How to Get Over Driving Anxiety

Goda Brzozauskaite
  • Jan 25, 2022
  • 5 min read
frustrated female driver sit inside car with chin on hands scared to drive

Driving is an essential skill of modern times. When you are in the driving seat, you can comfortably cover a long distance at your own pace.

Additionally, this skill allows you to go on exciting road trips and explore the world. But most importantly, it gives you an incredible sense of independence. However, some of us become overwhelmed at the thought of getting behind the wheel.

For some people, the fear is related to operating a vehicle, but a few people can’t even bear to sit on the passenger’s side. Whereas some people are only anxious about driving in certain situations, such as in the rain or fog or through a tunnel.

This fear or avoidance of driving is referred to as driving anxiety. People with this condition suffer extreme distress at the thought of driving and might avoid any situation involving a car. This avoidance might cause disruptions in daily life activities such as commuting. 

If you know or are such a person, you will benefit from this article. We designed this piece to give more information about driving anxiety and techniques to overcome it.

How to Identify Driving Anxiety?

Are you sure you or someone you know have a fear of driving? You can confirm your suspicions by reflecting on your behavior while driving or thinking about it. Some of the symptoms of driving anxiety are:

  • Feeling tense, particularly in your back and neck
  • Feeling on edge or restless
  • Feeling quickly tired during or after a drive
  • Being harsh or cranky with others
  • Having trouble paying attention while driving
  • Having distressing dreams about driving
  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
  • Feelings of panic
  • Feelings of being lost, confused

If not identified and treated, driving anxiety can cause disruptions in life and even result in health problems. Additionally, it might cause mild discomfort to extreme distress depending on how intense the anxiety is.

Why Are You Afraid of Driving?

Before diving into the solutions, it is better to understand the possible causes behind your driving anxiety. Your fear of driving might be due to a horrible past experience or because of thoughts that something might go wrong. Let’s discuss the possible causes behind your intense anxiety while driving.

Experiencing accidents on the road

It makes sense if your phobia results from a car accident. Even seeing an accident on TV or hearing about someone else’s experience can develop fear. Such painful and negative events can create a deep-rooted fear in the individual. It is the most common reason for driving anxiety. But, this is not the only reason behind it.

Driving in extreme weather conditions, such as a storm, is another common cause of stress. Other factors that can increase driving anxiety include getting lost, getting harassed, or becoming a victim of road rage.

Therefore, when people go through an intense experience, they worry that it might happen again the next time they are in the driver's seat.

Having a panic attack

It is not uncommon for people to have a panic attack while driving. It can get intense on the road, especially with heavy traffic and everyone raging. Someone with a history of panic attacks might become afraid that panic attacks will repeat if they drive.

After all, experiencing a panic attack while driving is dangerous for you and others on the road. So, it makes sense some people avoid driving as a result. 

However, if your emotions stop you from living everyday life, practicing to overcome anxiety attacks can definitely help.

Here are some tips for if you get a panic attack while driving:

  • Recognize that you are having a panic attack
  • Let the other passengers know you are having a panic attack and tell them about relaxation techniques that work for you
  • Immediately and safely pull over
  • Turn on your hazard lights
  • Stay in the car and take deep, relaxing breaths
  • Utilize healthy coping mechanisms to calm down

Learning to cope with panic attacks can help lessen or relieve driving anxiety.

Traveling alone

Some people’s anxiety is about driving alone. It might not be a big deal if they are traveling a well-worn route, but they might feel different when traveling to a new place. They might worry about being in situations that they can’t handle independently.

Fear of being alone in an unfamiliar place and not having access to help results in driving anxiety. They might also fear seemingly manageable things like not finding a parking space, running out of petrol, or not getting a signal.

Bad vision

For some, impaired vision is the main reason that causes anxiety while driving. They fear not being able to see the traffic clearly and getting hurt as a result. If you experience blurred vision, dizziness, or unsteadiness – book an eye examination.

What Can Help?

You might be wondering how to overcome driving anxiety after an accident or how to be more comfortable passing crossing bridges. You might also wonder about how to get over driving anxiety fast. Unfortunately, there is no quick driving anxiety treatment – or a quick fix for any other anxiety condition, for that matter.

Luckily, there are ways to overcome driving anxiety. Below are some tips you can try on your own to manage your fear of driving:

1. Try to understand the reason behind your anxiety

You can’t overcome what you don’t know. As mentioned above, your fear might be due to several reasons. Do you experience anxiety about driving on a highway because you experienced or saw an accident or because you don’t feel confident enough?

Whatever the reason may be – you must identify it to take the first step to get over it and drive comfortably.

2. Set achievable goals

You don’t have to force yourself to drive through a tunnel alone if it’s causing you severe driving anxiety. Following a realistic path to overcoming your fear will generate good results. A family member, a friend, or a professional can help you set manageable steps and execute them.

3. Adopt healthy coping mechanisms

Instead of avoiding the situation, it is better to cope with it healthily. Practice deep breathing and muscle relaxing exercises to learn how to calm yourself when driving. Repeatedly practicing deep breathing will help you remember to do so when experiencing driving anxiety.

4. Seek support from friends and family

Social support is helpful in every situation. Others’ presence and encouragement can make a lot of difference in getting better. They can also help you remember to use healthy coping tips, so keep them in the loop about your driving anxiety.

5. Gradually expose yourself to the situation

You don’t have to start driving immediately after a traumatic incident. Start small. First, you could start by looking at driving videos. Then stand near your car. Next, simply sit in the car. If you are comfortable, you can start the car next. 

With the help of gradual exposure, you will eventually realize that nothing bad can happen to you, and you can get back behind the wheel without fear. Exposure is the main treatment for those suffering from driving anxiety.

6. Seek therapy

If you are unable to overcome driving anxiety on your own, you have nothing to be ashamed of. It is okay to seek treatment to overcome your driving anxiety. However, some people find in-person therapy uncomfortable. After all, you have to reach a therapist’s office, and oftentimes the most comfortable way is driving. 

If in-person therapy doesn’t seem too appealing for some reason, you could always try online therapy. 

In online therapy, you are connected with a capable therapist on the same day as filling a sign-up form. You can decide on how to communicate with the therapist from the following options: messages, audio or video calls, messaging sessions.

Online counseling is much more convenient and affordable than traditional face-to-face therapy and just as effective in treating driving anxiety.

Should You Try Therapy?

If you are unable to cope with your driving anxiety, it is time to seek professional help. A therapist can assess your symptoms and design the best treatment plan to help you defeat your anxiety.

Sometimes, people find it hard to overcome driving anxiety on their own because they experience intense physical symptoms such as chest pain, breathing difficulty, etc. Some of these experiences can signal a panic attack. If you are unsure, you can identify a panic attack through the following symptoms:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Excessive sweating
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling choked
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea
  • Chills or heats
  • Numbing or tingling sensation
  • Loss of reality
  • Feeling detached from self
  • Fear of losing control or going “crazy”
  • Fear of dying

If you experience four or more of the above symptoms for a few minutes, you are experiencing a panic attack. 

Therapy is especially important for people suffering from panic attacks, PTSD, or OCD. With the help of a therapist, they can safely and gradually overcome their symptoms. Therapeutic techniques, such as cognitive therapy or panic control therapy, are very effective for driving anxiety. 

The Bottom Line

Driving is an essential skill, but if you are facing extreme driving anxiety, your daily routine, health, and life might be affected. But don’t worry. There is good news for the many people battling this condition: driving anxiety can decrease with practice. 

We hope you have gained a better understanding of how to get over driving anxiety by reading through the tips mentioned in the article. But if you are unable to conquer your fear, you can always opt for therapy. 

Luckily, online therapy is already an option for those who postpone therapy because of the cost, need to travel, or other reasons. If you decide to seek online therapy, we at DoMental are ready to help you overcome your driving anxiety.

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