How to Overcome Driving Anxiety and Get Behind the Wheel?

You probably know that anxiety comes in many forms and can affect basically any aspect of life. When it affects your ability to drive and get from point A to point B, it can be a real problem. But how to overcome driving anxiety and ensure you can comfortably sit behind the wheel? Don’t worry – driving anxiety disorder has its treatment options, which I’ll go over in this text, so keep reading.

What Is Driving Anxiety and What Causes This Problem?

As you can guess from the name of this condition, driving anxiety is an irrational fear or worry associated with driving – and, in some cases, even just with being in a vehicle. This is considered to be a phobia – this term is used to describe a severe and irrational fear of something that poses a slight threat or doesn’t even represent any danger whatsoever. 

When it comes to official medical terms, driving anxiety isn’t technically recognized as a specific form of anxiety – you can’t find it in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) under this name, but you can find vehophobia (the phobia of driving), and amaxophobia (the fear of being in a vehicle altogether). A medical professional can diagnose you with one of these two phobias if you have driving anxiety, but it can also be a part of a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or some other anxiety disorder (yes, there are many more of them). 

Volkswagen ID.4, Electric SUV driving on a scenic road
Fear of driving or just being in a vehicle is more common than you would think

Reasons Why Someone May Have Anxiety About Driving a Car 

To those who don’t have this problem, driving anxiety might seem like a silly problem – but it can really affect your everyday life by making it difficult to get where you need to go. But why does one experience anxiety symptoms when it comes time to get behind the wheel? There is more than just one reason – here are the most common factors that cause driving anxiety:

Thinking That You Will Lose Control of the Car

Some people simply fear they will become responsible for a car accident if they find themselves in the driver’s seat. Whether it’s due to a lack of experience driving or just an irrational idea that they can’t shake off, this paralyzes them and prevents them from even trying to drive.

Being Scared of Dying in an Accident

The fear of being in an accident can be so severe that a person may think they will surely die if they have to drive. Sometimes, it doesn’t have to be all about doubting your own skills – you can be scared of others on the road.

Driving Alone or in Unfamiliar Places

This is more of a practical issue – new drivers, for example, often fear driving alone since they aren’t confident in their abilities yet. It’s also common to worry about driving to new places since you don’t know if you’ll get lost, run out of gas, or get stuck somewhere with a flat tire

Thinking You Will Get a Panic Attack

People who have experienced a panic attack at one point often fear that it will happen again – and at the most inconvenient times, such as driving. Those who’ve experienced this know that it’s an intense feeling during which you can’t focus on anything – including driving – which means they think they would lose control of a car. Claustrophobic individuals are at risk of experiencing some unpleasant symptoms in a car as well. 

Having a Certain Anxiety Disorder

If you have a generalized anxiety disorder, there is a wide variety of situations that can cause your symptoms to exacerbate – including driving.

Having Bad Experiences Related to Driving in the Past

Being in an accident, or witnessing one, can be a trigger for driving anxiety – you fear that a similar scenario will happen all over again. Some people can even develop driving anxiety if their loved ones have had a bad experience.

Before You Conquer the Fear, You Need to Be Able to Recognize the Symptoms 

What are the most common signs and symptoms that indicate this anxiety issue? Apart from the obvious indicator of driving anxiety – avoiding being in a car and driving – there are a few other things you should look out for:

  • Intense fear and worry with no apparent reason, 
  • Dizziness, 
  • Shortness of breath, 
  • Sweating and trembling, 
  • Racing heart, 
  • Nausea and dry mouth. 

How to Overcome Driving Anxiety and Finally Start Driving?

Now that you know why it happens and how it manifests, it’s time to figure out what to do about this problem – how can you get rid of driving anxiety? I can tell you for sure that it won’t be a short process, but it’s more than possible to overcome your fears and become a confident, relaxed driver who knows how to handle themselves behind a steering wheel. It all starts with reaching out to a professional. 

Psychotherapy Has Been Proven an Efficient Treatment for Driving Anxiety 

Like with any other phobia, you need to get proper treatment – even though there are some hacks you can try on your own (I’ll talk about them below), the primary treatment option is psychotherapy. These sessions are considered to be the best way to treat various forms of anxiety – you will be able to address your emotions and thoughts and get to the root of an issue with guidance from a healthcare professional. 

Exposure Therapy Is Another Excellent Way to Overcome Your Phobia

Exposure therapy (or desensitization therapy) is exactly what it sounds like. But it doesn’t mean you will get in a car on your own and try to drive at whatever cost – it’s actually a process you go through with a therapist, so it’s a safe and controlled situation. It sounds scary, but, speaking from personal experience, it’s a highly effective method. 

Remember That Treatment Takes Time – You Can’t Overcome This Problem Overnight 

I know this is easier said than done, but you must have patience when dealing with driving anxiety. Therapy is a lengthy process, and many people want to give up when they don’t see results in a few sessions. However, thanks to this text, you will know better – you’ll understand that anxiety will go away over time if you stay consistent and motivated. I believe you can conquer this fear – now, all you need is to believe in yourself, too. 

Car on the street
Don’t expect anxiety to go away overnight – these things take time to resolve

Additional Tips for Managing Anxiety Symptoms That May Help

The importance of professional help is something that can’t be emphasized enough, but it’s not the only tool in your arsenal. In fact, there are many great techniques (therapist-approved) that you can try on your own. I’ve explained a few of them here – these are the tricks I find most helpful, especially when you first start to tackle driving anxiety. Give them a try – you never know what can do the trick. 

Relaxation Techniques Can Do a Lot of Good

Relaxation techniques are often underrated, but they are a great way to calm your nerves when anxiety hits you hard. There are many ways you can relax – from breathing techniques to listening to calming music or counting. Meditation and yoga can help you in the long run. Keep in mind that people often try various things before they find what works best for them. 

Change Your Perspective – Embrace the Fear Instead of Trying to Ignore It

It does sound like a cliche, right? Embrace your fear – how does that help you? Well, when it comes to anxiety, recognizing that the fear is here is actually a game-changer. You may have realized that when you start feeling a new wave of anxiety coming, your reflex reaction is to try and suppress it. We all do it – no one wants to feel anxious, so it seems reasonable to try to get rid of the feeling. 

The irony is that it only gets stronger when you try to fight it. You get scared of being scared, and then you lose control of your thoughts, and anxiety wins. So, instead of fighting it, try to sit down and let the anxious thoughts go through your head. Notice them, and think of how unreasonable they are. They can’t hurt you – they are silly. With this in mind, you will slowly gain control of your fears.

woman holding the keys of her car
Your mindset can make a huge difference when it comes to driving anxiety

Affirmations and Journaling Are Common Techniques That Help With Various Anxiety Disorders

I know what you’re thinking right now – “affirmations never work” – but I beg to differ. Here’s why affirmations are a neat way to trick your brain into finally realizing you won’t be in danger if you sit behind the wheel. We all agree that practice makes perfect, right? That’s all it is – writing affirmations is just repeating that message you want to get through to your brain. It doesn’t seem to do anything at first, but after a while, you can see the change in your mindset. You will start to believe your affirmations, and your confidence will rise.

Try to Avoid Caffeine Before and During the Drive

I love coffee as much as the next person, but I try to avoid it when I drive. Why is coffee bad for you in this situation? Caffeine is a stimulant, and it’s a common trigger for anxiety. So, it might wake you up and help you concentrate, but these gifts come with a price for anxious people. Seeing as you have trouble with driving anxiety, coffee would be like pouring salt on a wound. Maybe wait to get that cup until you reach the destination!

A woman sitting in a car and drinking iced coffee
Drinking coffee right before you drive can cause your anxiety to spike

Driving Anxiety Is Indeed a Scary and Serious Problem – But You Can Deal With It and Become a Confident Driver 

Don’t feel embarrassed because you have this problem – many people fear driving, too. It’s a perfectly common phobia, and luckily, it’s very much treatable. If you are serious about becoming a driver, you will have to tackle the issue head-on and ensure to get the right treatment for this anxiety disorder. I believe that anyone can overcome this fear – give it enough time and put some effort into resolving the issue, and you will be able to get behind the wheel and drive anywhere you want.