Meta description: Coasterphobia is the irrational fear of roller coasters, characterized by a panic response to seeing images of roller coasters, queueing for them or riding on them.
Introductory sentence: Coasterphobia is the official medical name given to the severe and debilitating fear of roller coasters.
What is coasterphobia?
Coasterphobia, as the name suggests, is the word used to describe a phobia of roller coasters.
This is not the name given to the thrill, chill or adrenalin rush of a ride on a roller coaster. Thrill-seeking is the major motivation for most people to get on a roller coaster in the first place, but coasterphobia is a much more serious condition. Those who suffer from coasterphobia are prone to panic attacks when triggered, and in the most severe cases, a photo or video footage of a roller coaster is enough to trigger a serious reaction.
The fear of roller coasters is a condition mainly restricted to people living in developed countries, but its effects are wide-reaching within these populations. It is not usually a phobia which interferes with the sufferers’ daily routine, but it is one which is often coupled with ridicule or bullying by friends and family.
Causes of coasterphobia
The first roller coaster dates back to the 17th century when Russian pioneers placed a thick slab of ice over a set of wooden stairs. The ride was quickly replicated after it was enjoyed by streams of people, and even Catherine the Great was rumored to install several of the contraptions in her own private gardens. The roller coasters which we know and fear today are all descendants of rides which were later developed in France. These were more recognizable as roller coasters, with many of the elements which are still used today, including tracks with locked-in wheels.
As roller coasters became more popular and more extravagant during the 1920s, accidents were more commonplace. There was a famous incident in 1927 in Ontario, which was home to the roller coaster “Cyclone”. People regularly lost possessions whilst riding on this coaster, which included a drop of 97 feet and a harsh right turn of almost 90 degrees. These lost items did not usually cause any physical harm to their previous owners or to fellow passengers. However, a man did lose his life after stepping underneath the coaster to retrieve his hat. He was struck by the dangling legs of a woman riding the roller coaster and was instantly killed. It is easy to see why someone may have developed a phobia after having witnessed such a tragedy, although the man killed was not actually riding the roller coaster at the time.
The most common causes of coasterphobia are:
– Prior bad experiences on roller coasters
– Fear of heights (acrophobia)
– Horror films based on roller coasters
– Being prone to motion sickness
– News coverage of roller coaster disasters
– Fear of not being in control
– Fearmongering messaging used to sell the rides
In recent years, press coverage from tragedies occurring at British theme parks such as Drayton Manor and Alton Towers, are likely to have increased the levels of coasterphobia. The very real consequences of faulty equipment and human error being documented so publicly could easily have caused more and more people to develop a phobia.
Theme park managers market fear. Roller coasters are sold to the public on the basis of them being the biggest, fastest, scariest or most terrifying ride around. The messaging used to promote roller coasters capitalizes on terror and taps into a primal fear for survival. For adrenalin junkies, this is exactly what they crave, for the more anxious members of the population, this messaging could in itself be one of the causes of coaster phobia.
The names of the roller coasters themselves are meant to evoke fear too. Oblivion, Apocalypse, Mind Eraser, Megaphobia and Exterminator are hardly names which conjure up images of happy and healthy passengers. Many roller coasters build the fear in the run-up to the ride, with witches, monsters, zombies, ghosts, loud noises, low lighting and screams all featuring to set the scene. It is possible that these elements could tap into different fears suffered by coasterphobic people, and that the fear of roller coasters stems from one of these phobias. The most common phobias associated with a fear of roller coasters are as follows:
– Acrophobia (fear of heights)
– Illygnophobia (fear of vertigo)
– Claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces)
– Fear of crowds
– Social phobia
– Mysophobia (fear of germs)
– Emetophobia (fear of vomiting)
In many developed countries, day trips to theme parks are a yearly occurrence for swathes of the population. Riding on roller coasters is not a frequent part of people’s lives, but it is not uncommon either, and in some circles, there may be an expectation to enjoy a day out to a theme park.
For many reasons, an individual may find themselves under pressure to ride a roller coaster despite their wish not to. Theme parks are expensive, and there may be an obligation by the paying party for the individual to ride a roller coaster to ‘get their money’s worth’ from the entrance fee. Roller coasters often have a height restriction, and once a child or adolescent has grown tall enough, it can be seen as a rite of passage to make them ride the bigger coaster. Coasterphobes can find themselves peer pressured or bullied into riding a roller coaster by people who do not suffer from such phobias and see it as a sign of weakness not to enjoy them. Whatever the reason behind it, peer pressure from other individuals can be the reason people ride roller coasters against their will, and this can form the seed of a roller coaster phobia.
If the fear is not taken seriously enough in its early stages, it can easily develop into coasterphobia as the fear gets progressively more serious.
A negative experience on a roller coaster is another common cause of coasterphobia. Examples of such negative experiences include:
– Motion sickness or vomiting
– Screaming and being teased
– Getting stuck on a ride after hours
– Seeing someone get injured on a roller coaster
These negative experiences can override the memories of any good experiences and sow seeds of fear and doubt in the mind. Memories of the negative experiences could then be triggered when an individual next sees a roller coaster, this could cause any or all of the symptoms of coasterphobia.
For those who suffer from coasterphobia, even the sight of a roller coaster on television is enough to bring about symptoms, and queueing for or traveling on a roller coaster or similar ride will likely provoke far more severe levels of the same symptoms. Likely symptoms include:
• Panic Attacks
• Difficulty breathing
• Elevated heart rate
• Tingling or numbness in the fingers and toes
• Having thoughts about death
• Imagining one’s own death by a roller coaster
As roller coasters do not form a part of the average daily routine, many people will find that they do not require treatment for coasterphobia, and that they can easily get by avoiding situations in which roller coasters will be present. If coasterphobes do wish, for whatever reason, to conquer their fear of roller coasters, the following options are available:
• CBT (cognitive behavior therapy)
• Regular and repeated exposure
• Specialist classes
As roller coasters today are built and maintained according to vigorous health and safety standards, coasterphobia is largely irrational. This means that it cannot be explained away, and instead must be dealt with through psychological means. Cognitive behavior therapy, hypnotherapy and repeated exposure to roller coasters have all proven to be effective in some cases. Therapeutic techniques are likely to be the most effective if you know that your fear of roller coasters stems from another phobia.
Some theme parks actually run sessions for coasterphobes to try to cure them of their fear. It may be worth checking out your local theme park’s website to see if they offer such a service, or ask a friend if the photos will cause you undue harm.
The best ways to prevent coasterphobia from occurring include the following:
– Avoid theme parks if you have another triggering phobia
– Do not attend theme parks with people who will pressure you into going on rides you do not want to go on
– Take baby steps – ride the small rides first before progressing to larger ones
– Do not read up on the negative stories in the media around theme parks or roller coasters
– Avoid rides which feature other things you are scared of
– Do not watch scary films which feature roller coasters