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Blog category: Driving

Overcoming Anxiety While Driving

5 min read

Does the thought of driving make you anxious? If so, you’re not alone. Recent surveys show that 66% of Americans experience anxiety while driving. Many become nervous only when conducting specific maneuvers, like merging onto the highway or making unprotected left turns. However, some people suffer from driver anxiety as soon as they get behind the wheel. Let’s explore how to calm anxiety while driving so you can enjoy weekend getaways and get to work without dreading the commute.

Recognizing Symptoms of Driver Anxiety

Is driver anxiety a problem that needs fixing? We’ve all seen drivers we wish would take driving more seriously. Of course, drivers need to be present and alert while driving to keep themselves and others safe. But anxiety while driving is not just a matter of being conscientious — it can be debilitating.

When driver anxiety hits, you can experience many symptoms. Your heart rate may accelerate, your palms might sweat excessively, your mouth can grow dry, and you might get dizzy or short of breath. Beyond these physical symptoms, your mind may race through potential mistakes and the catastrophic results that could happen. It's common to overanalyze every move or wrestle with a feeling of impending doom or loss of control.

Why Addressing Driver Anxiety is Essential

Anxiety while driving can range from occasional discomfort to a debilitating condition that leaves you dependent on others for transportation. This anxiety can impact everything from your job opportunities to your social life. Further, severe anxiety can cause you to overcompensate while driving. Overcompensation, in turn, can make the accident you dread more likely to occur.

You may wonder, why do I get anxiety when I drive? It’s a good question and the first step to learning how to deal with the issue. Overcoming this fear begins with self-awareness and introspection.

Understanding the Root Causes of Driver Anxiety

Driving anxiety can be defined as experiencing anxiety while driving, preparing to drive, or even just thinking about driving. Understanding the underlying cause of your fears is critical to overcoming this anxiety. Millions of people experience anxiety while driving for one of the following reasons:

  • Negative experiences: If you have experienced trauma while driving, it may be the source of your driving anxiety. From accidents and road rage incidents to the sheer terror of getting lost driving through a blizzard, our past experiences can significantly shape our present levels of anxiety while behind the wheel.
  • Driving alone outside your comfort zone: New routes, unfamiliar streets, and an unpredictable journey can trigger or escalate driver anxiety, particularly when no one is sharing the ride with you.
  • Fear of being trapped during a panic attack: For some, anxiety while driving isn’t about driving, per se — it's the fear of a full-blown panic attack with no immediate escape route, amplifying the dread.
  • Fear of going too fast and losing control: The open road, the speed, the cars buzzing past — sometimes, the pressure to keep up with the traffic flow feels scary. You may fear that your reactions won’t be fast enough to respond at that speed.
  • Fear of fatalities: Sometimes, the mind races faster than the car, conjuring exaggerated dangers and catastrophic outcomes. Fear of accident fatalities is particularly strong for those experiencing anxiety while driving on the highway.
  • Uncorrected visual dysfunction: Binocular Vision Dysfunction (BVD), is a condition where the eyes do not fully synchronize correctly. This condition can distort depth perception and cause motion sickness and driver anxiety.

Once you understand the root of your anxiety, it will be easier to alleviate the stress.

Practical Steps to Overcome Anxiety While Driving

Ironically, you’re less safe when anxiety is at the wheel. So let’s see how to get you back in the driver’s seat and make driver anxiety take a hike. If this condition is holding you back, consider these effective strategies to navigate the road with confidence:

  • Eat well: Fuel your body with balanced meals. Excess sugar is a common anxiety trigger.
  • Minimize caffeine intake: While morning coffee might seem essential, excessive caffeine can inadvertently heighten anxiety levels.
  • Repeat positive affirmations: Combat those anxious thoughts with uplifting self-talk. You can change the fearful narrative in your head and remind yourself that you are capable and worthy. Repeat it until you believe it.
  • Practice desensitization: Face your fears to drive them away. Begin with baby steps. Start by sitting in a parked car and slowly progress to driving in quieter areas. Exposure is key. Some find virtual reality highly effective for desensitization practice.
  • Confront the fear: Avoidance often intensifies anxiety while driving. Embrace regular driving sessions, gradually extending your comfort zone.
  • Stay safe: Always ensure your vehicle is in top shape. Familiarize yourself with road signs, and steer clear of aggressive driving scenarios. Pay attention to your safety preparations. They demonstrate that you can handle this, regardless of what the anxiety says.
  • Control emotions: Techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness, and grounding can be invaluable allies in relieving anxiety while driving.
  • Seek professional help: Sometimes, we need expert assistance. If these strategies for combatting driver anxiety don’t help you feel calmer, professional counseling can help.

Remember that your anxiety is not telling you the truth. You are not the terrible driver your anxious mind may report. And if your driving skills need bolstering, you can take a driving course to fix that. You are in charge, not your anxiety. So, take charge and practice these strategies to calm you.

Learn to Be a Better Driver

It’s all very well to say don’t listen to your anxiety while driving. But it’s not easy to quiet the anxious mind. So, why not give it a new story to tell? Many driving classes are available to teach you to be a more skilled and safe driver. You can learn defensive driving that helps you recognize and avoid hazards on the road. Some classes will let you experience hazards in a controlled environment to practice responding to them. For instance, you can practice avoiding and recovering from hydroplaning. Or, you can learn whether to brake or swerve to avoid accidents — and practice doing it.

Improving your driving skills combats the lies driver anxiety tells. It proves you are a thoughtful and competent driver and builds confidence.

Pro tip: If you're 55 and older, taking a "Mature Driver Course" could help you improve your defensive driving skills and also save you money on your auto insurance.

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The above content is for informational purposes only and is not a direct representation of coverages offered by Wawanesa or its policies. The information does not refer to any specific contract of insurance and does not modify any definitions, provisions, exclusions or limitations expressly stated in any contracts of insurance. All references within the above content are illustrative and may not apply to your situation. The terms and conditions of the actual insurance policy or policies involved in a claim are determinative as to whether an accident or other loss is covered. To understand the coverage under your current policy, please log into the account management platform to review your policy or contact an agent directly.

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