Abs and I know all about this phobia, mainly because I had it for years, and she is my best friend—which means that we have spent a lot of time in cars together and they were not always pleasant or civil or even bearable. (Another time I will tell you how she threatened to kick me out of her car on her wedding day when I started to get a bit phobic about driving in the rain).
Seriously, I was phobic about driving on highways, driving in the rain (even a drizzle) or snow, and, well—just driving in general. Abs and I laugh about those experiences now, but they were anything but funny at the time. Driving phobias are highly disruptive and very common. If you don’t live in a city and you have this irrational fear, you probably want to address it so you don’t end up with SWS (Shrinking World Syndrome).
If you wish to skip my detailed story, you can go straight to the suggestions at the bottom, but, if you have the time, you may want to hear how I overcame my driving phobia.
Working with a behavioral therapist who specialized in anxiety disorders, I started by getting on the right medications, which included both an SSRI (Zoloft) and a small dose of a Benzodiazepine (Xanax). The purpose of the SSRI was to stabilize me over time—I took it every day, but it did take several weeks to kick in. The purpose of the Xanax was to help with the acute anxiety (panic) and to “take the edge off” of my phobia while I was waiting for the SSRI to be fully effective. I took Xanax “as needed.”
I know a lot of you are reluctant to take anxiety meds, and I hear you. But let me just say that I could not have gotten over my driving phobia without medication. Some anxiety disorders require drug interventions just to get you to a place where you can use other non-medicinal methods and techniques. So if you have tried every possible method to deal with your phobia, and you have not been able to make much progress, please consider anxiety meds (only under a doctor’s supervision) as a temporary strategy.
Once I was on the right meds and that hardcore panic was under control, I was ready (not really, but there is no other choice) to get behind the wheel. Sorry Sisters, but the only way out, with phobias, is through—there is no other choice except avoidance, and that was not a real choice for me.
So, with my therapist’s guidance, I practiced driving for one hour each day on streets where I felt fairly comfortable. I did this for several weeks, just to get as comfortable as possible. I would be lying if I said that was an easy process. Keeping it together behind the wheel was so hard, and I felt utterly exhausted when it was over. But, gradually, it did get easier.
Next I drove on bigger roads that were not quite highways, but more substantial than my local streets. Again I did an hour a day on most days. Finally, sweating and teary, I faced the highway. I was petrified but I made myself do it and just stayed driving straight (in the slow lane with my hazard lights blinking) for half an hour. I did this most days for weeks and weeks. At last, I was ready to try it in the rain (my biggest fear). Sometimes, I thought I was going to pass out and occasionally I would have to pull over at a rest stop and take a short walk, but I eventually worked up to an hour of highway driving.
For the next couple of years, I continued to drive in the slow lane, and, when the weather was bad, I also turned on my hazards so I could slow to a crawl. But little by little, I became more confident and was able to move out of the slow lane. One day, from the middle lane, I noticed it was raining and I wasn’t having a panic attack while driving!
- Medication may be necessary when dealing with a phobia.
- Enlist the help of a therapist or medical practitioner who specializes in anxiety.
- Start slowly challenging yourself and build up very gradually as your confidence grows. If you cannot do an hour, do 10 minutes and build up from there. If you cannot do even a few minutes, get in the car and start the engine and build up from there.
- Your pace is the pace, but expect to feel uncomfortable (even with medication). Stay in the slow lane and put on your hazards. Ignore assholes who honk.
- No matter what, DON’T GIVE UP. Keep at it, every day and be patient with yourself.
Anybody willing to give it a try?