How to Overcome the Fear of Driving Over Bridgesby James Rutter
Psychologists define gephyrophobia as an “abnormal and persistent fear of crossing bridges.” Bridges provide the only passage over many waterways, and in some cases, provide the main arteries of traffic out of many towns. As such, this fear can paralyze drivers and keep them imprisoned in their neighborhoods or boroughs. Symptoms resemble those of a panic attack and include light-headedness, dizziness and tachycardia (rapid heart rate). Scientists do not know the exact cause of this phobia, which may stem from a general fear of heights or claustrophobia.
Before You Go
Plan out your driving route well in advance of any trip. Know how long it will take you to reach any bridges you may need to cross so that you eliminate the element of surprise when approaching a bridge.
Inform friends and family members about your fear, as telling other people about a struggle helps you confront it in the open. Let friends and family know that you would like to travel more and ask for their help in beating this challenge.
Ask a friend, relative or neighbor to drive you across a bridge that you must use while traveling, or hire a driver -- some larger interstate bridges offer to drive a gephyrophobic’s car across a bridge. Plan this trip to match the specific time of day when you will attempt to drive across the bridge yourself. While crossing the bridge, pay attention to the level of traffic and identify a few mental signposts for your journey, such as the bridge’s half-way point.
Eliminate any irrational bases for your fear of driving over bridges by studying the bridge you must cross. Go to a library or online and research the history of the bridge, its construction, and identify the safety elements used in its construction. If the bridge offers a pedestrian walkway, drive to the bridge and then cross over it on foot a few times to acquire a sense of the bridge’s structural stability.
Ask a friend to accompany you on your first attempt to cross a bridge. Alternatively, call a friend and put your friend on speakerphone. Engage in a normal conversation about mundane or common topics as a way to keep your mind distracted from thoughts of driving.
Crossing the Bridge
Pull over to the side of the road before approaching a bridge. Take several deep breaths to calm any budding anxiety. Review what you already know about the bridge from crossing it and go through your list of mental signposts.
Put a relaxing mix of songs in your stereo’s CD or cassette player before approaching a bridge. Roll down your car windows to make you feel more relaxed.
Focus on one specific thing when driving over the bridge, such as the license plate of the car directly in front of you, if you cannot talk to a friend while crossing the bridge. Avoid looking to the side and out over the bridge, and avoid looking up at the bridge and the sky.
Count off your mental signposts as you pass them while driving across the bridge. Reassure yourself with positive thoughts about driving as you pass the quarter-way mark, the half-way mark, and then, as you begin to see where the other side of the bridge meets land.
Pull over again after crossing the bridge and take a few deep breaths to calm any lingering tension. Review your thoughts, congratulate yourself on crossing the bridge and call a friend or relative to let someone know that you've crossed the bridge safely.
Since 2005, James Rutter has worked as a freelance journalist for print and Internet publications, including the “News of Delaware County,” “Main Line Times” and Broad Street Review. As a former chemist, college professor and competitive weightlifter, he writes about science, education and exercise. Rutter earned a B.A. in philosophy and biology from Albright College and studied philosophy and cognitive science at Temple University.