Fear is like that overprotective, overbearing relative. It tells you it has your best interests at heart, but its methods are a little OTT. It tells you all the things that could go wrong and advises you to just steer clear.
It’s one of the most human emotions, fear, and it could actually be pretty dangerous if we didn’t have it. I listened to a brilliant episode of the Invisibilia podcast recently (‘fearless’) and they talked to a woman who could not feel fear and discovered the pitfalls of this.
So fear is necessary, but what happens when it gets in the way of everyday life? When it overwhelms you?
Stuff that scares me
There’s quite a few things that scare me on the regular. These include:
- Driving new routes
- Parking anywhere but a lovely empty car park
- Small spaces
Just a few things then. When I had CBT for anxiety recently, I mentioned my driving anxiety and my therapist gave me some really helpful tips.
At the time I was more concerned with getting my everyday low-level anxiety under control before facing any bigger fears, so I’ve kept the tips in the back of my mind for when I feel ready to tackle them – which I’m hoping will be very soon.
The techniques my therapist spoke to me about were: decatastrophising, graded exposure and no safety behaviours. Let’s break that down:
This is when you allow yourself to actually think about the worst case scenario and make a plan for if that happened. For me and my driving anxiety, the worst case scenario that I thought was likely, was me getting lost, panicking and then crashing.
So I started off by giving my fear a percentage out of 100 (about 70%) and how likely I thought it was to happen (about 50%). My therapist asked if I had ever crashed before in my three years of driving, I said no.
She said immediately that 50% stat was wrong then and I agreed (maths isn’t my strong suit). We talked about a past experience of getting lost and what I did then (called a friend to meet me) and how that worked out (fine).
We then discussed what I would do if I crashed.
I listed all the things I would do, call 999 if someone was hurt, call the RAC, get insurance details and call my dad (because well, dads always know what to do, right?).
After going through all this I graded my fear again (down to 40%) and how likely I thought that it would happen (about 20%). It sounds simple, but often when we’re really frightened of something we don’t even allow ourselves to think of what we would do if it happened and usually it’s nowhere near as terrifying as we think.
This means taking things one step at a time and increasing the activity that scares you slowly. So for me this means taking short drives on routes I’ve never done before and building up to longer and longer ones.
At this point I mentioned to my therapist that I feel better doing new routes with someone in the car. And this, apparently, is called a safety behaviour.
No safety behaviours
Safety behaviours are when you give yourself a safety net, so it feels like you’re making progress… but you’re not really. While I thought I was being super brave driving new routes with other people in the car, really I was relying on them to tell me which way to go and be my emotional support.
Going out alone was much scarier, but would be the best way to really tackle this fear.
The next step
So far I haven’t done any drives. Things are still pretty full on right now, and I’m trying to be gentle with myself and not trigger any relapses so have decided that I’ll tackle my driving anxiety in the new year.
It’s something that is getting worse the more I put it off so I’m determined this year will be my year to feel calmer when driving. Do you have any fears or anxieties you’re keen to tackle in 2018?
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