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Post road traffic accident travel anxiety

By Jacqui Beasley
Rehabilitation Consultant

Following road traffic accident’s many people expect to experience the common symptoms of a whiplash type injury. Neck pain, back pain and the associated symptoms are common place but many people are not familiar with the psychological effects a road traffic accident can have on them.

The most common psychological symptom experienced is that of travel anxiety where either driving or travelling as a passenger in a car or other transport may cause anxiety.

Symptoms of Travel anxiety

  • Palpitations
  • Shakiness
  • Tight feeling in chest – feeling that you cannot breath
  • Panic / panic attacks – a sense of urgency to escape certain situations

Effects of Symptoms

  • Individuals are likely to experience feelings of anxiety when both driving and travelling as a passenger whether that be in a car or a by other means of transport.
  • A feeling of loss of independence is felt by many as their avoidance of travelling in vehicles can leave an individual feeling trapped.
  • Travel anxiety can lead to other concerns or thoughts which were never apparent prior to the accident occurring.
  • Some individuals feel like they are not as happy as they were before the accident. The above points often lead to feelings of unhappiness.

The symptoms outlined above are known as a ‘fight or flight’ reaction. This reaction is a basic survival response triggered in the brain. It stems back to the caveman days when individuals were faced by life-ending threats such as sabre tooth tiger appearing in front of you. The reaction of being faced by this deadly creature released feelings, as mentioned above, which enabled them to fight the threat or muster the energy to flee.

How to treat travel anxiety

The most common and effective treatment is that of focused psychological treatment and can include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR). Many people are familiar with the term CBT and understand that it is used to help the suffering individual to develop an adaptive view of the accident they had.

However, EMDR is not so familiar, so what is it? It is a type of therapy which helps to reprocess memories which are stored in your brain in a dysfunctional and intrusive way.

In order for any therapy to work, the individual suffering has to be desensitised by exposing them to the painful memories of the accident.

How to overcome Travel Anxiety

Don’t avoid it - The act of avoiding something fearful actually increases future fear, because by pushing it back you've created what's known as "negative reinforcement." You've reinforced the fear by avoiding it. If you really want to overcome your travel anxiety, you need to take action and not let yourself fall into the avoidance trap.

Figure Out Your Fears - While you may or may not know what caused your fears, you can often figure out what your fears are. Are you afraid of driving? Are you afraid of death? Figure out what your specific fears are and write them down. Knowing your fears will give you an opportunity to evaluate them.

Be Prepared Way in Advance - Start your journey anxious, and your trip will often remain anxious. Do your best to plan your journey in advance. Have your entire journey planned as best you can too, so that you're never worried about what you're doing.