DO YOU SUFFER FROM THE FEAR OF DRIVING?
Do you feel anxious in the car? Do you panic at the thought of making long trips? Do certain roads make you anxious? Your reactions to the road overwhelm you, and today you can’t stand the situation anymore? Then you may be suffering from amaxophobia, that is, the fear of driving.
Table of contents
- What is amaxophobia?
- How is the fear of driving disabling?
- What is the origin of the fear of driving?
- What are the symptoms of this fear of driving?
- What are the consequences of being afraid to drive?
- What are the criteria for this amaxophobia?
- How to manage it?
- What is the Whetstone Vehicle Anxiety Questionnaire?
- How prevalent is the fear of driving?
- What solution?
1. What is amaxophobia?
Amaxophobia is the fear of driving or having a car accident. It is part of the family of situation-specific phobias. It is manifested by an excessive anxiety in front of a situation related to driving. Amaxophobia can be characterized by distress when the person is a driver (on some roads or all roads) or as a passenger.
2. How is the fear of driving disabling?
The fear of driving manifests itself in great anxiety about driving, sometimes leading to the complete impossibility of using the car. However, depending on one’s lifestyle and the distances traveled, the car is indispensable. It may be necessary for work, for personal activities, to pick up the children, to go on vacation, etc. Amaxophobia can then be a source of great suffering. Indeed, you can see your social relationships diminished, your activities limited. Moreover, it is sometimes difficult not to be understood by those around you. They do not perceive the behaviour in the same way and do not always understand your anxiety about the situation.
3. What is the origin of the fear of driving?
There is not necessarily only one possible origin to amaxophobia. Moreover, it is often very difficult to detect the source of its appearance.
It is possible that its appearance follows an accident or an event which would have created, in the short or longer term, a post-traumatic stress state. Or it may be that you or someone close to you has experienced a difficult road-related event that made you feel like you were about to die.
However, it is equally possible that your amaxophobia is the result of another more underlying cause. It may be an association of ideas made by your brain when you were in a driving situation (anxiety due to an exam, sadness due to a love break-up etc.).
But, it is also quite possible that your amaxophobia is associated with other fears, which were transmitted in these driving situations. If you are particularly afraid of crowds or of being trapped in a place (claustrophobia or agoraphobia), the idea of driving in a tunnel or in traffic jams is particularly difficult for you. On the other hand, if you are anxious in empty spaces or at heights (acrophobia), bridges or certain other suspended infrastructures cause anxiety. If you have a disturbing attraction to speed, the highway is a source of anxiety. It is also not uncommon to have a strong fear of losing control. But it would be impossible to list all the reasons with which amaxophobia could be associated.
It is also possible that your fear of driving is due to your education. For example, it is possible that when you were younger, you were constantly told “be careful”, “don’t go too fast”, “be careful”, “others are dangerous” etc. Your fear would then be the result of all these instructions which served as a guideline to your youth.
The appearance of amaxophobia can be brutal or appear in a more hidden way.
4. What are the symptoms of this fear of driving?
Amaxophobia is mainly manifested by a panic attack. This panic attack is specific to each person. Not everyone feels the same sensations during an anxiety situation. On the other hand, it is frequent that this uneasiness is drawn by certain physical sensations like a tachycardia (acceleration of the heart), difficulties to breathe (hyperventilation or hypoventilation), tingling in certain limbs, sensations of nausea, sweating, hot flushes, dizziness etc.
Some physical sensations hint at other more latent thoughts. For example, the impression of not really being in one’s body (depersonalization). Or that everything that happens around us is not really real (derealization). Or to be in constant imagination of certain catastrophic scenarios (for example, we imagine that the car in front of us hits the guardrail).
These manifestations are not necessarily present in all driving situations. They may only occur when there is a lot of traffic, when the road is unfamiliar, when there are passengers on board, when you are alone etc. On the other hand, other symptoms may occur.
5. What are the consequences of being afraid to drive?
The consequences are very diverse, affecting your life to a greater or lesser extent, depending on how you experience it. Nevertheless, not driving can make it difficult to meet certain demands in your personal life. For example, running errands, driving the kids to school, going on vacation. This makes your daily life more complicated, requires additional organization and can sometimes lead to intra-family conflicts. Indeed, you cannot go to certain destinations, your spouse is stuck at work and you find it impossible to pick up your son/daughter from his/her activity etc.
In addition, you feel like you are losing your autonomy. As it is impossible for you not to organize yourself to go to certain places, you have to depend on others (friends, partner, parent…). You have the impression, therefore, of not being able to answer your desires or your constraints in the way you would like to manage them yourself. It is also possible that this lack of autonomy limits you in your activities as well as in your social relationships. You may feel sad that you can no longer meet people or attend workshops that are fulfilling. You may then experience episodes of low spirits, which, if left untreated, can lead to depression.
From a professional point of view, this can also be a problem. Indeed, in order to get to work, or even for one’s profession, it is sometimes necessary to be driven. Not being able to travel can make it difficult to find or keep a job.
Finally, in the long run, excessive anxiety is particularly bad for our health. Anxiety weakens our bodies, especially our immune system, and we are more likely to get sick easily. You may also experience sleep disturbances with the feeling that your brain never stops. In the long term, you may also experience breathing difficulties with decreased lung function, but also increased cardiovascular risk. Finally, your digestive system may also undergo changes. Indeed, you increase your risks of ulcers or digestive disorders.
From a physical point of view, excessive anxiety generally tenses all the muscles of the body. This is why it increases the risk of neuro-skeletal disorders, that is, pathologies such as low back pain or neck pain.
6. What are the criteria for this amaxophobia?
It is difficult to consider that only specific criteria are true. Nevertheless, it is important to understand the elements that characterize this phobia.
First of all, amaxophobia makes you feel an excessive and unreasoned fear. When you are in a driving situation or when you think about it, your anxiety intensifies and takes place in your whole mind.
As soon as you are forced to drive, you feel instant and unreasonable anxiety. And yet, you are aware that your reactions are disproportionate and often irrational. That the truth of danger is not as you imagine it, and as you experience it. You may feel that your fear is completely rational but that others, who are not afraid of driving, do not realize the dangers that exist.
You practice maximum avoidance. Indeed, if driving is not completely indispensable, you will always find ways to avoid having to use the car (postpone a trip, take transportation, change the route, etc.). And yet, the more we avoid situations, the more difficult it becomes for us to face them again. If, on the other hand, you cannot avoid the situation, you find yourself in a feeling of inordinate difficulty and suffering.
You also feel that your amaxophobia is blocking you in certain aspects of your life, personal, professional or relational. Indeed, you have seen a change between before the beginning of your phobia and after. You suffer from having lost your freedom and your autonomy and regret all these consequences of the daily life that you perceive.
Finally, you have been suffering from a driving phobia for more than 6 months. It appeared quickly or slowly, but you feel that this phobia has been established for a long time now. It is becoming increasingly difficult for you to cope with this situation.
7. How to manage it?
Do you feel like you’ve already tried a lot of therapeutic or personal techniques but nothing has worked? You need to find a method that works for you personally. However, it has been shown that in phobias, it is important to confront the anxiety-provoking situations and not to engage in avoidance. Avoidance is the technique, conscious or not, of not facing the behaviour. It is therefore important to expose oneself. Exposure therapies have been proven to be very effective for driving phobia.
– Exposure Therapies
Exposure therapy is part of the follow-up included in cognitive-behavioral therapies. Its objective is to confront directly the anxiety-provoking situations, that is, here, the driving. In this way, you can feel your emotions while doing exercises. The latter concern the management of emotions, erroneous thoughts, relaxation, self-assertion, etc. The exposure will lead you to, little by little, de-dramatize the situation.
Nevertheless, the classic exposure, that is to say, directly in real situations, can sometimes be perceived in a “violent” way. In fact, you are directly exposed to situations that put you at risk, without being able to control the environment and leave you a space to get used to it. Therapists are not always by your side when you are exposed. This way, you must succeed alone in implementing the strategies discussed with them in session. This is why virtual reality exposure therapies have proven to be even more successful, as they are much more gentle and safe.
– Virtual reality exposure therapies
Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET) works on the same principle as more traditional exposure therapies. However, this therapy combines technology with therapeutic follow-up. The work on oneself is done in the same way, but in a safer and more accessible environment. The therapist exposes you to anxiety-provoking situations gradually, and accompanies you throughout your progress in the virtual environment. He or she can therefore help you to appropriate the different tools and support you in your difficulties. Moreover, he can understand what you may be feeling, directly at the heart of the problem.
The therapist has control over the software and the environments. He can therefore, very quickly, expose you to specific situations, specific to your difficulties (tunnel, traffic jam, city roads, highways, bridges …).
Access is easy, all you need is a virtual reality headset. No need to travel to find a specific place to do the therapeutic work. It is therefore faster and more economical. It is also easier to combine the exposure sessions with virtual reality relaxation sessions.
8. What is the Whetstone Vehicle Anxiety Questionnaire?
There are very few questionnaires that can really answer this anxiety. It is to answer the various consequences of the driving phobia, which is still too little mentioned, that James Whetstone created, in 2020, the “Whetstone Vehicle Anxiety Questionnaire“. This scale is Whetstone’s driving anxiety questionnaire. These questions help to highlight some important points that are characteristic of amaxophobia. Its purpose is to see how much amaxophobia affects your life.
Recognizing the level of anxiety about driving allows you to take care of yourself as quickly as possible and in the most appropriate way.
Through this questionnaire, you can get an idea of your level of anxiety about driving. Answer in a completely honest and natural way. Your answers are not recorded or consulted. The only purpose of this test is to help you understand the anxiety you may be feeling and to give you an idea of your possibilities.
9. How prevalent is the fear of driving?
There are more and more people who have a driving phobia nowadays. Until now, it was very little studied, and very little talked about. But in recent years, research on this anxiety is increasing, although it is still too low.
It is estimated that more than 50% of people who have had a car accident have, afterwards, an amaxophobia. However, not all people with driving anxiety have experienced a car accident. That is why, generally speaking, it is estimated that about 5% of the population lives with a driving phobia. In general, without an accident, the onset of this anxiety occurs between the ages of 30 and 40.
10. What solution?
It is important not to let anxiety grow inside us. Even if it seems weak and you find alternative solutions, the driving phobia can take over and completely ruin your life. The longer you allow this phobia to grow inside you, the harder it will be to get out.
Virtual Reality Exposure Therapies (VRET) have been proven to be effective for phobias. It is estimated that over 80% of phobias have been treated with this therapy.
Exposure, in cognitive-behavioral therapies, allows for work on different aspects, whether they are of substance (anxious feelings, for example), or of form, such as the avoidance of anxiety-provoking environments.
The therapies by exposure to virtual reality make it possible to appropriate the physiological sensations of panic, and thus to reduce its frequency. Indeed, virtual reality allows for habituation to the situation, just as cognitive-behavioral therapy would do with in-vivo exposure (i.e. in reality).
It allows to create an environment similar to reality, while being easy to access. The exposure is completely safe since the therapist has direct access to what he is proposing, and can interact at any time so that you can manage your difficulties more easily and not feel abandoned.
You move forward according to the therapist’s timeline and are followed in your progress while being exposed to situations that you might not have thought were surmountable.
In this way, you will be able to serenely find your way back and you will leave behind you those obstacles that may have spoiled your daily life.