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'I get tense and worked up while driving, please help'

  • Posted by Moderator: Biju Mathew
  • Published 16:19 January 8, 2013

F.S. asks:  I have a strange issue. This is mostly during driving.

I have been driving for the past 10 years and of late for around two years I have been getting this problem.

The issue is when I drive, mostly at average speeds and there is a car right behind mine, I get tensed and start getting some kind of fits, which is indescribable but then it gets over  in a couple of seconds.

I don't know why this happens and don't understand how to control this. Hope you will be able to help me.

Dr Sreekumar V. Nair ( MBBS, M.D. Psychiatry, NMC Specialist Hospital, Dubai) replies: According to you email, this indescribable feeling occurs mostly while driving, but you have not mentioned whether it happens in other situations. So, I can presume that it is happening only while driving.  More information regarding what goes through your mind during  this would have given better insight into the problem.

Nevertheless, since there is distress, if not fear, while you are  behind the wheel and since it is controlling you or preventing you from driving with ease, you have to learn to face the anxiety so that you're able to get back behind the wheel with confidence.

Here are some suggestions to help you overcome your problem, which we will call as 'driving phobia' just to give it a name.

A phobia is a fear of an activity, object or situation that is in excess to the inherent dangerousness of the feared thing. 

A driving anxiety or phobia leads to lack of confidence in driving and even to complete avoidance of driving, which can be detrimental to your life because it restricts your mobility.

As is the case in any phobia, when you are exposed to a particular situation, your brain and body reacts to it. There is fear or anxiety and bodily symptoms.

The bodily symptoms could be palpitation, sweating, trembling, dry mouth, difficulty in breathing, feeling of choking, chest pain or discomfort, nausea or abdominal distress, feeling dizzy, unsteady or light headed, shock like sensation through the body, fear of losing control, fear of dying, hot flushes or cold chills, numbness or tingling sensation etc.

The number of symptoms and severity varies from person to person and situations. But this seldom leads to any physical problems whatsoever.

Here are some suggestions to help you overcome your 'driving phobia'.

  1. First step is to understand how phobias arise. You know from the above description that the symptoms are the normal reaction to any PERCEIVED THREAT. The aim of the treatment is not to stop these symptoms, but to minimize it, and mainly to develop the ability to face it and get over it.
  2. To minimize the symptoms we should learn to relax our body. Any relaxation exercise like Shavasana or JPMR can help [Shavasana is a yoga asana often used to begin and conclude a yoga session. It is a relaxing posture intended to rejuvenate body, mind and spirit.; JPMR or progressive muscle relaxation is a technique of stress management developed by American physician Edmund Jacobson in the early 1920s. Jacobson argued that since muscular tension accompanies anxiety, one can reduce anxiety by learning how to relax the muscular tension].
  3. Basically you have to focus on your body from toe to head and relax every part progressively. This has to be mastered through regular practice.
  4. Deep breathing exercise is also very helpful. This is simple and can be done even while driving. Take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds and breathe out very slowly. This helps our body and mind to relax.
  5. Now, the most important thing is to teach your mind, your brain, that the situation and the physical experience is totally harmless and is happening due to the conditioning that has happened over time. So, when you are free, sit back and analyze the situation.
  6. Try to identify the thoughts that go through your mind when you see a car behind, if they are negative and dysfunctional, try to replace it with more positive and reassuring thoughts. This again is possible only through repeated attempts.
  7. Then you have go for the final part of the treatment, and that is to face the real situation by planning and exposing yourself to the situation and enduring the distress without the anxiety or fear.

If you are not able to do it by yourself, you can consult a psychiatrist who can help you with some medicines and therapy.

Write with your concerns to inmind@gulfnews.com and selected questions will be answered by a panel of qualified psychiatrists and psychologists. Your contributions will be modified for length and appropriateness, and will be open to other Gulf News readers to comment and suggest solutions. Let us know if you would like GulfNews.com to withhold your name from your letter should it be published.

Disclaimer: This blog is a conversation and is not an alternative for treatment. The recommendations and suggestions offered by our panel of psychiatrists are their own and Gulf News will not take any responsibility for the advice they provide.

Comments (4)

  1. Added 12:05 January 9, 2013

    Surely the obvious solution is to just move over and let the other traffic past, rather then becoming a mobile road block.

    Driver, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  2. Added 09:51 January 9, 2013

    I suggest that the complainant stop driving in the fastest lane. The solution is simple.

    Shakir, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  3. Added 09:10 January 9, 2013

    I commute daily to Abu Dhabi from Dubai and it is quite common to see large vehicles (or vehicles with modified lights) intimidate smaller vehicles on the speed track. While I am of the opinion that the Speed track should only be used for overtaking and we need to move out of the speed track if the track next to us is safe to merge into, the speed track is not just for the super-fast. We still commonly find larger/fast cars tail-gating, flashing their lights and trying their way through the hard shoulder area, even when there is a long trail of vehicles moving on the speed track. Remember all this is happening at speeds of 140km/h or above. This is enough to instil fear into any human-being. I think the questioner is not alone as I have seen this kind of behaviour quite frequently exhibited on our roads. The other side, what is even more dangerous is when we see motorists on the speed track panicking when a similar activity is going behind them. The get so panicked that they try to jump into the right lane (the lane next to the speed track) without ensuring whether it is safe to do so. I have seen 'near escapes' of major accidents when these motorists almost collide into the vehicle next to them in an effort to let the 'fast-guy' go. It is the right of every motorist to check their safety first and move only if there is enough opportunity and space to do so, at the same time being calm and composed while managing this activity. That said, there is lot to be done to improve driving attitudes on our roads.

    Saju Mathew, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  4. Added 09:10 January 9, 2013

    This person should not drive at all as medically he is not fit to drive. He is simply risking his life as well as other motorists on roads.

    Rizwan Kazi, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

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