Understanding Your Fear of Open Spaces

Fear of Open Spaces While Driving? How You Can Treat Your Anxiety, Panic Attacks, and Agoraphobia

If you have difficulty driving, especially in open spaces, then you may suffer from a common anxiety disorder. Thousands of people all over the world suffer from driving anxiety and many will actually arrange their lives around not having to drive. This can cause long-term damage to their family connections, friendships, their social contacts, and even to their careers, as the need to avoid driving can often trump any other ambition or relationship.

One of the most popular misconceptions about driving anxiety is that the person who suffers from it is faking or merely needs to “get over it” in order to get on with his or her life. In reality, the perceived threat of driving is very real to the person experiencing it. While the person who suffers from it can in time learn to control these panic attacks, it takes a specialized treatment regimen that targets the root cause of the driving phobia.

The Physical and Mental Symptoms of Anxiety

The person who suffers from a panic attack while driving will feel a variety of intense and unpleasant physical symptoms. Their heart rate will accelerate and respiration will increase. They will begin shaking and sweating. As intense nausea grips them, he or she may worry about vomiting. An intense emotional fear will overwhelm them as well – they may fear dying or losing control in some way.

These symptoms are triggered as epinephrine is released into the body, triggering the “fight or flight” response. Why is this anxiety triggered in the first place? Well, it’s common for someone who has had a “close call” or been involved in a car accident to experience fear that the wreck will happen again. But often people who suffer from anxiety disorders suffer from other disorders that will feed into the anxiety.

For example, a fear of open spaces, also known as agoraphobia, can trigger a panic attack while driving. People who have agoraphobia dislike open spaces because they fear there is no easy way to escape. They fear not being in control, and this is compounded in open spaces – especially crowded open spaces – because they cannot identify an escape route. This fear is intensified in a car because a car is small, confined, and may be used to drive on crowded freeways.

Agoraphobia is a highly common fear; 3.2 million Americans suffer from it. In fact, 60% of phobias can be linked to agoraphobia. In addition, agoraphobia is twice as common among women as men. Even if you suffer from agoraphobia and driving anxiety, you can begin to seize control of your phobias and learn to drive without fear – with the proper therapeutic techniques.

Treatment for Driving Anxiety

Experts differ on what actually causes agoraphobia and driving anxiety. Studies have shown that the vestibular system of the body could play a role in agoraphobia. The vestibular system regulates the body’s balance and spatial orientation, and those who have agoraphobia have been shown to have weak vestibular function. This means they have to rely more heavily on visual and tactile signals to get their bearings – signals that can be difficult to read or process in a crowded area or while zooming down the highway at 70 mph.

The most common remedies for agoraphobia and driving anxiety include drug therapy, alternative therapies such as eye movement desensitization, and cognitive behavioral treatments that emphasize relaxation techniques. The most common type of drug therapy has been the use of antidepressants, especially the type of antidepressants that are in the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) group. However, antidepressants can be expensive and usually cause a host of random and unpleasant side effects; so many people are reluctant to use them.

Eye movement desensitization and reprogramming (EMDR), a type of psychotherapy commonly used to treat rape victims or soldiers returning from combat, has also been used in the treatment of agoraphobia and driving anxiety. However, EMDR has proven ineffective in most cases and is now usually recommended in cases where a person’s anxiety has been triggered in response to severe trauma.

Studies have shown that cognitive behavioral therapies, especially exposure therapy, have been helpful. Exposure therapy involves slowly introducing the person into the very environment that triggers the fight or flight response. But exposure therapy is usually used in conjunction with a self-help program that helps a person suffering from anxiety to adapt relaxation techniques into her daily routine. These therapies can help circumvent or stop a panic attack and are highly effective in treating anxiety.

Benefits of Self-Help Therapy Techniques for Anxiety

Self-help treatment programs can give people who suffer from anxiety the tools they need to conquer panic attacks or prevent them from happening altogether. These programs offer a variety of relaxation techniques that the person can learn and adapt, using them at a moment’s notice to stop a panic attack as it occurs or to simply reduce overall stress and live a more content existence. These techniques include visualization, meditation, and breathing techniques. Other potential lifestyle changes, such as the need for more sleep or the possibility of trying laughter therapy, are usually explored as well.

A self-help treatment program is beneficial in that it puts control back in the hands of the patient. For an agoraphobic who fears losing control, this is a powerful way to assume control of the phobia. A patient can try the techniques presented in the program and decide which ones work best for his or her needs. The patient can then discard the ones that don’t work for her and focus instead on the ones that generate results.

In addition to being completely customizable, a self-help program is also affordable. For the price of one hour of therapy with a psychologist, the patient can order an entire treatment program. In addition, the treatment program is completely private, since insurance companies don’t get involved. This means the person can also seek treatment while having complete control over who knows—or doesn’t know—that she is seeking help.

Experts agree that cognitive behavioral techniques plus a self-help regimen of relaxation techniques can be the most effective way to treat both agoraphobia and driving anxiety. If you suffer from a crippling anxiety disorder, finding the right self-help program can help you seize control of your life and overcome your phobias.

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