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Overcoming Driving Anxiety: Tips and Strategies

From an uncomfortable uneasiness when driving on the highway, to a full-fledged phobia of getting behind the wheel, driving anxiety can range in severity and symptoms.

If you are experiencing driving anxiety, there are a few things you can do to help face and overcome your fears. Read on to discover some causes, symptoms, and strategies to help you get back on the road.

Causes

For many people with driving anxiety, their fear stems from one of two causes:

  • The fear of having a panic attack behind the wheel: drivers who suffer from panic attacks may develop a fear of having a panic attack while driving. If a sufferer of panic attacks does actually experience an attack while driving, this may lead them to develop a fear of driving itself, as they worry about having another attack while behind the wheel.
  • Experiencing a dangerous driving situation: those who experienced a real or perceived dangerous situation while behind the wheel may develop a fear or phobia of driving. Hearing about, witnessing, or being involved in an accident or near-accident may trigger this fear.

Symptoms

Symptoms of driving anxiety can manifest in several different ways, including:

  • Avoiding driving completely
  • Avoiding certain roads or routes
  • Feeling “unreal,” as if you were on “automatic pilot”
  • Physical symptoms, such as:
    • heart palpitations
    • racing heartbeat
    • trembling
    • sweating
    • tingling
    • chest pain
    • dizziness
    • dry mouth and throat
    • feeling faint
    • difficulty breathing

Strategies

Overcoming any type of fear or anxiety is a process, and cannot happen overnight. Unlike other types of anxiety, however, driving-related anxiety is a bit trickier, since driving should always produce a small amount of anxiety – otherwise, we may forget our defensive driving habits. Despite the challenges, there are a few strategies you can use to help overcome driving anxiety:

  • Face your fear: the best way to overcome any fear is by facing it. This is much easier said than done, so take small steps. Do not avoid driving – this will only serve to confirm your fear and increase your anxiety.
  • Take gradual steps: overcoming anxiety is a process. Start slowly, and use a gradual approach. Begin by getting behind the wheel in a parking lot. Then, move onto slow, quiet roads. When you feel comfortable and have built enough confidence, move onto faster roads with more traffic.
  • Drive safely and defensively: there’s no reason to add to your anxiety by driving recklessly – practicing safe, defensive driving techniques is extra important for anyone dealing with driving anxiety. Follow the speed limit, check your blind spots, and keep a safe distance from cars around you.
  • Use relaxation techniques: there are many techniques you can use to help you cope with the anxiety of driving. Using mindfulness techniques, abdominal breathing, and positive affirmations to help reduce your anxiety.
    • Take a ministry-approved driver education course: having lessons with an instructor, as part of a government-approved driving course, can help teach you the skills you need to become a safe driver.

If, despite your efforts, your anxiety persists, you should consider seeking help from a therapist or psychiatrist. They can help you overcome your driving anxiety in a safe and structured way, so that you can gain confidence behind the wheel and get back on the road.

Overcoming Driving Anxiety: Tips and Strategies

While not as common as a fear of heights or spiders, the fear of driving is a very real – and very disruptive – fear for many Canadians.