Sheldon Cooper, one of the characters in the series “The Big Bang Theory”, is well known for his great love of trains, bordering on the obsessive, although this is not the only peculiarity that defines him.
In today’s article we are going to talk about a phobia, the siderodromo phobia that could be seen as the exact opposite of what this character feels. It consists of the irrational fear of trains, similar vehicles and riding on them.
It is a relatively frequent fear, especially related to news about railway disasters and urban legends in which trains play a leading role. Let’s see more in depth what characteristics define this specific phobia.
What is siderodrophobia?
The siderodrophobia (from the Greek “sidero”, “iron or iron”; “dromo”, “races, circuit”; “phobos”, “fear, fear”) is the fear of trains, railways and subways, in addition to the trips with these vehicles . Those who suffer from this specific phobia feel incapable of travelling by train and, in the most serious cases, of approaching one, talking or seeing images about them.
Iron and steel phobia is related to other phobias associated with travel, either generally or in specific vehicles, such as motor phobia (fear of cars), amaxophobia (fear of driving at night), aerophobia (fear of planes and flying), or naviphobia (fear of sailing).
As it happens with other phobias, the siderophobe feels very high levels of anxiety when he or she is in front of the phobic stimulus, in this case trains, or if he or she is immersed in a situation related to them, such as being on one of these vehicles.
The physiological symptoms coincide with those of any other phobia, being mainly palpitations, tremors, excessive sweating, irregular heartbeat, dryness and pastiness in the mouth, nausea and breathing difficulties. As for the psychological ones, we find high anxiety, thought that the train is going to derail, fear of having to take one…
People who are afraid of trains carry out behaviours with the intention of avoiding any situation related to them. This may involve avoiding getting on one of them, watching movies or series in which they appear, not going near the train station, among others. This may imply a very variable degree of interference in the life of the patient , given that it is common for other means of transport to follow the same route.
The causes behind siderodrophobia can be very varied, being a combination of external events, such as having had a bad experience with a train , together with some personality traits that serve to settle a phobic disorder, especially if you are very neurotic. Several explanations have been attempted to understand why fear of trains and related vehicles appears.
Since psychoanalysis, starting with Sigmund Freud himself, the sensations of travelling by train have been related to sexuality. In 1906 Freud explained that the relationship between train travel and sexual desire is related to the pleasant sensation that the journey generates, especially with the movement of the train car. The person who represses his or her sexuality may see train travel as inappropriate and therefore be afraid of it, seeing it as obscene. This explanation has no scientific basis.
However, it is important to mention that in Freud’s time it was not uncommon for crimes to be committed on trains, and that this means of transport could suffer fatal accidents. All kinds of news about railway disasters appeared in the newspapers, so it is not surprising that at that time, being the fastest transport, it was also seen as the most dangerous.
This is also the case today. Although trains and subways are transports that have improved their safety in comparison with the past, accidents do happen from time to time , some of them fatal, that make society shudder with fear . This can become the reason why a person begins to fear these vehicles, avoid taking them until it becomes impossible to get near one again.
Another interesting cause to mention is the way trains are seen in popular culture, especially when talking about scary stories and urban legends. There are many stories of people who have committed suicide by throwing themselves on the train tracks, or who have been accidentally run over while crossing the track. Although these misfortunes happen in real life, it is the way in which they are transformed into a scary story that would make these vehicles very fearful.
Depending on how much you are afraid of trains, you may or may not dare to ride one, although this is most likely not the case. That is why the help of a professional is necessary to treat this type of specific phobia , in addition to using a program organized in steps that, progressively, allow the person to ride a train or subway.
This phobia has certain similarities to airplane phobia, only it has one difference that makes it easier to treat iron-dropout phobia: traveling by train (e.g., commuter) or subway is much cheaper and more affordable than taking a flight. This is why the therapist can work with the patient to enter the station, get into the vehicle and stay with the patient for the duration of the journey.
Nevertheless, and despite the fact that trains and subways are more common than airplanes, the patient will not always be willing to start being exposed to his phobia in such a direct way , not even by approaching the train station. That is why, and as it has been done with the fear of planes, there are treatments that use virtual reality that allow working the siderodromo phobia without having to abandon the security that being in the psychologist’s office offers.
In addition to psychological treatment, there is the pharmacological option, although it should be noted that drugs do not contribute to eliminating the phobia. Among the most commonly used for phobias, and also common in the treatment of other anxiety disorders, are anxiolytics, which are used to prevent panic attacks, and antidepressants, which are not only useful in depression.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association.
- Bados, A.(2009). Specific phobias: Nature, evaluation and treatment. Electronic publication.