Understanding and Treating Driving Fear and Phobia (Part 2)

by on August 30, 2013

In the previous article of this two-part series, driving phobia was defined, and some of its possible causes were outlined. The differences among extreme, moderate and mild driving phobia were discussed, as well. Overcome Driving Fear pt. 2

This article will provide additional information on types of driving phobia and give the reader an idea of how driving fear is treated.

“Situational” Driving Phobia and Anxiety

One form of driving phobia that was mentioned briefly in the previous article is “situational.” This means that specific driving situations cause feelings of anxiety and panic.

An example of situational driving phobia is a fear of driving over bridges. Someone who has a strong fear of driving over a bridge may be perfectly comfortable and even confident driving under different circumstances but feel paralyzed by anxiety in that particular situation.

There are many other driving situations that can cause fear and anxiety in otherwise comfortable drivers. Driving near bodies of water, driving in rain or snow, driving through tunnels, driving at night, and driving in school zones can all create some level of driving anxiety, sometimes without warning.

One of the main problems with situational driving phobias are they can spark fear at inopportune — and even dangerous — moments. A person who is not especially afraid of driving may not realize he or she has a specific driving phobia until encountering the situation on the road. On some occasions, traffic accidents have occurred because one driver was suddenly seized by fear when driving over a bridge, through a tunnel, or in some other situation on the road.

Overcoming Driving Fear and Driving Phobia

There are several treatment options available for people who have driving phobia.

One of the most common methods used to treat driving fear is therapy with a licensed mental health professional. In therapy, the counselor may try to understand why the driving phobic person is afraid. Most of the time, however, the focus is on treatment and recovery.

To treat driving phobia, therapists will often use exposure therapy. This involves getting the phobic person to feel less anxiety around the object of fear. For a driving phobic, the eventual goal would usually be to learn to drive comfortably or to feel calm when in the car with someone else driving.

Teaching the driving phobic person to think about his or her fear differently (changing behaviors by first changing negative thoughts to positive ones is usually accomplished with “cognitive therapy”) can also be a helpful strategy in therapy for treating driving fear.

If someone has an extremely high amount of anxiety or therapy alone is not enough to reduce driving fear, a psychiatrist can prescribe medication designed to lower anxiety levels by altering the brain’s chemistry. A psychiatrist has the medical training necessary to determine how much to prescribe and which kind of drug would likely be the most beneficial.

Simple Things to Make Driving Less Stressful

Dr. L. Jerome Oziel, who was an associate professor of psychiatry at USC, wrote an article containing a few simple tips for people who have driving anxiety. These tips include practicing driving in areas with which they are familiar (e.g., the area where they live), have a good idea of the route before starting to drive (use maps, GPS, etc.), and try to maintain a positive mindset while driving or thinking about driving. Being confident about knowing where one is going and focusing on the positive aspects of a driving excursion can make a major difference in how one feels while driving.

Concluding Thoughts and Information

Hopefully this article has provided the reader with a basic understanding of what driving phobia is and how it can be overcome.

The best way to find out which method of treatment is right for someone who has driving fear is to consult with a licensed mental health professional, who can provide diagnosis and come up with a specific plan for recovery.

Photo Credit: Martin Gommel via Compfight cc

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