Fear of Bridges Phobia Treatment

The fear of bridges is a very common driving phobia.  The formal name for it is Gephyrophobia.  Anyone who has this fear knows that a bridge phobia can make your life miserable.  The dread of accidentally being routed onto a bridge can inflame the fear.  Having no other way to your destination but to go over a bridge is a terrifying prospect.  Desperation to avoid bridges can turn what would be a short 10-minute drive over a bridge into a 45-minute drive around it.  This is the painful consequence of trying to live with a bridge phobia.  But what is Gephyrophobia?  How does it develop?  And most importantly, how can a person get over the fear of driving over a bridge?


What is Gephyrophobia?

Gephyrophobia is derived from two Greek words.  Gephyra means bridge.  Phobos translates to fear.  Together they literally mean bridge fear or a fear of bridges.  What makes this a phobia is that there is no substantial threat or risk involved in going over a bridge.  Thus, like all other phobias, it is a persistent irrational fear.

How is Gephyrophobia pronounced?

The official name for a fear of bridges—Gephyrophobia—is pronounced jef’ī-rō-fō’bē-ă.

How do bridge phobias develop?

All phobias will develop in one of two ways.  First, a phobia can form through a traumatic event such as an automobile accident on a bridge.  However, the second way is the most common.  It involves a slow steady buildup of stress that culminates in a feeling of overwhelm and loss of emotional and physiological control—a panic attack.  If you have a panic attack on a bridge, the primitive midbrain concludes that the bridge is the cause.  The truth is that the bridge is usually an innocent bystander that gets blamed and coded as a future threat.  The midbrain alarm system then tries to save you from this threat by making you anxious enough that you avoid bridges. 

What makes Gephyrophobia so difficult?

The fear of bridges phobia is different from most other phobias.  A bridge phobia can actually be a combination of two or more separate phobias that team-up to make driving over a bridge even worse.

Possible causes of a bridge phobia

The four main phobias that can be involved include

  • The fear of driving (Vehophobia)
  • A fear of water (Aquaphobia)
  • A fear of heights (Acrophobia)
  • The fear of being trapped (Cleithrophobia)

Fear of driving

This can be present in any driving condition.  It is common on highways, overpasses, bridges, and even on normal city streets, or residential streets.

Fear of water

This can contribute to the bridge phobia when the bridge spans an expanse of water.  An example of this would be the George Washington Bridge in New York. 

Fear of heights

This fear contributes to a bridge phobia when the bridge has to rise to a certain height.  For example, when the bridge goes over a shipping lane, it needs to be high enough for large ships to pass underneath.  On the other hand, although a bridge may remain flat, it may pass over a deep canyon or ravine.  Such is the case with the Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado which crosses a canyon 955 feet above the Arkansas River.   Another example is the Bixby Creek Bridge in Big Sur, California (pictured below).

fear of bridges

Fear of being trapped

This will cause people to imagine being stuck on a bridge with no way to escape.  This can happen in a traffic jam or as the result of a car wreck.  It could also become an issue on a long bridge where there would be no way to get off quickly during a panic attack

In addition, Claustrophobia, the fear of small spaces can play a role on narrow bridges, when driving between 18-wheeler trucks or while driving in tunnels.  A good example of this would be the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (CBBT) system in Virginia.

The CBBT crosses the Chesapeake Bay partly as a bridge and then also as a tunnel.  This checks all the boxes for a person who has a fear of bridges and tunnels.  It is 17.6 miles from shore to shore.  However, it is 20 miles from toll plaza to toll plaza.  This provides every element discussed above except for excessive heights. 

How do people cope with the fear of bridges?

The answer is simply avoidance.  Avoidance is our default coping mechanism for dealing with intense fear.  People who have this fear typically avoid bridges.  They often go to any extreme to do so.  The problem with this strategy is that avoidance makes a phobia stronger.  Confrontation (within tolerances) makes a fear weaker.  Therefore, avoidance contributes to keeping people stuck in their phobia. Confronting a phobia helps you to overcome anxiety.

Scary bridge list

Here is a shortlist of bridges that a Gephyrophobic would typically find scary and avoid. 

  • Royal Gorge Bridge (Colorado)
  • Mackinac Bridge (Michigan)
  • Bay Bridge (Maryland)
  • Seven-Mile Bridge (Florida)
  • The Brooklyn Bridge (New York)
  • Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge (Louisiana – New Orleans to Manderville)
  • The Golden Gate Bridge (San Francisco)
fear of driving over the Golden Gate Bridge

How do you get over a fear of bridges? | Bridge Phobia Treatment

Treatment requires the use of a precise protocol that will address both the alarm center of the brain (the limbic system) and the thinking part of the brain (the cortex).  Phobia treatment needs to be conducted by someone who is a licensed professional in the mental health field and has expertise in treating driving phobias.

The person with the phobia needs to be willing to work to find the right balance between not going too slow (which can prevent progress) and not proceeding too quickly (which can cause them to become overwhelmed). This is where the guidance of a professional anxiety therapist is crucial to success.  There are four primary steps to effective therapy.

Four steps to resolving the fear of bridges

  1. Desensitize past negative memories related to bridges.  This will involve using treatment tools such as Quick REMAP and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing).  These tools are used during internal exposure and systematic desensitization of the disturbing memories associated with driving over bridges.
  2. Identify and desensitize any reactions to videos of driving over bridges that may trigger distress.
  3. Treat any automatic negative thoughts regarding driving on bridges with Cognitive Therapy.
  4. Begin driving exposure therapy.  This will start with bridges that cause a low level of anxiety and work up to the most challenging bridges that you will need to drive.  During this phase of treatment, you will learn to use techniques to keep your nervous system as calm as possible during the driving exposure.

Some of my other articles and videos go into more detail regarding the various aspects of treatment.  For further information, I would recommend the following articles:

Phobia Therapy

Driving Phobia

Panic Attacks While Driving

Airplane Turbulence Fear

EMDR:  What is EMDR Therapy

Introducing Quick REMAP

CBT Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Schedule an Appointment for Treatment, Therapy, and Help

Help is available by phone or video appointments in the USA and by video appointments worldwide.

To schedule an appointment, call Steve B. Reed, LPC, LMSW, LMFT at 972-997-9955 or reach him by email at stevereed@psychotherapy-center.com

Treatment is routinely provided to people in major US cities including Albuquerque, Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Fort Worth, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Portland, New Orleans, New York, San Antonio, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa, and Washington DC.

Local treatment is available for people living in the Dallas, Fort Worth, DFW metroplex, including Addison, Allen, Arlington, Bedford, Carrollton, Colleyville, Denton, Euless, Fairview, Flower Mound, Frisco, Garland, Grand Prairie, Grapevine, Highland Park, Hurst, Irving, Keller, Lake Highlands, Lewisville, McKinney, Mesquite, Murphy, Plano, Richardson, Rockwall, Rowlett, South Lake, University Park, and Wylie.  Steve provides local therapy at his office in Richardson, TX.

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