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Worst of all, as in any phobia, is “the fear of fear,” Francisco Javier Díaz Calero, who for more than two decades works helping people with amaxophobia to overcome his fear of driving, explains to me by telephone.
More than fearing the car, traffic or other drivers, “they are afraid of their own nerves , of their own lack of control”.
María, 51, knows exactly what this clinical psychologist and driving instructor from Madrid speaks.
She was a regular driver, with 30 years of experience at the wheel, when suddenly one day she suffered a panic attack on the highway .
“I had to stop the car literally on the side of the highway because I was not able to continue driving,” he told BBC Mundo.
When she gathered strength to restart, Maria continued to move along the shoulder, “very, very slowly and very close to the shore, which was where I felt most secure”, until she managed to find the first exit of the highway and reached the town .
“I went out as best I could,” he says now, three years later, when he remembers it.
” I got really scared .” “Every car whistled to me, I had a very bad time”.
“The situation was very hard, really.”
From then on, Maria was so afraid that the same thing would happen to her again that little by little she stopped driving: first she avoided the highways, the express roads and finally even driving through the city, even though the car was essential for your daily life.
” Until changing lanes I was afraid, ” he admits. “And I decided to stop driving completely, because I was more and more afraid”.
But the idea of becoming dependent on other people caused him great frustration, so after several years he decided to seek help.
Linked to stress
Francisco Javier Díaz Calero talks with his patients-clients while they are at the wheel, thanks to a double- headed driving school vehicle that allows him to guarantee his safety and that of the drivers while they face their fear.
Explains that this phobia is often linked to a state of generalized anxiety and that is why in parallel to the panic and psychomotor skills of driving is also working other factors such as “stress management and self-esteem, which is a fundamental factor and determinant. “
María says that when she had that first panic attack at the wheel she was going through “a situation of significant personal and work stress”.
In addition, he adds that he did not find much support in his environment: ” people thought it was silly and they did not understand what happened to me after so many years of driving experience”.
There are no specific figures on how many people have amaxophobia. According to Díaz Calero estimates in Spain vary around 25-30% of those who are licensed, who may experience nervousness or fear.
But the specialist estimates that for an approximate 7% of the drivers that insecurity becomes a panic that makes the handling of the car impossible.
Three typical profiles
According to Díaz Calero, in general there are three types of people who develop a serious case of amaxophobia:
- In the first group are drivers like Maria, already experienced, who suffer an attack of anxiety or panic while driving – and that is not necessarily linked to the handling of the vehicle but to a stressful situation. In some cases it is an attack of agoraphobia, which makes them afraid especially when driving on fast roads.
- The second is made up of drivers who have had a certain fear of driving from the beginning that they never managed to overcome and that worsened over time. It is usual in this group to find, for example, women who divorce and who, when they see themselves alone, need to drive again to guarantee their independence.
- And the third, groups people who have suffered a major traffic accident that has caused a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
While there are psychological therapies that use hypnosis or virtual reality to treat patients with phobias, Diaz Calero believes that in the case of amaxophobia it is more effective to do it with exposure techniques.
“The problem of driving is that you can not deal with an office ,” he says after several decades of experience.
He argues that being a psychomotor skill is necessary to practice, “because if you lose the habit the problem increases”.
” I mess with them in the car, ” he says, something that could be reckless for a regular psychologist.
Díaz Calero starts with a double-handed driving school car and circulates them through increasingly difficult situations in weekly sessions.
“You are working on your fears just at the moment they appear,” he explains, analyzing them, seeing how they feel.
A very common fear, he says, are the slopes below.
“Many times fear is based on a fantasy , on a fear about what they think will happen, and what you do, for example, is to contrast it with reality.”
The objective is to achieve “that they improve their emotional control and their driving ability”. And towards the end of the therapy they already travel in the patient’s own vehicle.
“Now in change of lane”
Recovering can take time.
“Now I have four months of therapy and I have managed to drive in a normal way in the population , making my lane changes,” says María.
“Before, I used to get behind a car and I was not able to overtake it.”
Others may take years and not get to fully recover or not be able to drive by road.
“Now we are in the phase of driving on the motorways and the truth is that I am feeling more calm inside the car, with more courage and with more strength to overcome it.”
“If I can go back to driving on the highway and on the highway, I’ll be happy to be able to recover the normality of one’s life,” he said optimistically.