In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Amaxophobia.
What is Amaxophobia?
Amaxophobia is the fear of driving a car, and someone with this phobia may find themselves utterly paralysed at the mere thought of getting into a car and getting somewhere. Someone with amaxophobia may experience extreme anxiety that sometimes they may not even want to get in a car when they are not the drivers.
An irrational fear of riding a car is called as Amaxophobia. It is a type of specific phobia which comes under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V.
Someone suffering from it will experience extreme anxiety when exposed to cars.
Not just the exposure, but a mere thought of riding in a car can instigate anxiety and terror.
If this anxiety worsens, one can also experience full-blown panic attacks.
People suffering from Amaxophobia will avoid riding in a car or getting exposed to it. They will make all efforts in order to escape the anxiety this phobia causes.
This act of avoidance maintains their phobia because of the pleasant feelings it produces.
However, these repeated acts can turn into compulsions and therefore, one can have OCD.
As the DSM-V suggests, this extreme anxiety and avoidance affects one’s social and occupational functioning.
For example, sufferers will restrain themselves from travelling in a car for travelling to school or otherwise. They will prefer any other mode of transport or walk to commute.
They might reach school and or office late, which can put their careers at stake.
The family members can get exhausted because of the trouble they face while assisting the sufferer in other transport mediums.
Amaxophobia is the irrational fear of riding in a car.
Also known as Motorphobia or Hamaxophobia, one suffering from this type of specific phobia is afraid of getting killed or injured in a car accident.
Symptoms of Amaxophobia
Like in the case of all other specific phobias, Amaxophobia too has anxiety as its focal symptom.
Individuals suffering from an irrational fear of riding a car suffer from extreme anxiety which, as mentioned earlier, can result in one having panic attacks.
When one undergoes extreme anxiety, the body experiences other physiological symptoms as well. Such as increased heart rate or palpitations.
When the sufferer thinks he is around his fear stimuli, he goes into flight or fight mode because of an adrenaline rush.
In this state, the body’s physiological responses help one make decisions when in fear causing situations.
They either decide to escape the situation (flight)-faint or suffer from panic attacks or stay and combat their fear (fight)-by taking counterproductive actions.
Amaxophobia, being the fear of riding a car is experienced by individuals in different ways.
One might also have more severe symptoms than the other, based on their past experiences and intensity of the phobia.
Though, as the DSM-5 suggests, one must experience anxiety lasting for at least 6-months.
Symptoms one experiences in Amaxophobia are:
- Excessive anxiety when exposed to cars
- Excessive anxiety when thinking about riding a car
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Avoiding places or situations where one might encounter cars
- Increased heart beat
- Muscle tension
- Feelings of dizziness/fainting
- Fear of an impending doom
- Excessive sweating
- Hot/cold flashes
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Drying up of the mouth
For one to be diagnosed with Amaxophobia, a person should experience at least 3-5 of these symptoms (including anxiety).
Causes of Amaxophobia
Amaxophobia, like all other phobias, has no known cause. In this phobia, one is fearful of riding a car for the fear of getting injured or killed.
These types of phobias can be a result of a number of factors such as biological (genetics) and or environmental (past experiences or social learning).
Genetics refers to the genes and neurotransmitters in our body.
Someone with a family history of a phobia/mental disorder has a higher chance of having the same or different disorder in the future.
This is because the genes of the parents are transferred to their children, thus any alteration in the genes of one’s parents is inherited by the child.
This genetic tendency to develop a mental disorder/specific phobia can also be referred to as a Diathesis-stress relationship.
According to this, one with a genetic predisposition will not develop symptoms of Amaxophobia until and unless there is some trigger event.
This trigger event can be a past traumatic experience. For example, someone might’ve gone through a near to death experience in a car or heard someone had a bad journey.
Someone suffering from Amaxophobia may have developed this fear because they lost their loved one in a car accident.
Other reasons can be media reports and stats.
An individual can develop Amaxophobia because of news stories about car accidents or the number of people who lose their lives in these incidents.
Thus, genetics and environmental factors, both play a significant role in causing Amaxophobia.
Treatment of Amaxophobia
Amaxophobia, like all other specific phobias, has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other phobias, Amaxophobia is treated by a number of different therapies including, Exposure Therapy, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and or medications that lower downs the anxiety or other physical symptoms.
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatments for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders.
Amaxophobia is defined as the irrational fear of cars. Thus, the therapist helps the patient in replacing these irrational thoughts with more rational ones.
The patients are helped out in analyzing and justifying the way they feel about getting exposed to cars.
Therapists assist them in uncovering the reasons behind their fear and later they provide them with alternate, pleasant thoughts.
The patient is told to maintain a thought diary (with ABCD column) which provides them a replacement for every irrational thought they have, when thinking about a particular situation.
The ABCD stands for:
i. A (antecedents) a situation or triggering event.
ii. B (belief) the thought that comes to one’s mind when in that triggering situation.
iii. C (consequences) the symptoms/feelings caused by that event/thought
iv. D (dispute) alternate, rational thoughts provided by the therapist in an attempt to dispute/challenge those irrational beliefs.
This last section of the thought diary is what really plays a role in helping the person feel good/less anxious.
• Exposure Therapy
It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Amaxophobia (or any other kind of specific phobia).
In this therapy, the patient is exposed to the source of his fear over a certain span of time.
To begin with the therapy, the therapist exposes the patient to the least triggering stimuli, a picture of a car, for example.
As the therapy progresses and the patient is able to control his anxious feelings, imagery can be used to take the treatment a step further.
In this part of the treatment the patient is asked to visualize/imagine a situation in which he is riding in a car.
During this process of imagery, one actually feels being in that particular situation or place, experiencing various senses.
Once the person successfully, without feeling anxious clears this step of the therapy, he is then exposed to a real car.
While the patient is being exposed to different intensities of stimuli during the various stages of therapy, the therapist simultaneously teaches them coping exercises.
These include, breathing techniques or muscle relaxation methods to lower their anxiety, when in an actual fear/anxiety causing situation.
This teaches them how to remain calm when exposed to the fear stimuli.
Before actually starting the exposure therapy, the therapist needs to figure out the intensity of the patient’s fear, as to deduce whether they will be able to undergo this treatment, without any physical or psychological harm caused to them during the exposure processes.
However, these steps desensitize one to their fear of cars, by exposing them to that stimuli repeatedly, until they learn to undergo the situation without anxiety/panic attacks.
• Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is a meditation therapy, used to manage stress or anxiety. It is an 8-week program which includes group sessions.
Mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga are practiced in these sessions. Lectures and group discussions are also done to talk about mental health and increase interactivity.
In mindfulness meditation the person is told to, for example, focus on the sensations felt while breathing or the rhythm of the chest rising and falling during the process.
This distracts the person’s attention from something stressful to something which is neutral and soothing.
For quick and effective treatment, patients are also given a set of home works, for example 45 minutes of yoga and meditation sessions for 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15 minutes a day.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Amaxophobia.
It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients suffering from this type of phobia.
Coping skills are taught in the DBT group which lasts for about 6-months and can have a number of people (depending on how many join the group).
i. Half-smiling is the first module of DBT. It is a technique that is used with patients who are distressed because of their irrational thoughts.
The technique is known as ‘Half-smiling’ because the person is first advised to think about the stimuli that fears or upsets them, and while doing so they are told to lift the corners of their mouths by subtly smiling.
Smiling is not that will help one get rid of these unpleasant thoughts, it is the person’s ability to constrain itself from thinking about those thoughts while half smiling.
ii. Mindfulness, the second module, is another technique used in DBT groups which helps the individual in getting rid of those negative thoughts.
Individuals are told to focus on the present and be attentive to what is going on around them at the moment.
This helps in breaking the link between their mind and any negative thought that might come to them then.
For example, a person is told to focus on his breath or on the smell of a certain food presented to them, making use of their olfactory sense.
iii. The third technique or module of the DBT is distress tolerance skills. This module teaches people to calm themselves down in healthy ways when they are distressed or emotionally overwhelmed.
Individuals are allowed to make wise, rational decisions and take immediate action, rather than being captured by emotionally destructive thoughts that might make the situation worse.
Reality acceptance skills are also learnt under this model so that people fully accept reality and later make plans on how to address the problem.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Amaxophobia, instead they are one of the most common ways of relaxation used by many people.
Yoga tends to stimulate the meditative state of one’s mind while the person is in a particular yoga posture.
Through yoga/meditation the mind is diverted towards something more productive and calm, allowing the person to escape the negative, distress causing thoughts.
Out of a number of yoga types, one can benefit from any yoga type/pose they like. Hatha yoga is one of the different types of yoga.
The breathing techniques or the imagery one creates while in a yoga posture are the real factors that makes the person feel less anxious and diverts their mind, away from the thoughts about their fear.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Amaxophobia.
Drugs are very quick in effectiveness, as they start showing progress in the patients’ health at least 2 weeks after the medicine is taken.
This type of biological treatment is usually more effective if the cause of the phobia is only genetic.
However, these drugs/medicines are not to be taken without a doctor’s prescription or consultation.
Two types of drugs are used in the treatment of this phobia:
i. Anti-anxiety Drugs
Medicines like Klonopin are anti-anxiety drugs.
They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers their anxiety by binding to receptor cells of the brain that cause these unpleasant symptoms.
ii. Antidepressant Drugs
These drugs, as the name suggests don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias.
Medicines like Paxil reduce the anxious feelings of a person and makes him feel calm. They need to be taken on a daily basis but not without a doctor’s advice.
Whether the cause of Amaxophobia, or any other type of specific phobia is genetics, environmental or both, the best and the most effective way of treating them is by using a combination of both biological treatments (drugs) with cognitive treatment (for example CBT/exposure therapy).
Titles to read
- Powerful Calm, Release Anxiety, Stress, Worry & Fear: Train Your Mind with Energizing Music & Affirmations
by Jupiter Productions, Anna Thompson, et al.
by Jennifer Allwood and Zondervan
by Margie Warrell
by Reneau Peurifoy
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) What causes Amaxophobia?
A genetic predisposition and environmental factors play significantly equal roles in causing Amaxophobia.
Q2) How do you cure Amaxophobia?
By using a number of therapies like CBT, DBT, exposure therapy and or medicinal drugs, one can be treated.
Q3) How can a passenger get over car anxiety?
Don’t focus on the negative thoughts that arise in one’s mind.
Distract yourself by reading a book, listening to music or conversing with the driver.
Q4) Do I have Amaxophobia?
If one suffers from extreme anxiety, panic attacks, muscle tension, nausea, breathlessness, including other symptoms.
One can be diagnosed with Amaxophobia.
Below is a complete list of all Phobias which we currently cover.