Agoraphobia, literally “fear of the marketplace,” is more commonly translated as a fear of open spaces. But I like the definition below better because it’s more in line with what agoraphobics are actually afraid of.
Agoraphobia — The fear of being trapped in a situation where escape is impossible or embarrassing, or help is unavailable in case of a panic attack.
Agoraphobics are not necessarily afraid of open spaces. What they’re really afraid of is having panicky feelings, and of situations where panic might be embarrassing, humiliating, or leave them feeling trapped with no way out and no one to help them.
Fredric Neuman, director of the Anxiety & Phobia Treatment Center in White Plains, NY, has this to say about the connection between agoraphobia and driving:
“People are really afraid that they are going to go out of control,” says Neuman. “They fear that they’ll start screaming, vomit, soil themselves or lose control of the wheel. They think if a feeling gets very strong, it will translate into action.”
Along with agoraphobia, Neuman says that driving phobia is one of the top three phobias treated at the center.
The Agoraphobia and Driving “Cluster”
Many think of agoraphobics as people who are housebound or unable to go outdoors. Although some with agoraphobia are indeed housebound, the view that all agoraphobics are shut-ins is mostly a stereotype. It’s just one of the many ways those of us with anxiety problems are lumped into broad categories that really don’t fit us very well.
The truth is that agoraphobia is a complex disorder that tends to manifest in “clusters” — situations that include social interaction like shopping, driving, or using public transportation.
Most phobias (for instance, fear of spiders) are specific to only one situation. Agoraphobia isn’t like that. It manifests in different ways for different people, which can make it hard to identify accurately and difficult to treat. Since agoraphobia is a progressive illness, it may grow to include more clusters when it’s left untreated.
Driving Avoidance — It’s Like “Miracle-Gro” for Agoraphobia
Here’s a GREAT description of the interaction between agoraphobia and driving from Anxiety Care UK:
“Avoidance is like retreating from an enemy. We may feel safer to begin with, but we’re letting the enemy get us on the run. And we have to retreat further and further, until we find that a huge slice of our world has been grabbed away from us.”
As Smokey Robinson would say, “I second that emotion.” Avoiding everyday things like driving that frighten us may let us off the hook temporarily, but it comes at a high cost. We’re conditioning our brains to fear those things even more the next time around.
The Key to Success with Driving Anxiety and Agoraphobia
I said in an earlier post that recovering from driving phobia basically comes down to facing our fears. And that’s not always a smooth process. Sometimes, we need to give ourselves permission to fail. We need to learn how to keep trying when we think we can’t do it. And that the only real failure is when we quit trying altogether.
Undoing the hidden connection between agoraphobia and driving can be painful. That’s why we need tools to help us hang in there when the going gets tough. This is what Driving Peace is all about in a nutshell: helping you reclaim a big slice of your world that’s been taken from you. It’s about disconnecting agoraphobia and driving, so that driving becomes…well…just driving. The everyday, ordinary, even boring activity that it really is.
Remember, you can be afraid — very afraid — and still function. Despite how you may feel, there’s always something you can do to make things better.
PS – If you found this article helpful, consider signing up for the Driving Peace newsletter. I have lots more free tips on how to defeat driving phobia successfully. I’ll even send you a free report with strategies to you can use to start feeling better about driving right away.