You are a competent driver, but occasionally cramp up behind the wheel. What you may have is driving phobia.

Don’t feel embarrassed if you have this condition because it affects more people than you may think. Life Advancer explains what it is, why some people have it, and how to cope with it.

What Is Driving Phobia?

As its name implies, this type of phobia refers to a fear of driving, which can range from mild to severe. Some people fear driving only in specific situations, e.g., under bridges or on highways, while others are terrified of just getting behind the wheel.

Why do some people get driving anxiety? It has close connections with other fears.

  1. Agoraphobia: Driving anxiety is closely related to agoraphobia or a fear of being trapped in an enclosed space. Navigating tunnels and other small areas are difficult for those with agoraphobia.
  2. Claustrophobia: Claustrophobia also triggers driving fears. Some people fear the limited confines of a car. There are those who experience this fear as passengers, while others do so as drivers.
  3. Performance Anxiety: Driving is a tremendous responsibility and compels one to do his best. Worrying about the safety of his passengers can bring about performance anxiety.
  4. Dystichiphobia: Fear of accidents may also trigger a driving phobia. Drivers who have this fear may not want to risk getting into situations where accidents are a possibility.
  5. Fear of travel: Hodophobia, or fear of traveling, may make a person avoid all forms of transportation. Those whose driving phobia relates to a fear of traveling may feel comfortable driving to familiar places but avoid new routes.

What Are the Treatment Options?

Severe cases of this phobia warrant the following types of treatment:

1. Behavior Therapy

Psychologists use this treatment to deal with an extreme fear of driving. They put patients through the process of systemic desensitization. Wolpe, who based it on the principles of classical conditioning, developed it in the 1950s. Its goal is to substitute phobias with relaxed responses.

Patients learn muscle relaxation techniques such as Breath Control, Muscle Detensioning, and Meditation. They also list their fears in a hierarchy, from the ones that cause the least stress to the most. They then practice substituting relaxation responses, beginning with the stimuli that cause the least anxiety.

2. Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy helps people to confront their concerns. It works on the principle that people usually avoid a stimulus that triggers fear.

Although avoiding fear triggers reduces it in the short term, it may increase over time. Psychologists thus try to expose patients to their fears in a safe environment.

3. Virtual Therapy

This emerging treatment, a variation of exposure therapy, involves using virtual reality technology to conquer one’s fears. Using a Virtual Reality headset, patients interact with simple representations of their anxieties. Being a virtual ‘driver’ has helped many patients ease them.

How to Cope with Your Driving Phobia?

If therapy isn’t a viable option for you, try controlling your driving fears in the following ways.

1. Get proper instruction

First of all, your fear of driving shouldn’t surprise you if you’re a new or occasional driver. Also, a traumatic accident may have made you afraid to drive. You will have insecure driving practices and instinct. Instruction from qualified driving instructors will help you hone them.

2. Know that you are not alone

Also, understand that you’re not the only person who has a fear of driving. There are thousands just like you.

3. It’s logistical

Don’t make your driving anxiety more of a problem than it is. You can lead a fulfilled life even if you choose not to drive. Choose to live in a metropolitan area with easy access to public transport.

4. Get to the root of the problem

Knowing the reasons behind your fears will make it easier to address them. Perhaps you’re a highly sensitive person who reacts strongly to external stimuli, e.g., loud car horns. The sensitivity may make you reluctant to drive.

You may be the sort of person who doesn’t pay attention to details in your environment and find yourself getting lost often. Consequently, you avoid cars. Were you involved in a car accident before? The unpleasant memory may make you reluctant to drive again.

5. Remember that you control the circumstances

You must take steps to overcome your driving anxiety, but remember that you can determine the situations in which you’re willing to drive. For example, you may not wish to drive if someone else is willing to do so. You may not want to drive into the city, where there are many cars.

Perhaps you’re ready to take short trips to the grocery store. You don’t have to get behind the wheel under every circumstance. Take routes that you’re comfortable with, and stay on the slow land if you’re not comfortable moving the car at high speeds. Make sure that you have a contingency, and can call for help if it’s needed.

6. Break the driving process down

There are many components to driving, which can be overwhelming when put together. Recognize the different areas and address each separately. Learn first to operate the vehicle. Then, learn to navigate it. Finally, respond to changes in traffic situations.

Once you’ve got the first two parts of the process at the back of your hand, you will master the third part of it quickly. Operating the vehicle should be second nature to you before you start to navigate the car in traffic.

7. Prepare for driving in new places

Make preparations before driving along any new route. Enlist your spouse’s help. Note landmarks as he or she drives. Consult Google Maps for directions, and make sure that your GPS works well.

In all, driving phobia is something that you can overcome with determination and a little focus.

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