Once the preserve of the truly neurotic, this particular anxiety is going mainstream and impacting more and more of the population.
You can see it everywhere. A person walks away from their parked car and then some way down the road suddenly turns for another check with their remote control that the car is locked. The car beeps and the lights flash in confirmation. However, the truly afflicted will give the remote control a second press just to make sure or even walk back and give the car handles a tug to confirm that the lock is fully engaged on all doors.
Some not wanting to seem indecisive, shrug at this pang of uncertainty and don’t look back, figuring that thieves are unlikely to be pouncing on their unlocked car at this very minute. They then carry this additional quantum of stress with them for the rest of the day.
The medical profession knows this disorder as “Car Lock Anxiety Disorder” or CLAD. It may impact you, your partner or a friend. Certainly doctors are seeing this as another anxiety that results from the increased stress experienced in the modern world.
Dr Pamela Johnson, consulting psychiatrist, explains the brain chemistry behind what is going on.
“People lead busy lives and we are constantly multi-tasking with work pressures, family issues and our social lives all colliding in our minds. This was not something that our ancestors in the savannahs had to deal with given the slow changes of the seasons.
“Also humans are not hard wired for the use of technology, so sometimes actions as simple as clicking a button don’t get registered in the brain as ‘task done’ causing anxiety shortly after as to whether the task was completed or not,” she explains.
“The part of the brain that deals with safety and security is the cerebellum in the rear part of the brain and it seems to operate at a deliberately slow pace. Thus we see that the peak anxiety moment is felt between 30 and 40 seconds after the action takes place.
“We have demonstrated this time delay in the lab but you can also see it in the street. People get between 35 and 45 meters from their car before turning around and checking it is locked with their remote control. This is right on the range limit of most remote controls creating additional uncertainty.
“The cerebellum prompts the cerebral cortex or “conscious brain” asking whether the door is actually locked. The conscious brain does not have a confident memory of the lock event thus creating uncertainty and confusion between the two parts of the brain. This is the trigger for the anxiety and the desire for a checking action.
“Doctors prefer to avoid drugs in the treatment of CLAD and they typically teach patients to follow a ritual on leaving the car that will create a positive habit of car locking affirmation,” advises Dr Johnson.
If you are one of the many CLAD sufferers, you might want to try the ritual that is often prescribed by Dr Johnson. On leaving the car, face the closed door and deliberately press the remote control saying the following affirmation: “I am boss of the car and I am locking you now. All doors locked”. Then walk away confidently repeating, “I am good at locking car doors.”
It is now common to see people in city centres and suburbs performing these rituals with a smile on their faces and at peace with themselves. There is even an internet forum for recovered and recovering CLAD sufferers called bossofthecar.com.