Tacophobia (speed phobia): symptoms, causes and treatment

Phobias describe very intense and irrational fears, sometimes disabling, that arise when exposed to specific stimuli or situations. They constitute a prevalent group of anxiety disorders, and usually present comorbidly to other problems in the same category (generalized anxiety, for example).

Despite the above, this fear does not usually motivate the consultation of specialists, because who suffers it develops strategies to avoid the scenario in which it usually takes place (so that their interference is minimized).

In some cases, however, it is difficult to avoid such encounters, so that the person’s life deteriorates rapidly in many different areas (which would include academic or work). In this article we will address tacophobia, a specific phobia relatively common in children and adults . Its symptoms, causes and treatment will be detailed; According to current evidence on the issue.

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What is tacophobia?

The term tacophobia comes from the Greek, and more specifically from the words “tachýtita” and “phobos”. The first one refers to speed (a physical measure that describes the variation in the position of a body according to a specific temporal unit) and the second is translated as “fear” or “aversion.” When both come together they form a word designed to describe the experience of phobic fear that occurs when someone is exposed to situations in which he appreciates excessive speed .

One of the nuclear characteristics of all phobias, which serves as a distinctive with respect to normal fear, is its irrational foundation (recognition of its excessive intensity in contrast to the threat posed by the feared stimulus at the objective level).

However, speed can be a real risk , so only fear that prevents essential activities for the development of daily life (getting on a train, traveling by car, etc.) or that is clearly disproportionate (phobic) will be considered phobic. it is triggered even at very low speeds).


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

In severe cases, the fear of speed extends to the most ordinary spaces . For example, an individual could feel intense discomfort at the moment he decided to run, or even when he was exposed to situations in which he would notice that “things happen too quickly.” Episodes of tacophobia have also been described during the observation of an object that moves quickly and / or erratically, although there is no risk of collision with the person who fears it (in a film, for example).

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

Next we will explore some of its central symptoms. For this purpose a distinction will be made between the three basic dimensions of anxiety, namely: cognitive, behavioral and motor.

1. Cognitive expression

People with tacophobia may be worried about the expectation of being exposed to a speed situation. This anxious anticipation prevents trips from taking any means of transport, since they would not be able to predict their mobility. When such a “journey” is inevitable, the sense of threat may extend for weeks or even months, growing as the day on which it is planned to leave approaches.

When the moment arrives, in the middle of the journey, excessive attention emerges to visceral sensations associated with body movement (kinesthetic sensitivity): adjustments in the axis of gravity if traveling on foot, for example. This hypervigilance can also be placed outside, so special attention would be given to the external markers used to “calculate” the relative speed at which we move: broken lines of the road, static objects on the side of the road, etc. Thus, the subject would remain expectant to everything that happened in his body (or outside it) and that could suggest movement.

This sharpening of visual and kinesthetic sensations forms a complex stimulus that is interpreted catastrophically, and excessive with respect to the “real” danger. It is common in this context that thoughts such as “we are going to kill ourselves” or “I will pass out if I do not stop now” arise, which contribute to the threat assessment and the exacerbation of the physiological reactions of fear.

On the other hand, the person usually has irrational beliefs about speed, overestimating the risk of accident despite the fact that propitiatory conditions are not met and feeling unable to tolerate what he fears. These beliefs act as the basis on which concrete thoughts, of a catastrophic type, which were described above are erected.

2. Physiological expression

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

The most common response is an acceleration of breathing (tachypnea) and the heart rate itself (tachycardia), technicalities that make use of the same Hellenic root as the disorder at hand (taqui in this case would mean “fast”). In addition, there is evidence of an increase in pupil diameter (mydriasis) that blurs visual acuity and increases light sensitivity (photophobia). Tremor, sweating and tingling are also usually seen in the distal extremities (especially in the fingers).

In some cases, acute dissociative symptoms come together, which surprise the person by erecting themselves as experiences that are deemed strange or deeply unreal. They emphasize depersonalization (sense of distancing from mental and bodily processes) and de-realization (perception that the environment has changed in some way or 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 avoid them on successive occasions in which they could appear.

In this way, it will make decisions to avoid a situation related to the speed in which the experience was reproduced , which will result in a deep emotional relief in the short term. Such a coping mechanism, however, is what keeps the problem in the medium / long term (by a negative reinforcement system).

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The most common cause for tacophobia is usually, according to the different investigations that have been developed in this regard, to have experienced a traffic accident in which speed was particularly involved. When the origin lies in childhood, very aversive experiences are identified related to sudden movements (fairground or theme park attractions, for example), which precipitate a fear that subsequently extends to vehicles that move more or less quickly (already adulthood itself).

These fears are more common in people who have a biological disposition to anxiety . It seems that the disorder is more prevalent in subjects who show a basic vulnerability, and who have also experienced a difficult situation related to movement. The union of genetics and environment is the axis on which this mental health problem gravitates, although the relative contribution of each one of them is still unknown.

Finally, there is the possibility that this fear is acquired through observational learning (witnessing someone suffering an accident while driving at high speed) or social (assimilating such fear through living with a family member who suffers from it). In any case, those who suffer from tacophobia have something in common: the perception that different mobile elements are subject to chaos and erratism , so they are dangerous and unpredictable.

What is the treatment of tacophobia?

There are effective psychological approaches to tacophobia, usually from cognitive and behavioral models. The one that has shown greater effectiveness is undoubtedly the exhibition, which consists of a programmed (and sometimes gradual) presentation of stimuli related to speed, in order to stimulate changes in expectations about them and in the reactions they cause (by a process of habituation and extinction).

The exhibition can be carried out in many ways: from the use of videos related to speed scenes to guided imagination combined with some activation control technique (such as diaphragmatic breathing or Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation). The latter procedures 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, arranged according to the angiogenic potential attributed to them by the subject (procedure known as systematic desensitization), so that they can be presented in imagination in a structured and orderly manner. Thus, the exhibition would advance from harmless scenes (such as entering a garage) to others much more sensitive and relevant (such as driving on the highway).

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

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