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Driving Phobias: Overcoming the Fear of Driving

written by: Jean Scheid • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 7/18/2010

There are many reasons why some people suffer from driving phobias. It can be a disorder related to or a symptom of depression. For some of us, a bad experience when driving causes the phobia. Is it possible to overcome the fear of driving even if you’re stricken with an anxiety or panic disorder?

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    When & Why Do Driving Phobias Occur?

    Peter Lawford in Royal Wedding (2) Wikimedia Commons Fear of driving can manifest itself in a couple of different ways:

    • Before the Drive – Some people won’t even attempt to drive for fear of the horrible symptoms that come with the phobia like dizziness, sweating, the feeling of being unable to control the vehicle, a pounding chest, having an accident, or an overwhelming fear of not being able to pull over.

    • While Driving – Many people start out driving fine and then are overtaken with anxiety symptoms. To others, city streets are fine but as soon as highways or freeways come along, the panic begins or vice versa.

    • Memory – Others may have been in a bad accident (driver or passenger) and the stress of the accident stops them from even attempting to drive.
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    Why We Fear Driving

    Driving phobias develop from all sorts of reasons. Some of the reasons can be identified but for some of us, fear of driving is one of the many symptoms we have as part of our panic, anxiety or a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). No matter the reason, fear of driving can be tackled—it may take a little longer, however, for those of us who suffer from GAD or clinical depression where driving phobias are a constant.

    The first step in overcoming a driving phobia is keeping in mind that no matter what symptoms occur, even if your heart is beating extremely fast, you are not going to die or lose control of the vehicle. So, how does one get help for extreme fear of driving?

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    Help for Driving Phobias

    The most important thing to keep in mind with driving phobias is that the intense symptoms one feels can manifest either before driving or while driving. Understanding he reason for the anxiety is the best way to tackle the fear of driving.

    • Traumatic Experience - the driving phobia is caused by a past bad experience. Through driving therapy and repetitive steps, most people can overcome the phobia fairly easily. This type of therapy usually involves first identifying the traumatic experience and then using relaxation techniques before driving. The therapy also involves starting out with short trips and progressing to longer trips. Others try and make a plan before they begin to drive that includes rationalizing how driving is safe and constantly reminding themselves that they are a safe driver so they won’t develop anxiety while driving.

    • Anxiety or Panic Disorders – driving phobias are one of the most prevalent symptoms of any anxiety or panic disorder—they simply come with the territory so to speak. It can be more challenging to overcome fear of driving if you are diagnosed with an anxiety or panic disorder, but it can be done. Talk therapy with a professional will help along with relaxation techniques, and even the use of some unusual ways to control driving fears is often suggested. Some people put tiny rocks in the shoe they don’t use to drive. The feel and twist of the small stones inside their non-driving shoe has been shown to prevent anxiety or panic. They don't interfere with the driving. What they do is offer a small distraction so anxious thoughts don’t overcome mood and people are less likely to become anxious or panicky at the wheel. Some mental health experts will design a drive/reward system for their patients—the more they drive, the bigger the self-reward. Others find help in meditation tapes that help them relax before they begin to drive. These relaxation techniques are also used whilst driving if an episode of anxiety or panic occurs.

    • Depression – Some sufferers of depression also experience driving phobias. These can be caused from the depression itself and manifest as fear of driving or the depression may be so severe that a person is unable to leave the comfort of where they feel most safe, hence the driving phobia. With people who are clinically depressed, it’s often best to cure the depression first and most likely the fear of driving will cease.
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    Tips for Driving Phobias

    800px-Us127 east lansing Driving phobias don’t always occur due to an anxiety or panic disorder, or even from depression. Fear of driving can also come from daily stress and dealing with the road rage of aggressive drivers or large trucks that seem to be driving unsafely.

    Dealing with driving phobias where a mental health condition is not involved may be as simple as utilizing some relaxation techniques before entering the vehicle or while driving. For example, if you feel anxiety when driving, try and notice how tense all your muscles are and try and relax them. Some experts say 5 or 10 minutes of breathing slowing in through your nose and out through your mouth will relax your body. Finally, simply tightening all your muscles and then releasing them and repeating this a few times will automatically make your body more relaxed.

    It is possible to deal with driving phobias and the stress that driving can bring. For some of us, it may be utilizing simple relaxation or rationalization techniques. For others, especially those with diagnosed mental health disorders, the guidance of a therapist will help you overcome your fear of driving.

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    Resources

    1. Dr. Robert Franklin (Telephone Interview) 7/15/10 - Taos, New Mexico
    2. Overcome Fear of Driving (7/16/10) (http://overcomefearofdriving.org/5/driving-anxiety-and-panic-attacks-while-driving/)

    Image Credits:

    • Peter Lawford in Royal Wedding - (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Peter_Lawford_in_Royal_Wedding_(2).jpg)
    • US 127 East Lansing - (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Us127_east_lansing.jpg)