Driving comes with serious responsibilities. With the possibility of accidents, getting stuck in traffic, and a host of other unforeseen circumstances, it’s common for driving to trigger panic and anxiety attacks in people. Sometimes, just the mere thought of getting behind the wheel can cause overwhelming feelings of panic and anxiety.
A panic or anxiety attack while driving is no doubt terrifying. Aside from the increased risk of accidents, a person may develop further mental health problems. However, with the right interventions, you can manage your driving anxiety. And pretty soon, you’ll be well on your way to zipping down the freeway.
What Is Driving Anxiety?
Driving anxiety is the anxious or nervous feeling you get when you’re about to drive or while driving. The symptoms can range from mild discomfort to severe distress. You may either feel a bit tense while driving, or you might not even want to get in the driver’s seat at all. Symptoms of driving anxiety may include:
- feeling unsafe or restless when driving
- easily getting tired during or after a car trip
- concentration problems while driving
- feeling a sense of doom before driving
- back and neck tension while driving
- irrational fears about dying or causing an accident
- tending to avoid the highway and busy streets
- being irritable or short-tempered
These symptoms can be abrupt or grow steadily over time. Left untreated, it could cause panic attacks, which could lead to traffic accidents. Sweaty palms, excessive sweating, shaking, and shortness of breath are some symptoms signaling a panic attack. Furthermore, extreme avoidance cases could cause people to remain isolated in their homes.
What Causes Driving Anxiety?
There are many possible reasons for experiencing driving anxiety. It may stem from one reason or several reasons accumulated together. Some common causes include:
- Fear Of Fatalities
Exercising caution while driving is essential. However, no matter how careful you are, accidents could still happen. In this case, fear of getting into an accident might cause people to feel panicked or anxious when driving. Constantly thinking about accidents only heightens distress, thus increasing the chances of getting into an accident.
- Prior Vehicular Accidents
Whether you have personally been in an accident, witnessed an accident, or just heard stories from friends or family, these incidents can be traumatic and anxiety-provoking. PTSD can be a big contributing factor to driving anxiety. Driving in a storm and being a victim of road rage are also some reasons that might trigger driving anxiety. Dwelling on these stories or past experiences can cause distress in a person.
- Specific Phobias
Agoraphobia is being fearful of open spaces and crowds. This fear might manifest when you’re driving on a highway or stuck in traffic. Meanwhile, claustrophobia or the fear of closed spaces might cause you to feel stuck or trapped inside your car, especially in the middle of traffic. More specifically, you may also have vehophobia or the fear of getting behind the wheel.
- Binocular Vision Dysfunction (BVD)
If driving anxiety is accompanied by dizziness or loss of balance, it might be a sign that you have BVD. This condition results in image misalignment wherein your eyes have difficulty working together to create one clear image. Because of its symptoms, it understandably may cause someone to be nervous when driving. If you suspect BVD to cause your driving anxiety, schedule an eye exam with an optometrist.
How Does Therapy Help Driving Anxiety?
For people with BVD, a simple trip to the eye doctor could do the trick. For those whose mental and psychological problems, therapy is an effective way to manage and treat driving anxiety. Once physical and neurological reasons have been ruled out, there are two common therapy treatments for driving anxiety:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
The basic premise of CBT is that specific patterns of thoughts and behaviors contribute to anxiety. This method picks apart your negative thought processes and converts them into positive mindsets. It can change catastrophic worries about driving into better, more rational thoughts. Doing so reduces stress.
Moreover, it could also help you develop adaptive coping skills, allowing you to have confidence while driving. To accomplish this, CBT explores your thoughts and emotions to pinpoint the exact cause behind your anxiety. It then interrupts and replaces unhelpful thought and behavior patterns through a series of methods. These include problem-solving tasks, teaching relaxation techniques, and reframing your thoughts. These methods help you better understand your anxiety, effectively control your emotions, and minimize symptoms.
Lastly, CBT can help you set realistic goals depending on if you’re pursuing long-term anxiety relief or short-term escape from anxiety.
- Exposure Therapy
Exposure therapy is often done with people who are exhibiting symptoms of avoidance. For example, people who refuse to get into a car or consciously avoid busy roads and traffic are good candidates for this modality.
This type of intervention helps eliminate unwanted symptoms by placing patients in driving situations. Of course, this is done with the proper guidance and in moderation.
Even though you may be tempted to take bold steps to resolve your driving anxiety, it’s best to start with small exposure. It takes time and patience to manage anxiety in any form. By gradual exposure to more stressful aspects of driving anxiety, you will experience a temporary increase in distress. However, your anxiousness will decrease long-term.
Expanding your comfort zone little by little is the key factor in exposure therapy. The basic premise is regaining a sense of control and building that until you are no longer plagued by distress. After multiple repetitions, anxiety and panic symptoms will eventually decrease and be more manageable. Through time, they could even disappear entirely.
In addition to psychotherapy options, your psychiatrist may also prescribe medications to help manage your symptoms. The goal of medicines would be to reduce the frequency and severity of anxiety or panic symptoms.
Overcoming Driving Anxiety
Driving anxiety can interfere with your daily routine and affect other aspects of your life. But the good news is that it’s possible to learn how to change your mindset, manage your anxiety, and become comfortable driving. With proper guidance and therapy support, driving can become pleasantly routine again.