Coasterphobia, as the name indicates, is an intense fear of roller coasters. The arrival of summer invariably means a trip or two to theme parks, none of which is complete without a ride on a Roller coaster. While most people enjoy the “thrills and the chills” roller coasters proffer, to a Coasterphobe, simply the sight of one is enough to bring on a full blown panic attack.
The fear of roller coasters is a fairly common phobia known to affect sizeable populations in developed countries. Often these individuals want to enjoy theme parks but the thought of encountering a roller coaster hinders their plans. While this phobia does not interfere with everyday life; it can cause one to be ridiculed, teased, or bullied by friends and family.
Causes of fear of roller coasters
It is believed that the first Roller coaster was developed in the 17th century in Russia. This was pretty basic in that; its slide was a thick layer of ice sheet mounted on some wooden stairs. The contraption became so popular that the famous Catherine The Great had several of these structures installed in her gardens. The more sophisticated wheel based roller coasters were later developed in France. These consisted of wood, sets of wheels and locked-in-tracks that were installed around many Parks.
The famous roller coaster “Cyclone”, built in Crystal Beach, Ontario in 1927 had a 97 foot drop with an 85 degree right turn. On this turn, people seemingly lost a lot of personal objects including purses, hats, false teeth etc. This was way before the era of lawsuits and one young man, who did not speak English, and did not adhere to the warning signs regarding “passengers’ dangling feet” posted near the Coaster, went to retrieve his hat after his ride. He was killed instantly by being struck-in the head by a woman’s dangling feet who also suffered from a fractured leg.
The Roller coasters of the modern times are much safer though more complex, evolved and state-of-the art. They are built using steel, mathematically calculated inclines, sophisticated powering systems and chain-lifts. They are also designed to have several loops, drops and twists so as to evoke intense physical and emotional reactions.
In fact; modern theme parks compete to have the “biggest, fastest, scariest and most extreme” Roller coasters. They are also named in ways that evoke fear: “Exterminator, Death Ride, Mind Eraser, Megaphobia” are some of the famous and most extreme coasters around the world. Many include ghosts, witches and other scary themes to enhance the experience. A person might not be scared of roller coasters per se, but might have an intense fear of Halloween or ghosts causing his Coasterphobia.
Propensity to motion sickness, an aversion or fear of heights (Acrophobia), fear of closed spaces (Claustrophobia) can also be related to the fear of Roller coasters phobia.
Many people, especially youngsters, believe that they should do something ‘out-of the ordinary’ once in a while to make them feel “more alive”. Indeed; roller coasters can help achieve this goal by creating the “heart-in-the-mouth” thrilling effect. While some people love such a feeling, to a person suffering from Coasterphobia, it can be a nightmare.
Coasterphobia is aggravated when a person is forced to ride the coaster as his fear is not taken seriously enough. His friends/family might laugh at his reactions like screaming, shaking and so on.
Typically, a negative experience related to Roller coasters is the most likely trigger of this phobia. A person might have had an embarrassing reaction like vomiting, screaming hysterically and might have been ridiculed for it.
News reports and movies (Final Destination 3) showing accidents related to roller coasters can also evoke the fear of roller coaster in anxious people.
Symptoms of Coasterphobia
Modern roller coasters are safe, but to a phobic, even the sight of one can lead to plethora of symptoms such as:
- Dizziness, sweating, feeling nauseated
- Having thoughts of death or dying
- Shortness of breath, elevated heart rate
These symptoms might occur even as soon as the phobic stands in line for buying the tickets to the roller coaster. Enjoying a theme park becomes difficult for the phobic due to these symptoms.
Overcoming the fear
Roller coasters are designed to be safe, at the same time; they have to be high on their thrill factor. Experts like Dr. Michael Otto have worked extensively with Universal Studios to understand this phobia. He has proven, through his experiments, that Coasterphobia can be overcome through a combination of Gradual exposure and Cognitive behavior therapies.
Dr. Otto even taught techniques such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation to a group of people with intense Coasterphobia. Screaming to release one’s fears while deep breathing helped the phobics overcome the intense anxiety experienced while on the coasters.
Dr. Otto believes that Roller Coasters are an essential part of ‘Living the American Life”. Through his therapy he has helped many people overcome their fear of Roller coasters successfully.