now could you be the unlucky person who’s very first dangerous act turns into death or serious injury? Of course. This is why it is so important to keep your skills sharp, to climb in your abilities, and to follow good safety practices.

But if you’re struggling with fear and just need a little breathing room to get over the knot, remember that the universe is an inherently forgiving place.


Your body’s autonomic nervous system controls all bodily functions that are beyond your voluntary control (heartbeat, breathing, digestion, etc.)

The autonomic nervous system is made up of two sub-systems: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. Only one of these systems can be activated at any given time.

So when you are struggling over a scary policeman and your mouth is dry and your heart pounding, your sympathetic nervous system is dominant. It is the one that triggers the fight or flight response. It tells your glands to release adrenaline which will give you a little more juice to climb but also make you feel scared and panicked.

To feel better, you need to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. It is the one that promotes relaxation and digestion. In addition, it directly inhibits the fight or flight response.

So what does this have to do with your pimple?
Yeah, I promised you an asshole. And that’s because it’s anatomically impossible to do a sympathetic cast (in combat or in-flight) when your pelvic floor is relaxed.

With practice, you can learn to release your pelvic floor muscles whenever you want. Try it now. Pull your asshole up and in (towards your belly button), hold for a few seconds, and release. Do you feel more relaxed? Try it a few times and see what happens.

For extra credit, imagine your asshole expanding outward, relaxing until it is the size of your entire pelvis. Yeah, it’s super weird, but it works.

Try these exercises the next time you’re faced with a spicy rappelling start – or sitting in a stressful business meeting. Oh, that’s better! And thank goodness no one can read your mind right now.

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