The human mind has a natural response to threats. It’s called fear.

“It’s a normal evolutionary response to keep us safe from things that can hurt us,” said Dr. Jyoti Kanwar, a psychiatrist with the University of Maryland Medical Center and an assistant professor in the university’s school of medicine.

“We all have fear of being burned by fire, stepping on a sharp object,” she said, “or fearing heights or drowning. Sometimes we’re afraid of that when we are driving over a bridge.”

It’s normal to feel more afraid, or newly afraid, of bridges following the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge last week after a cargo ship rammed a support, Kanwar said.

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But she and others, including Kristi Phillips, a clinical psychologist with the Child and Family Therapy Clinic at Kennedy Krieger Institute, say the fear shouldn’t be debilitating. It can be managed with a little self help.

Challenge fear with facts

Explain to yourself that a bridge collapse is a rare event and modern bridges are safe. There are more than 600,000 bridges in the U.S. alone, but worldwide there were only 35 major bridge collapses from ship collisions between 1960 and 2015.

Explaining that is part of the job for Steven Eskew, owner of Kent Island Express, a service that’ll drive your car over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge for a $40-50 fee.

“We’re the drivers, the psychologists and the therapists,” Eskew said.

He or an employee, occasionally his teenage daughter, will meet drivers at a safe spot, take the wheel and talk them through. He tells them the bridge is safe and structurally sound.

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By 9. a.m. Tuesday, one week after the Key bridge collapse, he was already on his third customer.

Most of his regular customers — men and women of all ages, truckers, motorcyclists and even three therapists — routinely use his service because they are afraid of this bridge, he said. They also specifically fear a curve in the roadway and the bridge peak that can look like they will drive right off.

It routinely makes lists of scariest bridges. It’s a particularly tall bridge at 186 feet above the water, about the same as the Key Bridge, which also had commercial ship traffic underneath.

Start with smaller exposures

Watch a video of a bridge crossing. Cross small bridges and then larger ones.

Jessica Gregg, director of public relations at Kennedy Krieger Institute, said the day after the Key bridge collapse, her son had to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

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“I got a message from him, ‘I’m not going to lie, it’s hard going over the bridge,’” wrote her son, a University of Maryland Eastern Shore baseball team member on his way to a game. “They had to turn right around because it was raining, so he had two exposures in one day. I think he’s OK, he can check it off. Anxiety has been put to bed.”

That’s how exposure therapy works, said Phillips, her Kennedy Krieger colleague.

“And don’t avoid bridges, which in reality is hard to do in this area,” Phillips said. “You don’t have to start with the Bay Bridge.”

Focus on what you can control

You can drive over the bridge; you’ve driven over bridges before.

Experts said soothing music and some chatter with others in the car can help. But they should be practiced ahead of time. Don’t try anything new at the top of the scariest bridge.

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Eddie Spencer, director of operations and chief of police for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel in Virginia, coordinates drive-overs for 500 to 600 people annually.

“We have a lot of frequent fliers, and the crews know them and whether they should do a lot of talking or be quiet and just get them to the other side safely,” he said.

Understand when you need professional help

When your feelings of anxiety and fear are interrupting your life — you drive well out of your way to avoid bridges and you think and intensely stress about them even while not on them — you may be exacerbating an underlying disorder.

About 9% to 12% of people have actual phobias with more severe reactions, including raised blood pressure, sweating and panic. A bridge phobia is called gephyrophobia, but generally people have a combination of fears of a bridge of falling, drowning or being trapped with no escape.

Professional help can come in the form of behavioral therapy, more exposure therapy and anxiety medications.