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How To Conquer a Driving Phobia

By Edited Jun 5, 2014 0 0

Some people are afraid of driving in general, and others are afraid of driving only in certain situations, such as on highways or on bridges or on-ramps and off-ramps, etc. In some cases, people with driving phobias have had a car accident or some other bad driving experience that has caused them to become afraid of driving. Other people cannot trace a specific cause of their fear; they only know that driving makes them extremely anxious. (Perhaps they experienced a panic attack while driving and now they associate driving cars with panic attacks.) A fear of driving can be extremely debilitating and upsetting, because many of us need to drive in order to get to work, to see family and friends, to participate in life activities, etc. No matter what sort of driving phobia you may be suffering from, the following driving phobia facts and tips may be of use to you.

Sometimes if we experience one bad experience doing a particular activity (such as suffering a panic attack while driving) our minds mistakenly generalize based upon that single experience. That is, we make the (false) assumption that what happened one time will happen every time. (This is not logical, of course, but as you may already know, phobias are not rooted in logic. They are rooted in one of our most primitive emotional states: fear. Over time, as the fear has taken firmer and firmer root in your mind, you have become "conditioned" (yes, like Pavlov's dogs) to fear driving.

How does one battle such a deeply rooted fear, a fear that might sometimes be so strong that it may actually cause you to experience the physical symptoms associated with panicking, such as sweaty palms, heart palpitations? It is very hard to erase such powerful associations, but it can be done. For instance, some people with extreme driving phobias respond well to hypnotherapy, because a well trained, experienced hypnotherapist can help you to erase those old thoughts/associations/feelings and replace them with new, calmer ones.

While hypnotherapy may work for some, others may have more success using desensitization/exposure techniques. For instance, I know one person who developed a fear of driving over bridges in mid-life after driving over an extremely large bridge that she found terrifying. She worked with a counselor from an anxiety and phobia clinic. They used "baby steps."

First, she drove (with a the counselor as her passenger) over very tiny bridges. After mastering that, she had to move on to driving over slightly larger bridges, first with a passenger and then alone, and so on and so forth. She quite literally just practiced and practiced, performing the same task over and over again (much like a student learning to play the piano).

Over time, her repeated exposure to the act of driving over progressively larger bridges (both with a passenger and without) finally enabled her to conquer her fear. She will never love driving over bridges, but she is able to do it because she could see that nothing bad was happening when she did drive over bridges.

The key for many people, as you can probably tell from reading that last example, lies in setting small, manageable goals, and then working to achieve them step by step. With each small goal achieved comes a renewed sense of confidence and the ability to move on to achieve the next manageable goal.

People who are anxious in general or about one specific activity (such as driving) often live in a state of subdued dread and tend to jump to (usually false) conclusions that something bad is about to happen at every turn. They often view the world as all good or all bad with nothing in between. This is an example of distorted thinking, since most aspects of the world and our experiences in it are actually "shades of gray" rather than all black or all white. Cognitive behavioral therapy (which is often short term) can be very helpful for people struggling with all sorts of distorted thinking (including phobic thinking).

Beware of people who say they can cure your fear of driving "overnight." (A quick scan of the internet reveals many advertisements for programs and services claiming to be able to do exactly that for people suffering from a driving phobia. The fact is that you did not develop this fear in fifteen minutes or a day, so it's not a good idea to have the unreasonable expectation that you will be able to achieve total relief from this problem "overnight."

On the other hand, your treatment for your driving phobia does not have to take forever either. In fact, many cognitive behavioral therapists, hypnotherapists and counselors at anxiety and stress treatment centers favor short term treatment over long term treatment.



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