Driving is often considered as one of the most common activities that cause panic and fear. This specific phobia of driving has been given a lot of names: amaxophobia, ochophobia, motorphobia, or hamaxophobia. This specific phobia results from persistent and extreme fear of driving or riding a vehicle and losing control.
Different driving situations can cause distress to a person. They can be anxious or fearful if they drive through a tunnel, over a bridge, and on the freeway, or simply sitting in the passenger’s seat. These structures or routes may cause possible problems or road threats. Whatever the situation may be, the fear stems from the fact that these individuals feel that something tragic or negative might happen.
Fear of driving is more intense and debilitating compared to the fear caused by general anxiety. If the fear of driving is left untreated, it can disrupt your daily activities and cause long-term mental health problems.
There are different reasons why there are fearful drivers. The most common cause is the fear of having a panic attack while driving. Other causes are:
- Personally experiencing a car accident in the past
- Witnessing other cars’ tragic accidents or hearing about a car accident that involves someone close to you
- Getting lost for hours while driving without access to help
- Experiencing heavy traffic
- Lack of trust in one’s driving skills
The most common sign of driving phobia is the total avoidance of driving. The other symptoms to take note of are:
- Excessive and persistent panic
- Strongly avoiding contact with any vehicle
- Sweaty palms
- Disorientation and confusion
- Breathing difficulty
- Racing heartbeat while driving
Panic attacks are short periods of intense fear that happen unexpectedly. If you have a driving phobia, you are highly likely to have these attacks that may lead to a panic disorder.
Medical professionals can diagnose panic attacks. You will be asked to describe your experience—when and where it happened, and what you were doing at that moment. The good news is that panic attacks are treatable.
Overcoming the fear of driving is not going to be easy, but it is also not impossible. Here are some tips on how you can overcome your driving phobia and be a confident driver:
It is surprising to know that many people are absolutely terrified of driving on the highway because they lack the necessary driving skills. Taking lessons is the first step if you want to learn how to drive. It is important to find an understanding and patient driving instructor who will guide you all the way.
An instructor will verbally guide you as you drive. They will narrate what is happening outside, as well as any possible threats or road accidents. You will feel calmer if you know that there is an expert who is sitting beside you. Don’t skip your driving lessons if you want to free yourself from the anxiety.
2. Do Exposure Therapy
Exposure therapy is basically facing your fear or anxiety one step at a time to overcome it. For example, you can sit in the driver’s seat of your car and stay there for a few minutes. You don’t need to turn on the engine or do anything.
Just sit and feel the steering wheel with your hands. You can do this daily until you feel more comfortable. Then you can slowly add another task aside from sitting. You can then try turning on the engine. In exposure therapy, you keep adding a more difficult or complex task each time you feel comfortable.
Sooner or later, you will be surprised that you are driving effortlessly already. If driving is still too difficult, virtual reality exposure therapy is an option that can aid in the management of fear of driving.
The Brutal Truth Method is basically sharing your fears with someone you trust. In return, they give you a positive perspective when facing your fears. For example, if you are afraid of chickens, a trusted friend points out that it’s a harmless chicken.
If you are uncomfortable sharing it with someone, you can either write it down in a phobia workbook or make a voice recording. You should be honest with yourself in naming your fear. This is the only way you can step forward from your driving fear.
When you badly want to drive, you should learn the importance of relaxation. You shouldn’t be uptight or paranoid when you drive. You have to relax and stay focused when driving. One of the many relaxation techniques is meditation, which is proven to be very effective.
Meditation can be inexpensive, and you can practice it in the comforts of your home. Deep breathing is a good relaxation exercise. If you feel a bit anxious already, take a few deep breaths while listening to soothing music until you feel more relaxed.
Be kind and give yourself some words of affirmation. These are short statements that boost positive feelings.
Self-encouragement will go a long way in your progress. While driving, you can say these to yourself to make you feel at ease: I’m scared, but I can do this. I’m open to the possibility of finding driving fun and worthwhile.
Just drive until you feel comfortable. Roll down the window and let the cool air touch your hair. You can never get rid of that fear if you don’t try driving at all. You need the courage to face your fear if you want to drive.
Driving phobia should not be taken lightly, as it can lead to multiple road accidents that could endanger the lives of so many people. It is a very serious condition that needs medical attention and treatment from a therapist, clinical psychologist, or psychiatrist. A mental health professional can provide a treatment plan that could include medication, psychotherapy, joining support groups, and any combination of the three.
One of the best methods to treat driving anxiety or panic is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The goal of CBT is to get rid of panic, anxiety, and negative thinking.
You should also consider enrolling in a defensive driving class. These classes can provide practical hands-on tips that can help you get back on the highway with no worries.
Because of intense mental stress, a person with a driving phobia may develop long-term medical health problems such as cardiovascular or respiratory diseases.
CBT teaches you to focus on the road ahead while driving and not map out a route of local roads for yourself every day. Making a daily route can be very stressful and could eventually lead to avoiding driving. Take it one step at a time. Cross the bridge or tunnel little by little until you become familiar with it.
Cognitive behavioral therapy lessens your catastrophic assumptions. You panic because you feel that something terrible might happen while you are on the road. You have been driving for a while now, but everything is fine. Still, you think that tragedy might strike next time.
CBT allows you to focus on being realistic and discharge all emotional reasoning. Extreme fear leads to powerful emotional reasoning. The thing is that most fears are baseless, so you’ll just be wasting time if you wallow in your fear.
You should not give in to your fear. You think if you feel something, it is bound to come true. Having this kind of belief will trigger a false sense of danger. You will most likely be paranoid throughout the day and won’t get any work done.
The most effective way to recalibrate your nervous system is to not automatically switch to panic mode and face your fear head-on. Do this consistently. Don’t take the easy road all the time. If you do this, you are just going to strengthen your fear instead of overcoming it.
CBT makes you aware of the subtle safety behaviors you have. These safety behaviors give your brain signals that without these behaviors, you will be unsafe. Some of these safety behaviors are:
- Constantly checking for traffic updates
- Searching for better routes
- Avoiding places with ongoing construction activities
- Driving below the required speed limit because this is considered safe driving
If you notice you are anxious and uncomfortable driving, don’t waste time and seek professional help. Don’t wait for accidents to happen before you do something about your condition.
If this article helped you, Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC) can arrange a one-on-one session for you or link you to a support group. KCC offers therapy specifically designed to manage driving phobia.