How Amaxophobia (Fear of Driving) Can Take Over Your Life
Has your anxiety grown so intense it has prevented you from an essential everyday task like driving? Maybe it happens when driving somewhere new or somewhere far. Even driving to drop your child off at school in the morning. You don’t know why, but this feels impossible.
What is anxiety versus driving anxiety?
There are different levels and intensities when it comes to anxiety. For example, it is natural to feel anxious before a big life event. Such as a performance, job interview, or even a speech in front of a large crowd. Anxiety is when you perceive something is threatening along with experiencing physical sensations. However, when these feelings increase or become more frequent, anxiety tends to tell us the worst-case scenario is always going to happen. Even if this is irrational. When it creeps up even more, anxiety tricks you into avoiding these situations in order to “keep you safe.” This becomes a dangerous cycle. On top of this, you could experience intense nervousness, racing heart, or shortness of breath. You may find your mind constantly racing. This can happen even with a task like driving your car to the grocery store.
Amaxophobia, sometimes referred to as driving anxiety or fear of driving, is an increase in worry and nervousness, that something is threatening us or putting us in danger while traveling in a vehicle. This goes for both drivers and those that are passengers. This feeling can happen when we are actually driving, or even trigger anticipatory anxiety. Anticipatory anxiety is when we excessively worry about an event before it has occurred. This tends to have us anticipating the worst possible outcomes. When our mind races to the worst-case scenario, anxiety goes up. When we avoid driving or riding it causes us to feel safer. This is the case even for activities typical to us, like driving. It can have us feeling super frustrated with ourselves and doubting our abilities to do even the simplest of tasks.
How does it start?
When it comes to your mental health, there is not always one exact cause but usually multiple contributing factors. Specifically for driving anxiety, some factors could look like previously getting in a car accident or driving in bad weather. It could be getting lost while driving, your GPS losing power, or a family history of anxiety. Some additional specifics can include a fear of highways, bridges, or congested roads. Even driving to a new destination.
Sometimes, it’s not a specific trauma or phobia. Ever been in the car when you had to break quickly? Or swerve out of the way to avoid a collision? These moments are sometimes all it takes to have your worries increase incrementally. Maybe you notice you are constantly advocating to be the passenger instead of behind the wheel. Or to have someone else drive. Soon you are avoiding driving when you can and find that you feel better. The flip side of that is that you feel even more anxiety when you do drive. What you thought was a one-time situation can lead to excruciating ongoing fear. As for our anxious thoughts, you may find them becoming more frequent, or intense. They may be more difficult to control or challenge. This can be a sign of growing anxiety and the urge to avoid at all costs.
Types of Phobias Related to Driving Anxiety
A common feeling when it comes to anxiety is feeling alone. This can intensify even more when our anxiety is centered around one specific task. You may think:
How come everyone else can drive on the highway but me?
See, I am the only one who can’t drive somewhere new on my own.
Sometimes, these thoughts cause us to isolate ourselves even more. They may steer us away from support. However, there are numerous phobias related to driving anxiety, giving light to the many different specifics that can occur when it comes to driving. Some phobias include:
- Amaxophobia, sometimes called Ochophobia or Motorphobia, is the fear of driving or being in a vehicle. This could include a car, bus, or plane. When amaxophobia increases, we may eventually avoid operating or riding in a vehicle altogether.
- Vehophobia is more specifically, extreme anxiety or fear of driving. This is most commonly connected to being in a driving accident and fearing the return of driving after the crash.
- Dystychiphobia- This phobia may not be as commonly known, but is common when it comes to driving. Dystychiphobia is the fear of getting into an accident. This could develop if someone has been in a car accident in the past, heard about a car accident, or has thoughts that driving will always lead to an accident, even if this is not the case.
- Hodophobia- This specific phobia is in regard to fear of travel, meaning not only driving but all forms of transportation as well. Homophobia may look like someone who struggles traveling to new places but can visit places they have previously been to. This can come up with public transportation as well like trains or airplanes.
- Simple Driving Phobia- Perhaps, your driving anxiety looks like none of these specific phobias. That is okay. We can experience driving phobia ranging from driving our commute to work to uneasiness in busy traffic and all other more common daily driving situations.
Other Related Phobias:
- Agoraphobia is the fear of being trapped or unable to escape in crowded spaces. Do you know of someone who drives over bridges with the windows down just in case? These actions can be more common than we think. This directly connects to driving anxiety as one may fear driving over a bridge, on major highways, or through a tunnel.
- Claustrophobia is the fear of being in small spaces. This can connect with driving and feeling enclosed in a vehicle. If we are feeling closed in, our anxiety can become paralyzing when being in a car.
- Social Phobia- Ever feel nervous when driving a car full of loved ones? It happens! Social phobia describes performance anxiety that comes along with being in charge of others and their safety.
We all have them and we all do them, but why? Defense mechanisms are unconscious and sometimes conscious responses that come up when experiencing an unwanted emotion or thought. It can be important to reflect on these defenses. Notice your responses when feeling anxious or uncomfortable. This can help you to increase your coping versus avoiding or denying. Some common defense mechanisms are listed below:
- Denial is avoiding or making excuses despite the factual information. With driving, this could look like a person denying their driving anxiety. Despite not leaving the house in weeks.
- Displacement is when we direct an unwanted emotion at a less threatening target. This may look like feeling frustrated with our driving anxiety but snapping at our partner about the dishes.
- Projection is assigning our unwanted emotions to another person. This can look like struggling to deal with driving anxiety but referring to one’s parent as an anxious driver or one’s teen as nervous about learning to drive.
- Undoing is when we try to act opposite to our unwanted emotions. This could look like explaining to someone how much we love long car rides when this is really our trigger for driving anxiety.
Driving anxiety can feel consuming. When we are able to navigate and understand what is driving this feeling, we can ease this constant worry. Read part 2: Navigating Driving Anxiety where I will discuss tips and strategies to overcome your driving anxiety.
If you have experienced intense driving anxiety, please reach out to connect with a mental health professional about anxiety treatment. If you are in New Jersey reach out to us at Brave Minds Psychological Services. We have anxiety therapists who are here to support, listen, and help you embrace life.
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If you have signs of anxiety when it comes to driving there are ways to overcome them. You can learn tools and address the cause of the driving anxiety in anxiety treatment in Westfield, NJ. Our caring therapists understand how hard it can be to face fears, especially when it is something that once was a part of our every day. In order to start easing your worry follow these steps to start anxiety therapy at Brave Minds Psychological Services.
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At our Scotch Plains, NJ-based therapy practice we offer many types of counseling services to support you. For individuals, we offer EMDR trauma therapy, food allergy therapy, and postpartum counseling. While for children and adolescents we provide teen anxiety treatment, social phobia therapy for teens, child sexual abuse therapy, and child anxiety treatment. In addition to these, we also offer group therapy, marriage counseling, couples therapy, and more. Our trained therapists provide services both in person and through online therapy in New Jersey.