Driving Anxiety: Signs, Causes, and Ways to Treat It

This is a drawing of a girl having driving anxiety

Driving Anxiety

How to deal with driving anxiety

Driving anxiety is ruining my life. Is this something you can relate to? Being an anxious driver or having a driving phobia are best helped by counselling and phobia support groups. But until then, here are several tips to help you cope with panic attacks while driving.

Here is Driving Anxiety: Signs, Causes, and Ways to Treat It.

In today’s blog I am going to help you navigate the road of anxiety, while behind the steering wheel. In giving you as much helpful information as I can, you will learn…

Welcome to today’s blog, where I will be talking about driving anxiety, a subject all of us can relate to in some way. We will also go over the signs and causes of driving anxiety and discuss ways to overcome our fear of driving.

Have you ever been in a car accident or know someone who has? A traumatic experience like this can likely contribute to a driving phobia, an intense and persistent fear of driving or riding in a motorized vehicle. While it is common for most of us to attribute driving anxiety to an experience like an accident, this isn’t the only cause of anxiety while driving.

Just like general anxiety, there are many ways and reasons why people experience driving anxiety. You may be someone who feels anxious driving at night or over bridges or feel afraid to drive because you do not trust other drivers on the road.

When you have driving anxiety, in some cases, you can attribute it to specific scenarios or reasons. Still, most people with driving anxiety have a generalized fear of something bad happening on the road. Some people even experience driving anxiety when they are not driving at all. In either case, some drivers with a driving phobia will avoid driving altogether due to the significant distress over the idea of driving.

Do you remember the day you first got your license? You likely didn’t have a care in the world (well, hopefully, some), except that you wanted to get to your high school football team’s away game on time or at least without getting lost. Being in that car alone, feeling totally free, was probably the most exhilarating moment of your teenage life – I know it was for me.

Only, somewhere along the way, that feeling of being unrestrained took an opposite turn. The driving anxiety you have developed now makes you feel incredibly tense. What once felt like a privilege now feels like a prison because you can’t stop thinking or worrying about the possibility of you or someone else dying when you’re on the road.

I understand how it feels to miss that freeing feeling, and by that, I don’t just mean the feeling of driving alone for the first time. Vehicles do not only get us from point A to point B. Instead, cars are one of the greatest conduits of our freedom as human beings.

So today, I am opening up about a different kind of anxiety – one that anyone can experience despite having any formal diagnoses or history of anxiety. Driving anxiety is real and scary, especially when you consider that increased anxiety levels while driving can potentially increase the likelihood of a negative outcome on the road.

I want to help you address your driving phobia so you can move forward and live a normal, social, productive, errand-running life. Even if we only get as far as acknowledging your driving anxiety today and sitting with that discomfort for a little while, that’s completely okay – it would be a step in a positive direction.

What are the symptoms of driving anxiety?

A fear of driving can cause similar symptoms as general anxiety. It is important to note if you experience any of the following symptoms while driving or even thinking about driving:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweaty palms
  • Racing heart
  • Dry mouth
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Disorientation
  • Intense desire to not be in the car
  • Persistent panic
  • Excessive fear
  • Panic attacks
  • Distress
  • Avoidance of driving

While these symptoms are similar to anxiety in general, the difference is that driving is the trigger. But you may be wondering what else other than past experiences and untrustworthy drivers (let’s be honest, some people have a blatant disregard for the rules of the road) could cause driving anxiety, so we will go over more about that too.

What causes driving anxiety?

Many people who have driving anxiety have it because they fear getting into a fatal car accident, whether or not they have ever been in one. But some people can develop a driving phobia if they are generally a more nervous or anxious person.

The following are a few other possible causes and fears that can contribute to driving anxiety:

  • Getting or being lost
  • Seeing an accident on TV or the news
  • Knowing someone who has been in a car accident
  • Lack of confidence in your driving abilities
  • Having to merge or change lanes
  • Lack of trust in others on the road
  • Navigating harsh weather
  • Driving through heavy traffic
  • Traveling with or as a passenger
  • Specific situations like driving at night, through tunnels, on windy roads, or at high speeds

Out of all these possible causes, you might be surprised to learn that one of the most common causes of driving phobia is a fear of experiencing a panic attack while driving.

In some cases, people avoid driving and have a driving phobia because they have had a panic attack while driving before and now have a considerable fear of it happening to them again. But it’s important to bring this up even for those who have not, because experiencing some of the anxiety symptoms above can actually cause a panic attack while driving!

How to overcome anxiety

Overcoming anxiety is no easy feat, but it possible. As I mentioned earlier, people who have never struggled with anxiety before can experience driving anxiety. And when they do, they may be at a loss for how to overcome it. In either case, here are a few things you can try:

Breathe

Instead of just breathing, try focusing on your breath. Notice it as it travels from your belly to your ribcage then your upper chest. Follow it as it travels back in the opposite direction when you exhale. This is known as a three-part breath, but there are dozens of techniques you can try, including counting as you breathe.


Learn more about yourself

Learning more about yourself includes learning more about your fear. Try keeping a journal or diary and read over what you wrote at the end of each week. The reflection element of this is key because it will help you to identify unhelpful patterns in how you think. 
But also know that your daily writing doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. Your journal can serve as a simple notepad to jot down moments when you feel anxious, explaining briefly what happened or what you think caused it. Add this into your morning routine.

Face your fear

Avoiding your fear typically only makes anxiety worse. We all do this at times because we like the immediate relief we get from not having to engage, but each time we practice avoidance, we contribute to the growth of our long-term anxiety.

Try exposing yourself to your fears instead, and you will likely find that the worry you experienced beforehand was much more profound than when you were in that moment.

How to reduce anxiety while driving

Make Minor Adjustments

It’s sometimes the things that seem the most subtle that yield the most significant changes. So while you can’t exactly pause to close your eyes and breathe while driving, there are small adjustments you can make to your body to help convey to your mind that it’s time to calm down.

If you experience anxiety while driving, start by taking some deep breaths. Roll your shoulders up, back, down, and away from your ears, eliminating the tension. Release the tension in your eyes, in between your eyes, and in your jaw and face.

Focus your attention on your symptoms

Does your face feel hot or your palms sweaty? Crank up the AC to find some relief through the cool air and a little more airflow.

Try not to think about the thought behind the fear or the fear itself and attend to your physical symptoms. Remind yourself that the physical symptoms will dissipate as they eventually always do.

Keep your candy handy

While in another blog, I talk about the impact of your gut and what you eat on your anxiety, everything is fine in moderation. In fact it’s more than fine it helps keep your senses occupied.

When you travel, bring a candy you can suck on, a cold drink to sip, or gum to chew. Any of these can help you channel your focus on something other than your panic and driving anxiety.

How do I stop driving anxiety?

If you can continue safely, keep pushing through your anxiety while driving. You can come to realize that you are capable of driving without something bad happening to you or anyone else. In other words, if you want to stop driving anxiety, do not stop driving.

Is driving anxiety common?

Many people avoid driving because they have driving anxiety and not because they don’t want to drive. It’s normal to dread getting behind the wheel after all you have learned about the probable dangers of driving. But there are ways to overcome this, and you can have freedom without fear.

Driving anxiety conclusion

The biggest thing I want you to take away from this post is that you are not alone, many people all over the world have driving anxiety.

The best thing you can do is reach out to your therapist and talk through a plan with them to get better in time. If your unsure about what to say to your therapist or are going for the first time, check out our What To Say in Therapy post.

Please leave any questions and comments below, they can help others as well as yourself.

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