Suffering from a phobia called gephyrophobia, or the fear of bridges, turns driving into a terrifying, dreadful experience. Not being able to cross a bridge thwarts the normal act of everyday commuting, traveling or relaxation. What causes it and can it be cured? Help, treatment and prevention information follows.
Almost everyone suffers from some kind of fear. However, when a fear becomes extreme or severe it becomes a phobia that obstructs normal behavior.
The fear of bridges happens when the driver of a vehicle has to drive across a bridge. Fear may also trigger when the sufferer is riding in a car and someone else is at the wheel.
Gephyrophobia also includes walking across a bridge, cycling across and, if for some reason, climbing a bridge. The length of a bridge is also a factor.
Driving for relaxation or sight-seeing becomes a nightmare, and driving on vacation or visiting friends causes trepidation. Just driving to work causes fear because of the everyday looming of the bridge up ahead.
The fear of bridges is especially traumatic if it crosses over water, is narrow or particularly high. Crossing a bridge, or just thinking about it instills automatic, uncontrollable anxiety.
The sufferer might know it’s irrational, or just say it is. But, on an emotional level, phobias cause involuntary dread, trauma and panic attacks.
• Experiencing fright while trying to find other roads around the bridge. Routes to avoid bridges can turn into long detours, while panic worsens when there is not another passage to the other side.
• Moving or relocating to places where bridges are not an issue, turning down jobs to avoid traveling certain routes or changing lifestyles to avoid visiting friends.
It is believed that most phobias are developed during childhood. However, the psychological field believes that a phobia can develop in later life as well.
Phobias are attributed to a number of issues. For instance, gephyrophobia is provoked by claustrophobia, acrophobia and/or agoraphobia.
Agoraphobia triggers the fear of leaving solid ground when entering a bridge way. A big problem is that waterways are often main arteries through cities and communities.
The sufferer may know someone who has had a bad experience or accident while crossing a bridge. Or, had a traumatic accident or situation themselves thereby inciting fear.
Thoughts surrounding the safety or collapse of the bridge, and driving or falling off the edge can also cause fear. The risk of being wind or rain swept off the bridge, or another driver losing control or stopping on the bridge are valid fears as well.
All of these fears are real, but there are solutions to reduce their grip.
Understanding the fear of bridges and what triggers the fear is the first step towards treatment.
Because the phobia presents such severe anxiety and dangerous risks, many locations offer assistance for crossing bridges. For instance:
1. Practice on short water rides and pint-size rollercoasters. Graduate to tall rides and rollercoasters.
2. Seek out causeways and low bridges, and practice driving, walking or cycling across them.
3. Play mental games while driving. Make up words, poems, sing-a-longs.
4. Listen to loud music to help distract from the fear, but not to zone out on.
5. Play word games, and include other people in the vehicle if possible. For instance, say all the words that begin with A. All the musical instruments in an orchestra. Animals in the zoo, etc.
6. Play I Spy, read license plates, or count the number of cars of the same color.
Anxiety is the mind’s way of dealing with a perceived danger. The typical response to anxiety is to forget everything and to stop breathing and thinking normally.
Breathing exercises. Short, shallow breaths set-off other symptoms of fear. Continuing to take deep breaths is key. Practice breathing exercises daily.
Use imagery while practicing deep breathing. Picture crossing a bridge in a calm and relaxed way, and practice looking at photographs, scenes from movies, etc. Imagine peacefully walking and cycling as well as driving.
Fear and anxiety are out of control when the worst is imagined. Imagining the best, and remaining calm and composed eventually reconditions the mind to expect success in overcoming fear.
Personal treatment tactics go a long way in overcoming the fear of crossing bridges. However, they must be practiced diligently. There are some treatments that also work as prevention.
A vital element of treatment and prevention is to be surrounded by people who are suffering from the same phobia. This is a forum for talking about specific experiences and sharing coping skills.
1. Let people know about the phobia. Unbottle the fear so friends and family can be of more help.
2. Get someone to drive across the bridge. While crossing, identify markers the car passes by. For instance, where is the speed sign, how many are there, where are the light poles, how far to the end.
3. Next time across, count off the markers.
4. Talk on speakerphone.
5. Hire drivers or use public services that chauffeur phobics.
6. Plan a trip, even a commute, in advance. Determine when and where the bridge will be in view thereby eliminating any surprises.
7. Study any bridges that will appear on commutes. Get comfortable with their construction and safety. Walk across any bridges that have walkways or cycle paths to reinforce the idea of safety.
8. If a bridge appears while traveling, pull over and do breathing exercises and imagery.
9. Play your favorite music, put the windows down and the moonroof back.
10. Don’t look up at the bridge, or out over the bridge. Only focus on one thing.
11. After crossing, pull over, breathe, stretch, and relieve any tension.