Tachophobia (phobia of speed): symptoms, causes and treatment

Phobias describe very intense and irrational, sometimes disabling fears that arise when we are exposed to specific stimuli or situations. They are a common group of anxiety disorders, and usually present co-morbidly with other problems in the same category (generalized anxiety, for example).

Despite the above, this fear usually does not motivate the consultation of specialists, as the victim develops strategies to avoid the scenario in which it usually takes place (thereby minimizing their interference).

In some cases, however, it is difficult to avoid such encounters, so a person’s life quickly deteriorates in many different areas (including education or employment). In this article we will discuss tachophobia, a specific phobia relatively common in children and adults. Its symptoms, causes and treatment will be detailed; according to the current evidence on the matter.

    What is tachophobia?

    The term tachophobia comes from the Greek, and more precisely from the words “tachýtita” and “phobos”. The first refers to speed (a physical measure that describes how a body’s position changes over a specific unit of time) and the second translates to “fear” or “aversion.” When the two meet, they form a word intended to describe the experience of phobic fear that occurs when someone is exposed to situations where excessive speed is seen.

    One of the nuclear characteristics of all phobias, which characterizes normal fear, is its irrational basis (recognition of its excessive intensity as opposed to the threat posed by the dreaded stimulus at the objective level).

    however, speed can present a real risk, So that only fears which hinder activities essential to the development of daily life (boarding a train, traveling by car, etc.) or which are clearly disproportionate (triggered even at very low speeds) will be considered as phobic.


    Symptoms of tachophobia appear when the subject participates in activities that involve exposure to high speeds. These can be very varied, and include both those in which you have an active role (driving for example) and those which involve an attitude of greater passivity (climbing a roller coaster, occupying the position of co-pilot, traveling in train or plane)., etc.). Thus, it is a fear that goes beyond insecurity to lose control and consequently suffer an accident, as in amaxophobia.

    In severe cases, the fear of speed spreads in the most ordinary spaces. For example, a person may experience intense discomfort the moment they decide to run, or even when exposed to situations where they notice that “things are happening too fast”. Episodes of tachophobia have also been described when observing an object that moves quickly and / or erratically, although there is no risk of collision with the person who is afraid of it (in a movie, for example).

    In conclusion, tachophobia involves intense fear responses in which speed is the protagonist, especially when the body is exposed to a process of increasing acceleration.

    We will then explore some of its central symptoms. To this end, a distinction will be made between the three fundamental dimensions of anxiety, namely: cognitive, behavioral and motor.

    1. Cognitive expression

    People with tachophobia may be concerned about the expectation of being exposed to a speeding situation. This anxious anticipation prevents them from making trips in which it is necessary to use certain means of transport, because they would not be able to foresee their mobility. When such a “trip” is inevitable, the sense of threat can stretch for weeks or even months, growing as the day you plan to leave approaches.

    When the time comes, on the way, excessive attention to visceral sensations associated with body movements emerges (Kinesthetic Sensitivity): Adjustments to the axis of gravity when moving on foot, for example. This hypervigilance can also be placed on the outside, so special attention would be paid to the external markers used to “calculate” the relative speed at which we are moving: dotted lines in the road, static objects on the side of the track, etc. . Thus, the subject would continue to wait for everything to happen in their body (or outside of it) and this could suggest movement.

    this one sharpening of visual and kinesthetic sensations it forms a complex stimulus interpreted in a catastrophic way and excessive in relation to the “real” danger. It is common in this context that thoughts arise such as “we will kill each other” or “I will pass out if I don’t stop already”, which contribute to the threat assessment and to the exacerbation of physiological responses. of fear.

    On the other hand, the person often harbored irrational beliefs about speed, overestimating the risk of an accident when they did not meet the favorable conditions and felt an inability to tolerate what they feared. These beliefs act as the foundation upon which the concrete, catastrophic-type thoughts that have been described above are built.

    2. Physiological expression

    The bodily sensations experienced by the person are similar to those of an anxiety attack (Panic), and are the result of sympathetic hyperactivation (the branch of the autonomic nervous system that detonates fight-or-flight responses when perceiving a risky situation). It is a very disturbing experience for those who feel it. In the case of this phobia, the reaction of dizziness or vertigo exacerbates the fear, as it is experienced as a subjective movement.

    The most common response is an increased breathing (tachypnea) and heart rate (tachycardia), techniques that use the same Hellenic root as the disorder we are dealing with.). In addition, there is evidence of an increase in pupillary diameter (mydriasis) which obscures visual acuity and increases sensitivity to light (photophobia). He also often observes tremors, sweating and tingling in the distal area of ​​the extremities (Especially on the fingers).

    In some cases, acute dissociative symptoms can occur, which surprises the person to stand up as experiences considered strange or deeply unreal. They emphasize the depersonalization (sensation of distance in relation to the mental and bodily processes) and the desrrealización (perception that the surroundings have changed of some way or that it has lost its distinctive quality).

    3. Motor expression

    The cognitive and physiological experiences that have been described so far are so aversive that the person makes a deliberate effort to escape them on successive occasions when they may appear.

    This way, will make decisions to avoid a situation related to the speed at which the experiment is reproduced, Which will result in deep emotional relief in the short term. Such a coping mechanism, however, is what keeps the problem at bay in the medium / long term (through a negative reinforcement system).

      the causes

      The most common cause of tachophobia is generally, according to the various surveys that have been developed in this regard, to have suffered a traffic accident in which speed was particularly involved. When the origin is in childhood, very aversive experiences related to sudden movements are identified (fairground attractions or theme parks, for example), which precipitates a fear that later spreads to vehicles that move more. or slower (already adulthood itself).

      these fears they are more common in people who have a biological disposition to anxiety. The disorder appears to be more common in people with underlying vulnerability, and who also experienced a difficult situation related to the movement. The union of genetics and the environment is the axis on which this mental health problem revolves, although the relative contribution of each of them is still unknown.

      Finally, it is possible that this fear is acquired through observational learning (witnessing a person victim of an accident while driving at high speed) or social (assimilating such a fear while living with a member of the family who suffers from it). . Either way, those who suffer from tachophobia have something in common: the perception that the different moving elements are subject to chaos and erraticismThey are therefore dangerous and unpredictable.

      What is the treatment for tachophobia?

      There are effective psychological approaches to tachophobia, usually from cognitive and behavioral models. What has shown the greatest effectiveness is undoubtedly exposure, which consists of a programmed (and sometimes gradual) presentation of speed-related stimuli, in order to stimulate changes in expectations and reactions to them. they provoke (by a process of habituation and extinction).

      Exposure can be achieved in a number of ways: from using videos related to speed scenes to guided imagination combined with an activation control technique (like diaphragmatic breathing or Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation).) . These last procedures they are designed to stimulate the action of the parasympathetic nervous system, Which opposes that of the sympathetic and promotes a state of relaxation.

      It may also be useful to design a hierarchy of speed-related situations, ordered by the anxiety potential attributed to them by the subject (so-called systematic desensitization procedure), so that they can be presented in the imagination in a structured and orderly manner. . like that, the preliminary exposure of harmless scenes (How to get into a garage) to much more sensitive and relevant ones (like driving on the freeway).

      Finally, it can be very important to carry out cognitive restructuring strategies aimed at detecting irrational thoughts linked to the emotion of fear, and thus being able to replace them with others more in phase with objective reality (rational debate). The process involves an exploration of the inner life and certain conceptions that have been forged over the years; so it may take time and the use of tools to record the situation, thought and emotion.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Maples-Keller, JL, Yasinski, C., Manjin, N. and Olasov, B. (2007). Improved extinction of virtual reality phobias and post-traumatic stress. Neurotherapy, 14 (3), 554-563.
      • Steimer, T. (2002). Behaviors related to the biology of fear and anxiety. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 4 (3), 231-249.

      Leave a Comment