driving phobia can produce the unpleasant physical symptoms of ‘normal’ fear:
- heart palpitations
- feeling sick
- chest pains
- difficulty breathing
- ‘jelly legs’
- feeling ‘unreal’
- intense sweating
- feeling faint
- dry throat
- restricted or ‘fuzzy’ vision or hearing.
People with phobias have become ‘conditioned’ to produce the fear reaction in situations which aren’t really dangerous at all. The best way to counter this is by ‘de-conditioning’: training themselves to react correctly. This is done by gradually exposing themselves to the things they fear, and experiencing the fears without running away, and so becoming less sensitive to them.
The idea is simple, and it does not necessarily require the help of professionals, but it calls for a fair amount of courage and determination. The help of family and friends can make self-treatment much easier to manage, and this is also why many people prefer to join a self-help group where they can get support from people in a similar situation.
Anyone who decides to try desensitisation needs to draw up a personal ‘training programme’. This means deciding where they are now, and where they want to be at the end, and fitting as many gradual ‘exposure’ steps in between as they need.
The first step can be as simple as staying in a situation that can just be managed now, but for a little longer than before.
Obviously people’s phobias are at many different levels and may focus on many different fears, but here is one example of how self-exposure steps for a driving phobia could be ‘graded’:
Stage 1: Sit in the car with the engine running.
Stage 2: Drive a few yards up the road and then park, switch off, and walk back.
Stage 3: Drive round the block, then park, switch off, etc.
Stage 4: Take a slightly longer trip with a companion to support you.
Stage 5: Take the same trip without the companion.
Stage 6: Take a still longer trip.
Stage 7: Drive on a ‘trapping’ road such as a motorway, with a companion.
Stage 8: Try the motorway trip without a companion.
Stage 9: Take a long trip on roads that you are unfamiliar with.
The steps can be as large or as small as necessary, and big steps can be broken down into smaller ones. But each step should challenge the anxiety a little more than the last.
Relaxation techniques can be helpful in tackling the next step, and it is easy to practice relaxation in the seclusion of a car. But if the steps you have chosen prove impossible, of if you are depressed or have other severe anxiety problems, then professional help from a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist may be needed.
You can reach such professionals through your GP; and in any case we recommend that you contact your GP and talk to him or her about your disorder.
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