The fear of driving – Anita’s story

The fear of driving (Vehophobia) is a common phobia in which the sufferer may experience intense anxiety while driving. 


Anita had a marketing job – this required her to drive around meeting clients – often over long distances. She had been driving for the last 18 years but over the last two months had felt that it was becoming more and more difficult for her to control her anxiety on the road. As such, there was no other stress in her life and this anxiety while driving did not seem reasonable.


Often the anxiety started the preceding night in anticipation of the drive the next day. Several times, she had to mentally plan the route in detail so as to minimize the speed and potential danger – but still the fear kept getting worse.


She felt a sense of impending negative events as she waited at a signal. She imagined she would not be able to drive fast enough when the light turned green. The car behind her would honk and worse she would hold up the traffic.


As she drove on the highway her thoughts turned to the high speed she needed to drive at to keep up with the traffic. She automatically drove slowly in the right most lane so that if ‘something’ happened she could pull over easily. As time went by she would become afraid that she might get in an accident and hurt herself. It became so bad that she began to feel her heart beat faster, her palms began to sweat, she felt like she would lose control of the car. Even though she was being extremely careful she came face to face with the irrational fear that she was going to either ram into the car in front of her or go off the road and into a tree.


Over the next three months, the anxiety kept getting worse and she decided to stop driving. This also meant she had to resign her job. When she handed over her resignation to the owner of the company, he heard out her difficulties and advised her to visit a psychiatrist.


Anita was surprised when the doctor informed her that driving phobia is a common clinical problem. She had thought that her problems were unique. Also, one of the first things the doctor told her was not to give up driving. He also told her that early treatment gives the best results. As the counseling sessions and medical management ensued, all the symptoms gradually reduced and she was able to start driving as before.


Anita was surprised a few months later when her sister reported the same problems. She advised her to seek treatment at the earliest.

 


Symptoms of Driving Phobia

 

  • Intense anxiety in anticipation of, or, while driving

  • Avoiding certain roundabouts, certain signals, bigger roads, traffic jams, right or left turns, bridges or underpasses

  • Planning routes to avoid situations that cause anxiety

  • Having thoughts or images of having an accident

  • Having thoughts of other car drivers yelling or honking

  • Fear of freezing while driving, of going off the road, of holding up traffic

  • Anxiety anticipating a driving trip

  • Having an anxiety attack while driving

  • Physical symptoms of anxiety – increased heartbeat, sweaty palms, dry mouth etc

Please note that the information in this case study should not be considered as medical advice for an individual’s condition. If anyone shows or feel symptoms of a possible medical condition, we strongly encourage you to seek advice from your primary physician or a mental health professional for an evaluation as soon as possible.

 

The names been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

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