You’re nearing the onramp. Suddenly, you notice a constriction in your chest. Driving up the ramp, you feel a rush of fear as adrenaline surges through you. It’s like being on a rollercoaster; the sweaty, dizzy feeling as the chain drags the coaster to the top of that first monster drop. Except being scared on a rollercoaster is kind of fun. Feeling scared when you’re accelerating, trying to merge safely into the steel river of traffic looming in front of you…NOT fun. Not fun at all.
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. You’re one of millions of people gripped by intense fear of driving on freeways, a type of driving phobia.
Wikipedia defines a phobia as “persistent fear of an object or situation in which the sufferer commits to great lengths in avoiding”. If you have driving phobia, it’s probably specific to only a few situations. You may have no problems most of the time, but certain settings trigger powerful sensations of anxiety, panic, and being trapped. Freeways are one of the most common trigger environments.
Breaking Down Freeway Fear: What Are You REALLY Afraid Of?
It’s likely you struggle with one or more of the following:
Merging. Merging into traffic at freeway speed is very stressful. Even “normal” (aka non-phobic) drivers find their hearts pounding a little. Merging can feel exposed and overwhelming. It feels unsafe because there’s too much happening too fast.
Lane changes. The combination of speed and traffic makes changing lanes difficult. Also, pushy drivers sometimes monopolize every extra inch of space, making lane changes even harder for less confrontational types. Lateral movement across lanes takes skill and a certain amount of aggression. This is tough with driving phobia.
Passing or overtaking. Going around other vehicles at high speed is nerve-racking because you’re so close to other large, moving objects. It’s especially bad passing trucks or other big vehicles. Passing feels exposed and claustrophobic too.
Feeling trapped. Driving phobia is a manifestation of agoraphobia, which “clusters” around social interactions where exit or escape is difficult. Like sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, or driving over a bridge where pulling over isn’t possible. Any experience of close quarters with other people and no “fast out” can trigger panic. Crowded freeways are a prime candidate.
One option, of course, is to just avoid freeways altogether. But what if you live in a densely populated area? Many people live in places where freeway driving is a fact of life. Some have reported driving an extra 2 hours a day to avoid them, but this is not a viable solution for most people.
So what can you do to overcome or reduce your fear of driving on freeways? Are there viable options out there?
5 Effective Treatment Options
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Generally considered the most effective for phobia, CBT helps you identify factors which contribute to your anxiety. It shows how your thoughts contribute to the problem, and how to change destructive thinking. It also helps reduce or stop unwanted, anxious behavior patterns.
Driver Training / Coaching. Perhaps your fear is due to feeling that you lack good driving skills. Whether you need to learn how to drive, or just want to brush up your abilities, a good defensive driving course can make you more confident behind the wheel.
Hypnotherapy. Common misconceptions about hypnosis are that you’re under someone’s “spell” and might be manipulated. This is mostly due to stage hypnosis that’s used for entertainment. A qualified hypnotherapist treats anxiety by inducing a relaxed state where you learn to change your internal reactions to fear triggers.
This also helps you control the physical reactions of anxiety like dizziness and hyperventilation by stimulating the parasympathetic response – your body’s built in stress reduction mechanism.
Self-Help. Many, MANY resources are available. Evaluate your options carefully here, and proceed with caution. If you’re brand-new to this world, you may want to start with professional therapy. It takes familiarity with effective treatment to accurately evaluate the quality of self-help resources. Not all are created equal, and not all have your best interests in mind.
Medication. Sometimes anxiety is so intense it must be chemically reduced before other options can be explored. Medication is not an effective long-term strategy for driving phobia. It should be combined with other methods for more successful recovery. Always seek medical advice from a qualified professional like a doctor or psychiatrist. NEVER buy anti-anxiety medication from potentially dangerous sources like so-called “generic drug” websites.
You don’t have to live like this. And you don’t have to continue avoiding freeways either. Your condition is highly treatable – it’s just a matter of finding the options that work best for you.
Next time your heart starts pounding as you approach an onramp, make a vow to get help for this crippling problem. When the day comes where you’re driving easily down a freeway, WITHOUT fear, you’ll be really glad you did.