Phobias: Car travel

Fear of Car Travel – Motorphobia

The fear of travelling by car (automobile) generally has three elements – or sub-phobias

Claustrophobia in which the fear is of being trapped in a traffic jam or in the midst of lanes of traffic on a motorway (freeway) or…

A fear of crashing – which is akin to one type of fear of flying

A fear of not being in control of things i.e. there is little or no fear if the person is, themselves, doing the driving

Fear of car travel and self esteem

Because car travel is so much a part of modern life this fear can have a quite serious affect on one’s self esteem.

So it is important to remain clear that a phobia is not a reflection of your personality or self worth – it is a reflection of what you have learned. You are not your behaviours!

Your phobic habit is just that – a habit that you learned to experience. The fear reaction indicates that at some stage in your life you learned to have an emotional or gut reaction to the stimulus.

Dealing with it

The first stage is to recognise and to affirm to yourself that it is just a behaviour. Yes, it is a very uncomfortable and very inconvenient one but it is, nevertheless, just a learned behaviour.

And what you have learned you can un-learn!

There is little value in wasting ┬átime and money trying to discover the original cause of your fear of car travel. This may satisfy your (or your therapist’s) curiosity but it is not particularly relevant to getting rid of the condition.

Now, as with all phobias, examine how you do it. Yes, of course you don’t do it deliberately but you do do it – even though the process occurs automatically.

It is your brain, your body, and your emotions that are involved – so you do it.

A typical fear-cycle

Once the trigger is encountered you rapidly go through a series of steps. These vary from person to person but will typically involve an escalating cycle such as: think of or see the ‘trigger’ – remember past moments of being uncomfortable in similar situations, begin awfulising self-talk, imagine a disaster movie of what is likely to happen, feel awful. Then you re-run this sequence a number of times faster and faster – and feel terrible. And it all happens automatically!

The mechanics of your fear-cycle

Remember you are studying the ‘mechanics’ of your fear. You are examining how and not why you do it.

It usually involves lots of fearful anticipating – thinking ahead about all the awful things that could or might occur! What if we/I crashed? Wouldn’t it be terrible to be trapped in a mangled wreck! What if someone jumps the next red-light as I cross on green?

Commonly a person with a phobic response will talk to themselves about what might possible happen and/or mentally visualise these uncomfortable events.

This self talk and visualising will activate your body’s fear-handling process – the ‘fight or flight response’ – start the thinking-feeling cycle of discomfort.

Have you noticed how you do it? Great! You are on your way to eradicating the response. (And remember to keep reminding yourself that it is just a learned response and not an illness.)

The rational side of things

You may as well acknowledge that part of your fearful thinking is quite realistic! Car travel is dangerous. And you could have a crash. You could be terribly injured. And no matter how good a driver you or your traveling partner may be someone else could smash into you.

To acknowledge this reality  may seem a bit perverse but it is important that you do so.

And it is important that you also acknowledge the reality of the danger of staying at home – by checking on statistics on the number of accidents that occur in the home. And the dangers of accidents to pedestrians walking about. And the dangers involved in just about any activity you care to think about!

How is it that people, including you, quite happily go about our daily activities despite the danger?

Because, on balance, the likelihood of our becoming involved in an accident is small.

And because we recognise that there is little point in trying to live a life that is entirely free of danger. We weigh up the odds, decide that if it happens so be it but meanwhile we will get on with our lives.

And, having made this decision, we recognise that torturing or terrifying ourselves with scary pictures of what, conceivably might happen is pointless. A typical attitude might go along the lines of If it happens it happens – until then I will just get on with my life.

The trigger(s)

Having dealt with the rational side of things your next step is easy because you’re probably an expert in this area. How do you know when to start the fearful thinking?

To experience the fear you must ‘know’ when to begin the negative thinking (that’s the self talk and visualising I mentioned earlier).

There has to be a trigger that alerts your mind-body that it is time to start the feelings and thoughts. The trigger can be getting into a car or can be even thinking about a past or forthcoming car journey.

So, for you, what is the first thing you see or hear before the whole series of physical and mental mechanisms kick in? (Do remember, it is not what do you first feel – because the feeling is just the result of the negative thinking.)

The question is what you see or hear that results in the fearful feeling! Is it the sight of a car? Or the knowledge that you have to make a particular trip? Or is it simply seeing a car traveling by?

Most people will have more than one trigger. If you do have quite a few simply pick the trigger you most commonly encounter.

Arrange the triggers in a sequence

You have now established the manner in which your fear cycle starts and then spirals upwards into a panic.

Your next step is to eradicate the fear and if you are going to do this by yourself it is best to do so slowly and thoroughly using desensitisation.

Patiently un-learn your way to freedom

Once they know they can get rid of the condition some people spoil their chances of success because of their impatience to get rid of all of their fear triggers immediately NOW!

Even with the assistance of a skilled professional it is likely to take a number of sessions to fully eradicate the fearful habit if you have had it for some time. After all, you’ve been ‘practising’ for months or years.

So allow a realistic amount of time – a few hours with the assistance of a professional and a month or two if you are doing it yourself and practising on a daily basis.

Too long? What’s your hurry? You have had the habit for a long time – what’s another few weeks when you know you are on your way to freedom!

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