In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Gephyrophobia
What is Gephyrophobia?
An intense fear of bridges is known as Gephyrophobia.
It is a specific phobia in which one suffers from extreme anxiety when they see bridges or are exposed to them.
Crossing a bridge or even looking at it can trigger anxiety.
Gephyrophobia can also result in one having full-blown panic attacks if the anxiety intensifies.
One might require hospitalization if the condition worsens. However, this is not the case always.
Sufferers can feel extremely anxious on just the thought of bridges/tunnels.
Though people suffering from this type of specific phobia acknowledge that their fear is absurd, they are still unable to control their anxiety.
Gephyrophobia being a specific phobia comes under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V.
According to the DSM-V criteria for specific phobias, one must have extreme anxiety lasting for at least 6-months.
The anxiety should also affect ones social and occupational functioning.
For example, sufferers will not be able to cross a bridge or drive through it for jobs or educational purposes because they will develop extreme anxiety upon the sight of it.
Individuals might even loose social relations with people.
A panic attack in the middle of the bridge, or upon seeing it can risk lives, not just their own but of the people around them, because of the chaos that might be generated.
Also, sufferers won’t live in places where they need to see a bridge, or communicate through it, even if they have to live in some remote area, alone.
This loneliness can result in one developing depression in the long run.
Gephyrophobia is the irrational fear of bridges.
It is a type of a specific phobia in which one avoids going near or on a bridge to lower their anxiety.
Anxiety is the focal symptom for all specific phobias, including Gephyrophobia.
This anxiety can be so intense that one may experience panic attacks.
Other than anxiety, one also feels a number of other physiological symptoms.
However, the intensity of these symptoms vary, depending on how severe one’s phobia is.
Not all have panic attacks, but they do undergo excessive anxiety, when exposed to the fear stimuli.
To minimize this anxiety, one repeatedly avoids bridges or the object/situation they’re phobic to.
This repeated avoidance, though lowers their anxiety at the moment, can help in maintaining their phobia.
It legitimizes their fear.
The recurring act of avoidance can cause one to develop Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in the future.
The symptoms of Gephyrophobia are as follows:
- Extreme anxiety when seeing bridges
- Extreme anxiety when thinking about bridges
- Recurrent acts of avoiding bridges
- Inability to cope anxiety
- May have full-blown panic attacks
- Muscle tension/tremors
- Increased heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Excessive sweating
For an individual to be diagnosed with Gephyrophobia, one must experience at least 3-5 of these symptoms, including anxiety.
There is no definite cause as to why one develops Gephyrophobia.
However, like in the case of all other specific phobias, one develops a fear of bridges either based on their past experiences or there is a genetic link.
One can develop Gephyrophobia because of a traumatic event they might have gone through.
For example, they lost someone in an accident on a bridge.
Or they themselves had a near death experience, while on a bridge.
Another possibility can be that they might have developed Gephyrophobia as a result of a previous phobia of heights (Acrophobia) or fear of small restricted spaces (Claustrophobia).
This is because most bridges are at a height, with rivers gushing beneath them. They may fear of falling off them and dying.
Many fear bridges because of the media images.
Films or news reports show how a bridge collapses and people on it die, or the number of accidents that occur on them.
Also, Gephyrophobia can be developed upon hearing someone else’s bad experience.
Apart from these environmental factors, one can also develop Gephyrophobia because of a genetic predisposition.
They might have a family history of mental disorders or specific phobias; thus they have a genetic tendency to develop one.
As the parents pass their genes on to their children, the children of the parents who have Gephyrophobia or any other specific phobia are at a higher risk of having it.
However, one will not show symptoms of Gephyrophobia until their anxiety is triggered by some traumatizing event, even if they have a genetic tendency to have one.
Gephyrophobia like all other specific phobias has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, Gephyrophobia is treated by a number of therapies including, Exposure Therapy, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and or medications that lower downs the anxiety or other physical symptoms.
• Exposure Therapy
It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Gephyrophobia (or any other kind of specific phobia).
In this therapy, the patient is exposed to the source of his fear over a certain span of time.
To begin with the therapy, the therapist exposes the patient to the least triggering stimuli, a picture of a bridge for example.
As the therapy progresses and the patient is able to control his anxious feelings, imagery can be used to take the treatment a step further.
In this part of the treatment the patient is asked to visualize/imagine a situation in which he drives over a bridge, for example.
During this process of imagery, one actually feels that he’s in that particular situation or place, experiencing various senses.
Once the person successfully, without feeling anxious clears this step of the therapy, he is then exposed to an actual bridge.
While the patient is being exposed to different levels of fear during the various stages of therapy, the therapist simultaneously teaches them coping exercises.
These include, breathing techniques or muscle relaxation methods to lower their anxiety, when in an actual fear causing situation.
This teaches them how to remain calm when exposed to their fear stimuli.
Before actually starting the exposure therapy, the therapist needs to figure out the intensity of the patients fear, as to deduce whether they will be able to undergo this treatment, without any physical or psychological harm caused to them during the exposure processes.
However, these steps desensitize one to their fear of bridges, by exposing them to that stimuli repeatedly, until they learn to undergo the situation without anxiety/panic attacks.
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatment for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders.
Gephyrophobia is defined as the irrational fear of bridges.
Thus, the therapist helps the patient in replacing these irrational thoughts with more rational ones.
The patients are helped out in analyzing and justifying the way they feel about being exposed to bridges.
The therapists assist them in uncovering the reasons behind their fear and later provide them with alternate, pleasant thoughts.
The patient is told to maintain a thought diary (with ABCD column) which provides them a replacement for every irrational thought they have, when thinking about a particular situation.
The ABCD stands for:
i. A (antecedents) a situation or triggering event.
ii. B (belief) the thought that comes to one’s mind when in that triggering situation
iii. C (consequences) the symptoms/feelings caused by that event/thought
iv. D (dispute) alternate, rational thoughts provided by the therapist in an attempt to dispute/challenge those irrational beliefs.
This last section of the thought diary is what really plays a role in helping the person feel good/less anxious.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Gephyrophobia.
Drugs are very quick in effectiveness, as they start showing progress in the patients’ health at least 2 weeks after the medicine is taken.
This type of biological treatment is usually more effective if the cause of phobia is only genetic.
However, these drugs/medicines are not to be taken without a doctor’s prescription or consultation.
Two types of drugs are used in the treatment of this phobia:
i. Anti-anxiety Drugs
These include medicines like Klonopin.
They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers the anxiety by binding to receptor cells of the brain that cause these unpleasant symptoms.
ii. Antidepressant Drugs
These drugs as the name suggest don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias.
Medicines like Lexapro reduce the anxious feelings of a person and makes him feel calm.
They need to be taken on a daily basis but not without a doctor’s advice.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Gephyrophobia, instead they are one of the most common ways of relaxation used by many people.
Yoga tends to stimulate the meditative state of one’s mind while a person is in a particular yoga pose/position.
Through yoga/meditation the mind is diverted towards something more productive and calm, allowing the person to escape the negative, distress causing thoughts.
Out of a number of yoga types, one can benefit for any yoga type/pose they like. Hatha yoga is one of the different types of yoga.
The breathing techniques or the imagery one creates while in a yoga posture are the real factors that makes the person feel less anxious and diverts their mind, away from the thoughts of bridges.
• Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is a meditation therapy, is used to manage stress or anxiety. It is an 8-week program which includes group sessions.
Mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga are practiced in these sessions, lectures and group discussions are also done to talk about mental health and increase interactivity.
In mindfulness meditation the person is told to, for example to focus on the sensations felt while breathing or the rhythm of the chest rising and falling during the process.
This distracts the person’s attention from something stressful to something which is neutral and soothing.
For quick and effective treatment, patients are also given a set of home works, for example 45 minutes of yoga and meditation sessions for 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15minutes a day.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Gephyrophobia.
It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients of Gephyrophobia.
Coping skills are taught in the DBT group which lasts for about 6months and can have a number of people (depending on how many join the group).
i. Half-smiling is the first module of DBT. It is a technique that is used with patients who are distressed because of their irrational thoughts.
The technique is known as ‘Half-smiling’ because the person is first advised to think about the stimuli that fears or upsets them, and while doing so they are told to lift the corners of their mouths by subtly smiling.
Smiling is not that will help one get rid of these unpleasant thoughts, it is the person’s ability to constrain itself from thinking about those thoughts while half smiling.
ii. Mindfulness, the second module, is another technique used in DBT groups which helps the individual in getting rid of those negative thoughts.
Individuals are told to focus on the present and be attentive to what is going on around them at the moment.
This helps in breaking the link between their mind and any negative thought that might come to them then.
For example, a person is told to focus on his breath or on the smell of a certain food presented to them, making use of their olfactory sense.
iii. The third technique or module of the DBT is distress tolerance skills.
This module teaches people to calm themselves down in healthy ways when they are distressed or emotionally overwhelmed.
Individuals are allowed to make wise, rational decisions and take immediate action, rather than being captured by emotionally destructive thoughts that might make the situation worse.
Reality acceptance skills are also learnt under this model so that people fully accept reality and later make plans on how to address the problem.
Whether the cause of Gephyrophobia, or any other type of specific phobia is genetics, environmental or both, the best and the most effective way of treating them is with using a combination of both biological treatments (drugs) with cognitive treatment (for example CBT/exposure therapy).
Titles to read
by Dr. Terri Baltes
by Catherine M. Pittman PhD, Elizabeth M. Karle MLIS, et al.
- Don’t Fear the Bridge
by Delain Williams
by GP Purveyor
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) How common is Gephyrophobia?
Gephyrophobia is the fear of bridges. Crossing bridges can be quite traumatizing to sufferer.
It is not known exactly how many people suffer from it but it is a very common phobia.
Q2) How can I get over my fear of bridges?
Treatments like CBT, DBT, yoga or medicines are very effective in treating Gephyrophobia.
Q3) How do I know if I have Gephyrophobia?
The symptoms of Gephyrophobia include extreme anxiety, panic attacks, nausea, headache or breathlessness.
Q4) is Gephyrophobia similar to the fear of heights?
Gephyrophobia is the fear of bridges and fear of heights is known as Acrophobia.
They are not similar but one may develop Gephyrophobia as a result of Acrophobia because bridges are mostly at a height.
Someone with a height phobia will also be fearful of bridges that are at a height. Both are specific phobias.