Many people are afraid of spiders. Fewer appear to be afraid of cars. This is unusual because cars are far more dangerous than spiders, and yet spiders appear to have more of a phobia associated with them.
The most likely reason for this is evolution. Humans evolved to have a fear of potentially dangerous insects, but cars came about too quickly for that fear to evolve.
Yet many people still experience anxiety while driving, often in different ways. Some people fear riding in cars. Others experience fear while on the road as they try to keep themselves out of danger. Still others may have panic attacks while in their car but are not necessarily afraid of the car itself. All of these are different types of automobile anxiety, and all of them require different techniques to fight the anxiety.
Are You An Anxious Driver?
Driving anxiety may be part of a larger anxiety problem. Take our free 7-minute long anxiety test to review the severity of your anxiety and compare your anxiety score to others.
Any Stress Can Cause Anxiety
Anything that causes stress can lead to anxiety, and driving is stressful. Every moment you're traveling at high speeds and dodging drivers that may not be as skilled or talented. You may have had a frightening experience behind the wheel, seen news reports of car accidents, or simply started experiencing anxiety on the road.
Driving anxiety is completely normal, and luckily it can be cured. Start by filling out my free 7-minute anxiety test, and get recommendations for the best treatment options and receive your anxiety score.
Causes of Driving Anxiety
There are several different types of driving anxiety and thousands of experiences that may lead to panic behind the wheel. Two of the most common causes of driving anxiety include:
- Panic Attack While Driving Easily one of the most common causes of driving anxiety occurs when someone has a panic attack while driving a car. Panic attacks control your entire mind and body, making it hard to concentrate on anything else. If you're also driving, it can feel like there is no escape and that the panic attack may be putting your life in danger. Eventually, the person becomes afraid to get into a car, because they're worried that driving will cause another panic attack. Unfortunately, because of the way panic attacks work, that fear often causes a panic attack to happen again.
- Dangerous Situations Anxiety also tends to occur as a response to dangerous experiences or perceived dangerous experiences. For example, an accident or several near accidents may promote fear of driving. Also, hearing about accidents or seeing an accident can also contribute to that fear.
It's also possible to simple experience anxiety on the road that builds up over time. Small amounts of stress that are spread out over a period can eventually create anxiety that becomes attributed to the situation, and since driving is always going to be a little bit stressful, it can be hard for people to overcome those fears.
Tips to Reduce Driving Fear
Overcoming the fear of driving is a process, and since driving - unlike other anxiety triggers - is something that will and should always cause at least a small amount of anxiety (otherwise you'll be driving recklessly), reducing that fear can be more of a challenge than in other situations. Here are a few tips to help you through it.
- Face the Fear For many, this is easier said than done. If your fear is so pronounced you can't even get into a car, then it may not be possible. But for those that can get the courage to drive, never avoid driving. Even if it causes severe anxiety, you need to keep getting behind the wheel. Those that avoid the driving - or any phobia - only confirm their fears, and you can't afford to do that if you want to overcome it.
- Don't Add to the Anxiety Make sure that your driving is not adding to the anxiety you experience. Drive within the speed limit, signal before you turn, check your blind spots, etc. One of the issues with driving anxiety is validating that fear by experiencing more anxiety while you drive. You need to make sure you're not contributing to this by driving in a way that is dangerous.
- Drive in Safe/Slow Areas Simply being behind the wheel in an anxiety-free environment can be beneficial, especially if you drive for such a long period that you get bored or tired. Try finding an empty, large parking lot and simply driving around for a while. The longer you drive, the better, especially if there is nothing around that can cause any dangers. The more driving is boring for you, the better you'll do.
- Practice Mindfulness Mindfulness is awareness. The more you notice the signs of tension and stress, the more you'll be able to talk yourself down from them. If you feel yourself gripping the wheel too hard, or your mind wanders to dangerous thoughts, or you are clenching or shaking, etc., learn to get control over those emotions, and you'll see a big improvement on your overall stress levels. Mindfulness is about paying attention and addressing each example of stress one by one until you're more relaxed.
In addition to all of the tips above, traditional anti-anxiety strategies for phobias, panic attacks, and generalized anxiety are all extremely valuable. Though the treatments may not be for driving fear specifically, they do address many of the thoughts and symptom issues related to driving anxiety and can help you comfortably get back behind the wheel.
I've helped many people with driving anxiety overcome their driving fear, but the only way to start is with my free anxiety test. The test contains all of the symptoms you may experience and uses those symptoms to craft a report that addresses your anxiety.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Nov 29, 2017.