So we’re going to kick off our first Fantastic Phobias segment with one of those phobias that seems so unremittingly dull that surely no one must suffer from it. Today, we’ll be delving into the nebulous world of gephyrophobia, or fear of bridges. The term comes from the Greek word “γέφυρα” (gephura), meaning, rather unsurprisingly, “bridge”. To a gephyrophobe, bridges can seem so terrifying that they’ll gladly go three hours out of their way simply to avoid using one. Believe it or not, people have actually endangered their own lives in an attempt to evade despicable bridges. In fact, seeing a bridge in a photograph or movie is sometimes enough to send gephyrophobes into paroxysms of anxiety. Unless that movie is I Am Legend. Then they’ll just want to watch the Brooklyn Bridge get blown up over and over again. Sweet, sweet bridge-related vengeance.
Gephyrophobia is a constellation phobia, meaning it is connected to a myriad of other phobias, including fear of tunnels (also gephyrophobia), water (hydrophobia), heights (acrophobia), restricted spaces (claustrophobia), or even wide, open spaces (agoraphobia). This is predominantly due to the fact that, on the whole, crossing bridges involves traversing over water at great height, although the specifics of gephyrophobia are decided by the initial origin of the phobia. The fear may have derived from our primal fear of heights and drowning, but somehow became magnified to an unhealthy level in the phobic. The phobia may have been generated by a traumatic event, such as witnessing an accident or fatality on a bridge. Or it may simply be because bridges are clearly vicious, malevolent entities that feast on the blood of man.
Even news reports of bridge-related accidents can lead gephyrophobes to question the structural integrity of any bridge and deepen their fear. When confronted by a bridge, gephyrophobes will usually experience a myriad of anxiety-related symptoms, such as panic attacks, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, numbness from head to toe, trembling, and nausea. The phobe may even experience horrifying visions of their own death. To the average person a fear of bridges may seem preposterous and irrational, but to the phobe it’s a terrifying reality that they must face every day.
It is such a common and devastating phobia that many cities in America offer services to help sufferers. The Tappan Zee Bridge in New York, Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland and Mackinac Bridge in Michigan all provide a service whereby victims of the phobia can request a public servant to drive their car across the bridge for free, thereby allowing the gephyrophobe to avoid crossing the bridge but still not add hours to their journey. Some thousands of people take advantage of this service every year.
The key to cracking a fear of bridges, or any real phobia, is to combat the anxiety and the source. Use of meditation and breathing exercises will help to reduce immediate stress while exposure and desensitisation will gradually dispel the phobia itself. This could be something as simple as watching bridges in movies, and eventually graduate to crossing smaller and then larger bridges. Talk therapy, psychiatric counselling, and hypnotherapy will all aid in deducing the source of the phobia, which will in turn help greatly in combatting it.
Sometimes the road to recover may seem long, and we’ll have to cross a few bridges along the way, but we should all remember that fear is our daily constant; it is what connects us and what threatens to consume us. Whether it be a fear of bridges, kittens, or axe-wielding maniacs, in some way we all have fear and we will always have fear, for time immemorial. So next time you watch The Bridges of Madison County and your friend starts uncontrollably screaming, have a little compassion.
Although not a conventional gephyrophobe, Matthew McConaughey is afraid of tunnels. He is also, rather bizarrely, deathly afraid of revolving doors.
In the video game Halo, Gephyrophobia is the name of one of the maps. It is so-called because the only two bases on the map are connected by a bridge flanked by snipers’ outposts, so players are frequently killed on the bridge.
So what are you afraid of? Let us know in the comments and your phobia may just feature in our next Fantastic Phobias segment!