Do you suffer from anxiety as soon as you get behind the wheel? You’re not alone — thousands of people experience anxiety while driving. Driving can be stressful, tense, and strained depending on how you deal with your emotions but you can overcome driving anxiety! The first step in reducing and overcoming your anxiety while driving is going to be knowing and accepting what your anxiety is — and there’s zero shame in it.
In this post, we’re looking at various ways to help eliminate and reduce anxiety while driving by looking at a few simple ways to relax, de-stress, and even enjoy the process of learning to drive.
Acknowledge Your Anxiety
First things first - there’s little sense in continuing to deny your anxiety. Driving anxiety can manifest itself in many ways. You may experience the jitters, shakiness, mental cloudiness, nausea, or all-out nervousness. Meanwhile, emotional anxiety can mean having a feeling or dread, or full-fledged fear of driving. Physically, maybe you sweat or get a headache. All of that is A-OK.
Anxiety can stem from negative or traumatic past experiences, stories from loved ones, driving through a bad storm or weather event that you’ve never forgotten, or even getting lost in a strange place. When your driving anxiety can spring up when you remember those feelings of nervousness or pent-up emotion - those repetitive thoughts may only make it worse.
When you’re able to sit back and truthfully say "hey, I think I have anxiety about driving,” you’ve taken the first step in correcting and combatting your uncertainty. Admitting it to yourself is cleansing, refreshing, and relieves a massive weight you may have been building up over time. Acknowledging it is powerful.
Talk about anxiety
Next up is to find a way to articulate your anxiety. Finding someone to talk to is an incredible way to help disarm your anxiety and make it work for you. Addressing your mental health issues is never easy, but learning to change the ways we talk about our pitfalls as drivers is an excellent way to make the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel that much easier to see.
Consider first talking to a friend or spouse about your feeling of anxiousness while driving. Let them know when, where, and why you’re having these feelings - and ask them if they think they have an idea as to how to deal with it. Ask them if they’ve ever felt the same way (we bet this answer may surprise you).
If you think it’s warranted, also consider speaking to a professional by seeking the help of a certified driving instructor, a psychotherapist, or a psychologist about your anxious driving habits.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a short-term form of professional therapy that may help anxious drivers because of its unique approach to conquering fear. The CBT therapist may ask you to write down the reasons you want to conquer your fear of driving, then they’ll help you deal with our thoughts surrounding accidents, traumatic events, feelings of nervousness, etc. while teaching you the skills you need to calm your body and quiet the mind - pivotal to finding a way to face the fear.
PRE-TRIP calming RITUAL
Finding your zen behind the wheel often begins well before you find yourself in the car. Having a peace-inducing pre-trip ritual is a great way to help regulate your emotions and settle your mind in check before turning the ignition.
Begin with calming your mind and learning to speak to yourself differently. Rather than thinking about how nervous you are, start this calming ritual by thinking about how fortunate you are to live in a place with such comprehensive road rules, reasonable speed limits, and professional emergency service staff that are trained to assist in nearly every conceivable driving situation. Remember that cars have never been safer than they are today.
Try yoga or meditation before you have to drive each day. Listen to podcasts or practice mindfulness while you're behind the wheel. Go to the gym, take a walk, make time for a relaxing morning coffee - anything that can provide you with time to focus on you, your emotional well-being, and your sense of zen. While you are driving, conduct deep breathing exercises to help regulate your physical self and eliminate those feelings of pent up anxiousness. The key here is taking advantage of anything you know brings peace to your soul.
DRIVING IN A SAFE SPACE
It’s incredibly difficult to overcome a fear which you don’t participate in - so one of the most powerful things we can tell you is to never avoid driving. Consider having someone, who is patient and calm, in the car with you and drive a few blocks to the corner store at a time when traffic is minimal. This approach may help you to feel as though the road is an accommodating space, and picking someone who understands and sympathizes with your anxiety will allow you to know you’ve got an ally in the car.
Tailor your driving experience to help you feel safe and comforted and elevate your driving skills by slowly branching out and embracing the things that make you feel uneasy. Start with easy to tackle maneuvers and build your way to more complex – for example, you can make three right turns to execute a left turn and once you feel comfortable with those right turns you can give a left turn a try! If you can have control over when you drive, choose times of day that will have lighter traffic and do your best to drive in ideal weather conditions – try and find an alternate transportation mode if the weather is taking a turn for the worse.
Listen to calming music at a low level, turn your phone on silent and give yourself plenty of time to get to school or to work. Investigate different routes, that offer a calmer drive like a backroad or a rural highway rather than the freeway, and once you have your route selected stick to this route, so you are travelling along a familiar route. Once you become more and more familiar with your regular routes, this will allow you to take the next step and move outside of your comfort zone with travelling in other areas. And no matter the route you are driving, the traffic flow around you, or the weather conditions – remember that you can always stop in a safe place (like a mall or gas station parking lot) for a break to collect yourself before continuing.
Keeping your eyes and head moving while cruising will help you to avoid “tunnel vision”, which can happen when you forget to check your mirrors and blind spots regularly and you wind up seeing only what is directly in front of you. We recommend checking you mirrors (side doors and rear view) every 5 to 8 seconds.
If you feel like you need more driving tools in your arsenal, you can always take some professional on-road driver training or classroom training. Our Defensive Driving Course provides up-to-date and accurate rules and regulations, observation procedures, vehicle maneuvering skills, and what to expect from others when sharing the road. Along with these tools, we’ll also help build up the confidence you need to stay safe out there!
Driving can be and is an enjoyable experience for drivers across the globe, and finding a way to connect your old anxious self with a version of yourself who recognizes the potential to enjoy driving is key to overcoming anxiousness behind the wheel. Whether you learn via starting from scratch, driving with someone you trust, or altering the way you think about driving altogether - you’ve taken the first step of addressing your fear and that’s worth celebrating.