How to Overcome Fear of Driving and Driving Anxiety

What is Driving Anxiety?

In simple terms, driving anxiety refers to the hesitation or fear you have when you are about to drive or have someone else drive you. In some cases, driving anxiety lasts for just a few seconds or minutes, after which the person involved will calm down, rationalise their fears and get back to their normal self. This type of anxiety is usually present in new drivers and those who are still learning how to drive. If you experience this, perhaps it will make you feel better to know that many of us, including your driving tutors, have experienced this anxiety at one point or another.

Overcome Driving Anxiety

Some people have a natural driving phobia that they cannot seem to explain where it’s coming from. Some driving anxiety can be very specific(I.e., a fear of driving over bridges, or a fear of city driving), whereas other types of driving anxiety can be much more general.

Driving anxiety and a fear to drive can escalate, and some people may experience moments where the anxiety turns into a panic attack. The phobia for driving can have such a paralyzing effect because it replaces rationality with fear. Regardless of what you may have been taught during driving lessons, you find that the thought that something bad could happen subconsciously replaces that of common sense once you approach the steering wheel.

There are types of driving anxiety that go hand in hand with other phobias, such as agoraphobia(fear of open spaces), acrophobia(fear of heights) or even claustrophobia(fear of enclosed spaces). Because of this, driving anxiety can sometimes be hard to understand and treat, as it can be difficult to determine which specific fear is hinged around losing control.

If you have driving anxiety, you may find that being trapped in traffic can ignite a panic attack. And if a panic attack doesn’t set it, you may fear that you may pass out, throw up, or run into another vehicle. For some, driving very close to a big truck can be nerve-wrecking because they feel overshadowed. Another thing that could spark your driving fear is when you want to merge on the freeway or when driving in the speed lane.

To put things in perspective, it is pertinent to state what some of the driving anxieties are to help you detect if what you are experiencing is driving anxiety or not.

Fear of Driving on Highway
Fear of Driving on the Highway
Fear of Driving in Snow

Fear of Driving in Snow

Fear of Car Accidents

Fear of Car Accidents
Fear of Driving Long Distances

Fear of Driving Long Distances
Fear of Driving in the Dark

Fear of Driving in the Dark

What are the Symptoms of Driving Anxiety?

The symptoms of driving anxiety are very similar to other types of anxiety. Some of the things you may feel as your anxiety levels rise are dizziness, heart palpitations, sweaty palms and perspiration, shortness of breath, disorientation, dry mouth or lips, and confusion. When you get anxious, your mind gets cloudy and for some may feel like the kicking in of a fight or flight response. In some cases, driving anxiety may make someone feel like something bad is inevitably going to happen, even if there is no rational reason to assume so. In some extreme situations, the individual may even feel like he or she is going to die. For this reason, people that suffer from driving anxiety may consider steering clear of driving altogether. Obviously, for most people, that is not a solution.

But the thing is, symptoms of driving anxiety, and in serious cases – panic attacks – is nothing but a passing feeling. No matter how scared you may feel at a certain point, you are certainly not going to die or end up with an incurable illness. That is not to say that it’s a welcome feeling. Your mind will become clouded with dread, and your body won’t welcome the idea of having to go through these symptoms each time you need to get behind the steering wheel.

Driving anxiety can develop into a full-blown phobia when the fear of driving leads you into deciding to stop driving altogether. And every time you choose not to drive for a while, it will become harder for you to get back behind the wheel. However, there is good news here – Just like you learned how to drive safely once, you can also always unlearn whatever it is that is responsible for the fear you have of driving. Most of the time, all you have to do is relearn the safe way to drive to overcome your anxiety altogether and feel more in control again.

Having put that out of the way, we also need to clarify what causes people to be scared of driving and then come up with solutions on how to overcome fear of driving.

What Causes Driving Anxiety or Fear?

The fear of driving, also known as vehophobia, often comes from a negative experience that people were either directly involved in or witnessed first-hand.

Perhaps you have once been in a road accident that led to a loss of life or serious injury. It could also be that you perhaps experienced bad weather condition where you had to battle with a terrible storm and has a near miss. Another example could be a result of a panic attack that you have whenever you are about to drive or enter a vehicle. And you can’t explain why it happens.

Because of this, you find yourself replaying the negative experiences in your mind whenever you want to drive. And where this situation becomes too strong, you start distancing yourself from driving. And this is how driving anxiety grows and gets worse.
Another thing that can cause driving anxiety is when your blood sugar level is low. You will start experiencing some of the symptoms of anxiety as we mentioned above.

While there are good reasons why many people have become afraid of driving, there are many more good reasons to attempt to overcome this fear. Driving, after all, is a convenience many of us cannot live without. It should feel liberating to be able to cover the world on your terms. Whatever reason you may have for being afraid of driving, we got you covered and will help you with specific tips to overcome your fears.

Having listed some of the reasons why people are afraid of driving, here are some common fears people have about driving:

Fear of driving over bridges

One thing that many people are still struggling with when driving is overcoming the fear of driving over bridges. Truthfully, this fear is a lot more common than most people think and it has nothing to do with being weak-minded or frail of heart. This fear is truly applicable to anyone. The fear of driving over bridges is amplified for people who also have a fear of heights.

There are many people who just can’t seem to make it past a bridge whenever they come across one. It may take forever and a day to convince them to give it try.

The situation is so serious that some people change their mind and head home once they realize that the route to that birthday party, convention or any event has a bridge they must drive over.

This is a fear that you can get over! You will find a lot of helpful ideas that you can put into practice right away. With little practice that driving anxiety will soon dissipate.

Fear of driving on the highway

Just picturing a lot of vehicles lined up in traffic on a highway is enough to give anyone the creeps. Especially when you consider how fast everyone drives. You would think that the slightest mistake here on this fast-moving, busy highway could have disastrous consequences.

It’s even worse for people that are still learning how to drive. To you, the world will fare better without highways and those many intimidating trucks and big vehicles.

Your concerns when it comes to driving on the highway are absolutely valid but in many places avoiding highways altogether is simply impossible. The fear of driving on highways is a complicated one, because there are a lot of aspects to it. We have written a full article that you may find helpful here.

Fear of driving in the snow or rain

Road conditions change constantly. The weather can go from blazing sunshine to showers in an instant. How do you prepare yourself for that? And does this not make driving dangerous?

Driving in the snow or rain can be intimidating if you are not used to these conditions. While many people do not see any problems driving in the snow or the rain, there are other drivers looking out of their window that reconsider their plans.

As with most types of driving anxiety, preparation is everything. Read up on how to drive in specific weather conditions and overcome your fear by knowing exactly what to do. You can overcome this fear if you are willing to put to practice the steps we listed out in the article – fear of driving in the snow or rain.

Fear of driving at night

Night-time brings all sorts of fears with it and not just to do with driving. Just taking a walk at night could make people anxious in some ways except in a reasonably secured environment.

There are, however, many challenges drivers may face when driving at night and so we can understand why you could develop a fear of driving at night. Examples of worries could be the anxious feeling of getting lost in an area you are not familiar with, your vehicle breaking down, or not being able to see oncoming traffic properly due to getting blinded.

Driving in the dark and the fears that come with it are very rational. Driving in the dark is difficult and can feel very different than driving during the day. For one, you can’t see out as far as you can during the day. It also feels very diferent when it comes to the amount of traffic on the road and how it behaves.

Fear of experiencing panic attacks while driving

In extreme cases, a fear of driving will escalate and manifest itself in a panic attack. Perhaps your heart rate doubles momentarily, you start sweating, and you are short of breath.

What you’re experiencing could be a panic attack. This situation is much more complicated than a fear of driving, and you will need to learn how to control panic attacks while driving so that you don’t harm yourself or others in the process.

Fear of driving long distances

While some people love traveling to far away places as a means of relaxation and freeing the mind, this may not be so for others. Driving in itself can be tiring, so when you have to add a long distance to that, you will understand why many dread it.

However, there are several definitions of long distance. While some consider a 30-mile drive as being a long distance drive, others take a journey of 1,000 miles to be it.

We think that the definition of what a long distance is should be left for the person who is to take the drive or journey. But just in case you need help with getting over this fear and putting it under control, you will find this article on how to overcome your fear of driving long distances to be of great help.

Anxiety while riding in a car

While it may sound strange to some, there are many people out there that are actually afraid of being in a car at all. For them, it doesn’t matter whether they are the ones behind the wheel or if someone else is; they are just scared of driving in a car or any other moving vehicle.

If you struggle with this, then you will most definitely need to be able to put it all behind you. Check out how to get over anxiety while riding in a car and you will be well on your way to overcoming that fear.

Ways and Tricks to Overcome your Driving Phobia

Trace the Root of Your Fear or Anxiety

The first step when you want to overcome your driving anxiety is to consciously seek out the root of your anxiety. A deep insight into the situation could reveal when you started having your fears (Possible reasons of your fears starting could be a traumatic experience when you started learning how to drive, or maybe after being involved in or witnessing an accident).

When you have done so, you will be able to know if your fear is justifiable or not. If the reaction you are having to driving isn’t to the point that it can lead you to harm yourself or other road users, then you may need to start dealing with that fear.

And one way to do so is to discover the root of that fear so that you can work toward putting it under control. Skipping this step may make a mess of any other attempt you may be making at overcoming this fear.

Work on Your Mindset

It is important to understand and realize that while you can’t just dismiss your fears, what you are feeling is all in your head. Your fears and anxiety may be rational, sometimes even logical, but they come from a place of restlessness in your head.

If your thoughts about driving are filled with fear and all the things that could possibly go wrong, then your road ahead to solving your anxiety is going to be a long one. You have carried on that weight for far too long. The time to drop it is now!

It’s important to try to approach the thought of driving positively. Think of all the places you could go to if only you can drop this fear of driving. The world will get smaller for you, you will regain your independence and you are no longer relying on others.

A common trick you can try out is to physically dispel any negative thoughts (with a wave of your hand) that may want to creep in as you are about to drive. Hypnotism has been used on overcoming fears before and the power of suggestion is often really strong in people with anxiety.

Come up with positive affirmations that would come in handy for such situations. You can try saying something like: “I will drive this car and get to my destination safely. I will not be involved in an accident and I will enjoy driving this car.”

Say it to yourself as often as possible before entering the car, while driving or while stuck in traffic. You will block every avenue for those negative thoughts to creep in.

Avoid Speed Lanes and Drive at a Manageable Speed

When you are trying to overcome anything in life, the best way to go about it is to take it nice and slow. The same applies to driving.

When you are dealing with a fear of driving, you will be safer driving at a speed that you can easily control and feel comfortable with. To do this, you will need to stay away from speed lanes when driving on the highway.

The maximum speed limit is a guide. It does not mean you NEED to drive at this speed. Focus on your own driving and pay little attention to what other people may think or say. If it helps, turn on the radio and listen to cool songs or discussions over the radio. You may also want to wind down the window to allow some fresh air in. All this will help in easing up your muscles.

Take Short Trips Instead of Long Ones

This is a no-brainer. There is no point in driving a long distance when you are still battling with a driving phobia. Most babies start walking by first learning how to sit, crawl, stand, before walking (some babies skip some of the steps, though). The same thing is applicable to driving. You are not out to impress anyone.

And this is not the time to show off to your family or friends that you drove a far distance to get to them. You want to be safe first. So, in order to stay safe all through your driving without exposing yourself to a panic attack, try to shorten your driving until you get the hang of it and can handle longer drives.

If the need arises, pull over as often as you need to get some air. Stop for a drink, or a bite to eat and review how far you have driven. You will be spurred on to continue and finish the drive.

Target off-peak period

When you are still battling with how to overcome fear of driving, you might want to target off-peak periods since the traffic is usually less than peak periods. Some of the best times to drive are on Sundays when people have gone to church, or in the afternoons when the traffic is still manageable.

Avoid teas and coffees

This is not to say that you should not drink them anymore, but since caffeine is known to trigger anxiety, you may want to postpone taking a cup until you are done driving. If you can’t stay away from caffeinated beverages in the morning, try cutting back on the quantity. You will definitely notice some improvement in the way you feel before driving.

Watch out for foods that trigger anxiety

We pointed out above that low blood sugar can trigger anxiety, in this case – driving anxiety. If you notice that you become anxious after taking a particular type of food, then the time to put it in check has come. Avoid taking such foods or going on empty stomach when you want to drive.

Get enough rest

Many times, people feel cranky when they are driving because they didn’t get enough rest the previous night. A restless night can affect even a fearless driver, let alone someone like yourself who is currently not as confident.

Take a companion along

Taking a friend along for a drive will help you overcome your driving anxiety because you will have someone to talk to. It will help you remove your mind from those negative and fearful thoughts about driving. Just make sure you are not at high speed while driving.

Try breathing lessons

When you are under tension or anxious about something, taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly works very effectively. Try it as often as you may need.

Drive consistently

If you are to get over your fear of driving in no time, then driving consistently might just be the key you need to unlock the door to driving freedom. Take baby steps.

Drive around the block if you must, but keep moving. You will find that as you drive more often regardless of the distance, your anxiety will be dropping off gradually.

Try hypnosis sessions

Get the services of a certified clinical hypnotherapist to help you overcome the fear of driving. The therapist may have to put you through different driving sessions coupled with hypnosis classes to get you moving.

When all things have failed, you may consider using medication to treat the anxiety that comes from the fear of driving.

Overcoming driving anxiety with medication

We do get requests from some of our readers who want to know how can driving anxiety be cured with medicine and if it is safe. There are situations that tend to defy all odds. You may have tried all we listed above and other articles on how to overcome driving anxiety without making headway with it.

In such situations, you may resort to medication. But it is important to state that before embarking on any medications, you should first consult with your doctor. He or she will prescribe the right drugs you should take.

The question of whether it is safe to take medicines for driving anxiety or not should be determined by your physician or doctor. There are some things that he or she may have to put into consideration before deciding whether or not you should take medications for your driving anxiety.

But in many cases, your doctor will prescribe medications that are used to treat anxieties in general. Your level of anxiety will also come into play when prescribing the medicine to take.

However, some of the drugs that people with driving anxiety claim to be effective include monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI), beta blockers, benzodiazepines and antidepressants like Prozac.
Taking any of the medications without the approval of your doctor may expose you to side effects that you aren’t prepared for.

While some of them are mild and can be taken before driving, others come with heavy sedation which is not encouraged for people that want to get behind the wheel.

There are some of them that cannot be taken with some particular types of food and medicines. This is why you must consult your doctor before starting any treatment. Do note that some of these medications can be addictive and expose you to withdrawal effect.
With all said and done, medication should only be taken as a last resort. We are not always a fan of anything that isn’t natural. This is why we painstakingly research and suggest ways you can overcome various forms of driving anxiety without medications.

After all said and done. You can only overcome your driving anxiety when you are ready to work on it.