In other words, if just the thought of driving across a tall bridge makes you shake in your boots, you’re definitely not alone. According to the Associated Press, some drivers in Maryland are so terrified of the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge that they refuse to cross the Chesapeake Bay – even if somebody else is driving. The bridge in question is 186 feet tall, and is among the longest and most scenic bridges in the world, but the 4.3 mile ride can cause anything from mild distress, to full-blown panic attacks.
Psychotherapist Jerilyn Ross specializes in anxiety disorders and she says that some of her clients were initially so terrified of the bridge, they had their wives lock them in the trunk for the ride over! Transportation companies that charge $50 to drive your car across the bridge have had clients lie down in back seat, cry, shake with fear, or hide their faces behind newspapers. Dr. Ross points out that these aren’t just fears – they’re phobias. What’s the difference? Well, after last year’s collapse of the Minneapolis freeway bridge, it would be sensible for anyone crossing a bridge to be fearful of structural problems. With a phobia, the fear is out of proportion to the actual danger, and often leads to avoidance. For example, even though you know that 25 million people a year cross the bridge safely, you’re convinced that you’ll drive right into the water and drown. So, you go the long way around.
So, how can you battle your phobias? Dr. Ross says she starts by driving her clients across low, short bridges. At first, the client sits in the backseat, then they graduate to the front passenger seat, and then they drive. Once crossing a small bridge becomes humdrum and boring, they move up to bigger, taller bridges, slowly working their up to the towering spans that soar above the water. What if you start to freak out anyway? Dr. Ross says not to fight your feelings or they’ll just get worse. Just embrace them and try to re-focus on the road ahead and visualize a reward at the end. Say, a trip to the mall, or treating yourself to lunch. If you’d like to find an anxiety specialist in your area, check out the American Psychological Association website.