Escalaphobia is a common specific phobia affecting hundreds of thousands of individuals all around the world. The word Escalaphobia comes from Greek escalo meaning ‘to move up/escalators’ and phobos which means ‘deep aversion, dread or fear’.
There are several thousand escalators in Canada and United States, together moving millions of people up and down daily. However, there are still some people who prefer taking the stairs owing to their intense fear of escalators. The intensity and reasons behind this fear depend on individual experience that the phobic has had in relation to escalators.
Let us study Escalaphobia in detail.
Causes of fear of escalators phobia
Most cases of Escalaphobia stem from the fear of heights (or Acrophobia). Then there are some people who do not actually fear going up the escalator but they freeze when it is coming down. The fear of heights is evolutionary, since mankind has always used the fear of falling as a survival mechanism. While most of us enjoy some height to some extent, an escalophobic does not like the extreme heights associated with most escalators present in airports, stadiums, malls etc.
Some past negative experience (either direct or indirect) related to escalators is the main trigger of the phobia. A child or an adult might have tripped or fallen down while using one. Shoelaces can easily get caught in escalators leading to accidents, though these are extremely rare. This gives rise to an exaggerated response each time, since the phobic’s brain simply learns to develop the same reaction over and over.
Many movies, news reports and myths have shown escalators in bad light. Some departmental stores have actually been sued by consumers due to a child’s hand getting caught in the under-rail of the escalator. Most of these cases have been dismissed since the issues were almost always the riders’ faults.
Escalators are usually huge and centrally placed. Their moving parts are visible but the machinery is not. A child fearing large machines might believe that the parts (or a monster lurking underneath) might grab people from beneath or flatten its steps and send people flying. This fear could continue well into one’s adulthood, making the phobic avoid escalators for life.
Some myths regarding escalators claim that they actually move a lot faster than normal walking or climbing speed. This is not actually true, but it might make the phobic feel that he is going up/down too fast and might crash or get thrown off.
Phobias can also develop as a learned response. A child might see his parent/grandparent get frightened due to an escalator as a result of which s/he associates escalators as being dangerous.
Certain medical conditions could also lead to this phobia. These include vertigo, lack of balance, lack of depth perception, visual or hearing problems or other sensory issues.
Apart from fear of heights (Acrophobia), other pre-existing phobias and anxiety disorders could also trigger the fear of escalators. These include: the fear of climbing (Climacophobia), the fear of stairs (bathmophobia) or the fear of feeling dizzy or experiencing vertigo (illyngophobia).
Symptoms of Escalaphobia
Like other phobias, the fear of escalators also gives rise to a plethora of mental and physical symptoms which include:
- Shivering, shaking or trembling
- Feeling nauseated, dizzy
- Experiencing shortness of breath, heart palpitations etc
- Feeling like running away
- Avoiding escalators at any cost, and crying or screaming when forced to ride one
- Having full blown panic attack
Treatment for overcoming the fear of escalators
Once you are aware of the underlying cause of the fear of escalators, you’d be in a better position to overcome it for good. If, for example, an underlying medical condition is causing your phobia, then treating it could solve the problem. People with lack of sense of balance or perception of depth can hold someone’s hand while riding the escalator. An eye care professional can also prescribe visual aids to overcome eye problems that might be causing the Escalaphobia. Looking up straight ahead or to the side railings while going up/down can help reduce dizziness. Phobics can also take extra precautions like wearing the right clothing or footwear to minimize risks of getting entangled in the escalator.
In all such cases, it is especially important to gradually desensitize oneself to the fear. Facing the dreaded object slowly and in a controlled environment can greatly help in overcoming Escalaphobia.
In extreme cases, a professional psychotherapist can also help one overcome anxiety associated with escalators. Some examples of such therapy are hypnotherapy, cognitive behavior therapy, NLP etc. Finally, one must also read up all one can about statistics related to escalators. This can help put the phobic in a better position to overcome Escalaphobia by helping him understand for a fact that escalators are generally safe when used right.