If you experience anxiety while in the car or behind the wheel, you’re not alone. Driving anxiety is a common affliction among adults and can range from low-level discomfort to a full-on phobia. The good news is, most fear around driving is irrational and there are many strategies available to help reduce your apprehension. Whatever your hesitations around driving, this blog will help you identify the source and foster a healthy mindset behind the wheel.

Do you struggle with driving anxiety?

Driving anxiety becomes a problem when it starts interfering with your life. The fear can manifest in many ways, from general discomfort behind the wheel to specific fears, such as rush hour, freeways, intersections or bridges. If you find yourself avoiding where or when you drive to escape discomfort, your anxiety is interfering with your life.

Possible triggers

There are many reasons why someone might experience a fear of driving. Lack of confidence is one common cause and is most likely to affect those who lack driving experience. This type of driver might worry about getting into an accident, but they might also fear aggravating other drivers. This can result in a self-fulfilling prophecy where the driver’s anxiety causes them to make the mistakes they were afraid of in the first place, and the cycle continues.

Panic attacks, or the fear of having a panic attack behind the wheel, is an even more serious form of driving anxiety. This fear usually affects those who have experienced panic attacks outside of driving. They might be too afraid to drive, even if their driving record is flawless. This article from Healthline has more information on panic and anxiety disorders and how they manifest while driving.

Another factor that can cause someone to experience driving anxiety is if they’ve been in an accident before. This can lead to avoidance which can enhance one’s fear of driving as they opt to avoid it altogether. The longer one goes without driving, the more the fear builds and the harder it is to get back behind the wheel.

Resolving your fears

Desensitization

If the thought alone of driving sets you off, desensitization can be an effective method for dealing with your fear. This approach requires exposure over time using baby steps. Start by sitting behind the wheel of a parked car in a safe, low-anxiety location. Gradually move up to sitting in a parked vehicle with the engine running, then parking the car, then driving short distances. The key to desensitization is not moving on to the next step until you are completely comfortable with that current one. Taking a couple of driving lessons can also be incredibly helpful.

Limit your caffeine intake 

Caffeine is known to trigger anxiety. Limiting or stopping drinking caffeine altogether can help reduce driving anxiety. Make sure you’re eating well before getting behind the wheel which will keep your blood sugar levels balanced (another factor that can trigger anxiety).

Relaxation techniques

Taking the time to relax before driving can make a big difference in calming your nerves. Some relaxation techniques that can be helpful include spending a few minutes meditating before starting the car or focusing on your breathing. It might sound counter-intuitive, but another technique to help conquer your anxiety is to welcome it. If you want to feel it and you really invite it in, it will lose its power.

Using positive affirmations can also be a useful tool for tackling fear of driving. Instead of dwelling on your doubts and insecurities around it, tell yourself you can do it. Write down and recite the positive affirmations and really believe them when you say them.

Manage stress in the rest of your life

Having a healthy mindset towards driving can only happen if you’re healthy in the rest of your life. Make sure to get enough sleep, exercise regularly and do what you can to manage your stress levels. Practicing yoga and meditation can help bring calmness to the rest of your life as well as your mentality towards driving.

Talk to a specialist

If all else fails and your driving anxiety continues to interfere with your life, it’s time to talk to a therapist. Remember that driving should be a fun and engaging experience, not a stressful or high-anxiety activity.