If you have been in a motor vehicle accident you may have experienced vehophobia.
Vehophobia is a fear of driving. It often begins after a car accident and is more common than you think.
Phobias are a conditioned fear response. They can occur because of one or more traumatic incidents.
In a car accident, the crash itself creates a strong fear response. The fear experienced in the accident is elicited later by getting into or driving a car. Increased adrenaline triggers the fight or flight response in the brain. This reinforces the original fear response. The pattern becomes self-perpetuating.
How People Experience Vehophobia After An Accident
Post-accident vehophobia can make it difficult for an accident victim to approach their car, get into the car, start the engine, or drive on a city street or highway. Each one of these actions may trigger the same fight or flight response for the victim as they experienced in the original accident. In this way, vehophobia can be thought of as a PTSD response.
Imagine being in a car accident. You are afraid in the moments before it that you might die or that your children or partner in the car with you might die. For weeks, or months after the accident, you cannot even approach your car without breaking into a cold sweat. You feel like you might faint or have a panic attack when you get into your car. You can’t go to the store or work. You can’t pick up your children from school.
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a mental health disorder that often occurs either through experiencing one or a series of traumatic events.
Think about the old term “shell shock.” It was originally developed to describe World War I soldiers who had continuing intrusive thoughts and memories of being bombed for years after experiencing gun fire during the war. Even after the war, these soldiers would react to a car backfiring, for example, as though it were gunfire. This triggered involuntary and immediate shivering, crying and other intrusive memories and feelings of the traumatic events.
We now call this PTSD.
Treatment For Vehophobia Is Important
With all anxiety-based disorders, treatment is important. Without treatment, the symptoms are unlikely to abate and may get worse. Continued uncontrolled exposure to a fear inducing stimulus only makes the fear grow.
Luckily, mental health professionals and your attorney understand this condition and support early treatment. If you have been in an accident and are suffering from vehophobia or other related conditions such as amaxophobia, the fear of riding in a vehicle as a passenger, treatment is available to you.
Most often, anxiety responds well to some combination of psychotherapeutic and medical intervention. Some patients prefer one over the other, but most often patients respond more quickly and fully when both treatment options are used together.
Medical treatment involves taking either a beta-blocker such as Inderal or Propranolol or taking an anti-anxiety medication such as BuSpar. Some patients take both. Some anti-anxiety medications can be addictive, so you want to make sure you fully explore this with your healthcare provider.
Beta-blockers lower blood pressure. This class of medications was originally developed for blood pressure management. But beta-blockers also halt the flood of adrenaline. This in turn, stops the physiological symptoms of panic and anxiety from ramping up out of control.
BuSpar is another typical anti-anxiety medication that is often prescribed. BuSpar takes about three weeks to start to take effect, but it can be effective, especially when coupled with psychotherapy.
Psychotherapy is a wonderful tool for treating vehophobia. Psychotherapeutic treatments vary. Some of the more common therapies used with anxiety issues include cognitive-behavioral, EMDR, and exposure therapy.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
This therapy focuses on the relationships between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It focuses on reframing a thought that occurs as the stimulus is introduced. For example, if the stimulus is turning on the car’s ignition and the thought is “I don’t want to die,” Reframing the thought to make it gradually less evocative of a physiologic response is key.
The first reframe might be something along the line of “ I don’t want to have another accident. ” A further reframe might be something like “ I am in control of my car and can protect myself. “
Eventually, the stimulus no longer causes anxiety.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a method developed to deal with traumatic memories. Studies consistently show EMDR’s effectiveness in dealing with trauma. The therapy involves a rapidly shifting movement that involves both sides of the brain while processing the fear or traumatic event.
This is often done as rapidly shifting eye movement or finger tapping. The movement coupled with processing the underlying event allows the brain to reprocess the event. This needs to be done with an experienced clinician.
This type of therapy is a gradual approach that exposes the patient to an increasing hierarchy of stimulus over time. The exposure may begin with imagining the stimulus while remaining in a safe environment. The therapist and patient process the feelings raised by the memories.
Over time, the therapy may move to more concrete triggers such as starting a car engine, driving to a specific location, or driving on a highway. The therapist and patient work on a plan to help the patient process their feelings after each exposure to the triggering stimulus. Over time, the stimulus no longer triggers anxiety.
Vehophobia is Real – And You Might Qualify For Compensation After a Crash
This condition is real and is treatable. If you have been in an accident and are experiencing vehophobia, it’s important to seek medical care and discuss your legal options with an experienced Bakersfield personal injury attorney. You may have the right to obtain compensation for your cost of treatment, lost wages, and suffering. An attorney can help you fight to maximize your recovery.