Driving anxiety - can hypnotherapy help?
I call driving anxiety the ‘unspoken phobia’ because no-one ever seems to talk about it - and yet it affects thousands of people each year. In this article, we will look at this under-reported problem, what causes it, and how hypnotherapy can help.
What is driving anxiety?
Driving anxiety, or vehophobia, is any persistent and recurrent fear of driving, be that whilst driving or in anticipation of driving. Symptoms vary between sufferers in both persistence and intensity, and with different situations, road types and conditions. Probably the most commonly feared road-type is the motorway. Even less well-known is the associated problem of ‘passenger anxiety’. Driving anxiety can affect almost anyone; I’ve worked with many former professional drivers, including some ex-police drivers and amateur race drivers.
Driving anxiety may be associated with panic attacks and erratic driving behaviour, such as sudden stopping or driving in the hard shoulder. Ironically, the fear of driving may increase the risks. If this anxiety interferes with your safety as a driver it is considered a sufficiently serious matter that you are required by law to report it to the DVLA.
Sufferers' anxieties about driving can severely limit their quality of life. Many sufferers’ find themselves taking tortuously circuitous journeys via little country lanes to avoid fast A-roads and motorways, doubling or tripling journey times. Some people give up on driving altogether.
What causes driving anxiety?
As with any anxiety, there can be several causes, such as long-term stress, genetic predisposition to anxiety responses, even the wrong stray thought at the wrong time. Unlike many anxieties, vehophobia has a definable danger at its root, and as such, it can also be post-traumatic. In fact, for many people driving is the most dangerous activity they do in a day, and it is this daily risk which may be the root cause of most driving-related anxieties.
Imagine if you will that you are driving to work and someone cuts you up. Immediately your body sends a shot of adrenaline out, preparing you for flight or fight. Unfortunately, you are sitting in a car, already moving as fast as you consider safe, so you can’t flee. Neither can you fight, because to do so in a moving car could result in murder. So, you keep control and let your body settle down again, albeit slightly stressed by the unused adrenaline. All of which would be fine if the same didn’t happen on the way home, or the next day, or three times a week for ten years, or it happened on a particularly stressful workday or any number of factors which add up to a serious problem.
The point is that, although some people will have driving anxiety because of an accident, most people will have it as the result of doing a stressful activity which contains an element of danger for long periods.
Can hypnotherapy help?
Hypnotherapy has a long history of helping with neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) techniques, eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) approaches, all designed to produce change on the unconscious level. The work in the sessions is likely to be augmented with mutually agreed upon homework tasks.
Your safety, both in the session and on the road, is always paramount. As such, the therapist will work at a pace appropriate to you and will also take pains to ensure that you maintain a healthy ‘road awareness’ regardless of how comfortable you become behind the wheel.
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About Matthew Krouwel
Matt Krouwel is a Birmingham based hypnotherapist and hypnotherapy lecturer with over 16 years experience. He lecturers internationally at Universities and Medical schools and is engaged in primary clinical research into the application of hypnosis. He specialises in the treatment of Anxiety, Sexual problems, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).