I dislike freeways. Unless it’s an Interstate freeway with no other vehicles around, with the windows rolled down, the music blasting, and me singing along in a very off-key voice at the top of my lungs, I’d be perfectly happy to never see another freeway again as long as I live. Believe it or not, my attitude about freeways has actually improved – a lot – over the last few years.
I know I just said I dislike freeways. But I used to hate them. Hate. Them.
They were the bane of my existence. I lived with an intense, daily dread of freeways and nervously counted the hours until I would have to face one again. I lived in the Bay Area in California at the time, and avoiding freeways was nearly impossible, especially considering I was a single dad raising two kids on my own. Try raising children in the Bay Area without driving on a freeway. I suppose it can be done, but you’d have little time to accomplish anything else.
I was suffering from freeway phobia. A phobia is defined as a pervasive, irrational fear of a situation or object. The phobia sufferer’s fear is so intense, he or she will go to extreme lengths to avoid said object or situation. Approximately 10% of the US population lives with at least one phobia, and that estimate is probably low.
Some phobias are easier to live with than others. If you have an irrational fear of clowns (coulrophobia) say, you can manage that phobia fairly easily. Because, how often does the average person come into contact with clowns, really? Not very often. But as a person living in a densely populated urban area connected by freeways, avoiding the source of my phobia wasn’t really an option for me. I had to learn how to cope with my fears.
I’ll talk about how I did that a little later on. But for now, let’s take a look at the top 10 things nobody tells you about living with freeway phobia. I wish someone had told me these things. It might have prompted me to get help for my phobia much sooner than I did.
Top 10 Things Nobody Tells You About Freeway Phobia
- It’s a widespread problem that no one talks about – An estimated 40 million American adults have an anxiety disorder. Driving anxiety is a huge problem for millions of people, yet there’s very little information available that’s reliable. My work with sufferers of driving anxiety over the years has taught me that fear of freeway driving is the number one issue anxious drivers face.
- It makes it hard to get places – Freeways are an unavoidable part of the driving experience for many people. Try living in almost any large urban area without driving on freeways. It’s difficult, if not downright impossible, to do.
- It eats into your time – Freeways are often the fastest route between point A and point B. That’s kind of the whole point of freeways. Driving secondary roads with more stop signs and traffic lights can slow your forward progress to a crawl. Many people simply don’t have the time not to take the freeway.
- Most people don’t get what you’re so scared of – Granted, no one likes freeway driving, especially in heavy traffic. But most people accept it as a necessary, albeit annoying, part of daily living. Having panic attacks because of the freeway is not something most people know how to relate to.
- Freeway phobia is hard on your relationships – The limited mobility that tends to accompany freeway phobia can severely limit your ability to participate in social gatherings and maintain a healthy social life.
- It can make other anxiety issues worse – People with driving anxiety usually struggle with other anxiety disorders , like social anxiety or panic attacks. Freeway phobia can exacerbate these other issues and make them worse.
- You live in constant dread – You think forward to the times you’ll have to face the freeway with dread. You obsess over it, and the thought of it hangs over you like a dark cloud.
- You fear having a panic attack on the freeway – One of the biggest fears people have on the freeway is that they’ll have a panic attack and either hurt or kill someone. This very rarely happens, but the anticipation of a panic attack makes many avoid the freeway altogether.
- Freeway phobia can be difficult to treat – Successful treatment requires you to face your fears and do at least some freeway driving. There is no overnight cure for freeway phobia. It takes work and commitment.
- It gets worse the longer it goes untreated – Like all phobias, the longer freeway phobia goes untreated, the worse it gets, which makes treating it successfully that much harder.
Top Treatment Options for Freeway Phobia
I have good news and bad news.
The good news is, freeway phobia is highly treatable. I myself have mostly overcome my own fear of the freeway. I still don’t like it, but I don’t avoid it either.
The bad news is, there’s really no way to overcome freeway phobia except by continuing to drive on freeways. Phobias are only defeated by facing them and taking away their power over your mind.
Fortunately, you don’t have to face your freeway phobia alone. There are several effective treatment options that are widely available, including:
- Exposure Therapy – The primary fear with freeways is becoming trapped with no way out and no way to get help. Freeway phobia is really a manifestation of agoraphobia. Exposure therapy means just what it sounds like it means. With the help of a therapist, you gradually increase your time on the freeway, exposing yourself to your fears until they subside. You’ll find that you won’t, in fact, lose control or become trapped with no way out.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – CBT helps you identify distortions in your thinking about freeway driving. Phobias are generally irrational in nature. CBT helps you identify irrational thinking and provides concrete steps to correct it.
- Take a Defensive Driving Course – There are many books, DVDs, and online courses that teach defensive driving to improve your driving skills. Search Amazon for ideas. You can also contact your local DMV for suggestions about finding the right driving course for you.
- Hire a Driving Coach – If a self-help driving course isn’t enough, you may need an experienced driving instructor to actually be in the car with you to conquer your freeway phobia. Here’s an inspiring story about a woman who did just that.
Freeway phobia can severely restrict your life. But it is treatable. I treated mine with a combination of meditation, hypnosis, and CBT. I even developed a course for driving anxiety called Driving Peace to help teach other people with freeway phobia how to face their fears and take back control of their lives. And I’m nobody special. If I can do it, anyone can.
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Author Bio: Greg Weber is the creator of Driving Peace, an easy-to-use program of very simple techniques to end driving anxiety, also known as driving phobia and fear of driving.
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The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
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