If you’re someone who feels anxious when you’re driving, you understand how much of an impact it can have on your emotional and physical state. It can make your entire driving experience a wholly unpleasant one, and even make you want to avoid driving altogether. Luckily, we’ve got some tips to help you stay calm behind the wheel so that you can be a confident, anxiety-free driver. Keep reading for some helpful ideas to try out.

Is fear of driving common?

There’s actually a name for fear of driving: amaxophobia. It can range from mild to severe. For some people, the fear arises only during specific driving situations (like driving at night or on freeways). For others, simply sitting behind the wheel can generate an extreme amount of anxiety. They might experience racing thoughts or worries, and/or physical symptoms such as an increased heart rate, trouble breathing, or shaking (among other things).

Why do people feel anxiety when driving?

Are you wondering, “Why does driving give me anxiety?” There can be a number of reasons. Some people have had bad experiences behind the wheel, such as getting into a car accident or being pulled over by police, while others have been influenced by being around other drivers who also experience anxiety, such as a parent.

There are also drivers who have co-occurring phobias such as agoraphobia (an intense fear of going outside) or claustrophobia (an intense fear of enclosed spaces), which can end up exacerbating their fear of driving.

Disabled Parking - driving anxiety
Image by Samuel Foster on Unsplash: There are steps you can take to overcome driving anxiety.

If you’re asking yourself, “How do I stop being nervous about driving?”, there are steps you can take to become more comfortable behind the wheel. Here are some ideas of how to overcome driving anxiety.

1. Get professional help

If you experience severe anxiety or symptoms that are interfering with your way of life (perhaps making it difficult for you to drive anywhere), you should consider seeking help from a therapist or psychologist. A professional can evaluate your anxiety and suggest the best of course of action to remedy it.

Some mental health professionals recommend exposure therapy, where they’ll work with you to become acclimated to driving without anxiety. There’s also a therapy known as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), through which you can basically retrain your brain to stay calm when you’re driving. A professional can also recommend you see a psychiatrist, who can prescribe medication if there’s a serious need to help alleviate your anxiety symptoms.

2. Use safe distractions

You should always keep your eyes and focus 100% on the road, but in some cases, safe “distractions” (like listening to the radio or a podcast) can help minimize your anxiety.Treat them not as distractions from your driving, but rather distractions from the worries repeating in your head that allow you to drive more comfortably.

3. Stay mindful

Paying close attention to your environment can also be really helpful for some drivers. Noticing what your senses pick up (the colors of the cars on the road, the sound of traffic, etc.) can help you stay oriented to the present moment so that your anxious mind has less of a chance to take over. Some drivers like to keep candy or mints in their car; eating something flavorful can help bring your mind back to the present if you feel your anxiety increasing.

4. Pay attention to the temperature

Along the same lines as staying mindful, tuning in to the temperature in your car can bring you back to the present and help you stay grounded. This can mean you blast the AC for a bit or roll your windows down to feel the air circulating – all of which can keep your mind and your body in a calmer state.

Disabled Parking - driving with window down
Image by Martin Wyall on Unsplash: Rolling the window down and feeling the air on your skin can help decrease your anxiety.

5. Practice deep breathing exercises

One way to stay calm is to practice breathing exercises while you’re driving. This can be as simple as purposefully taking deep breaths or counting your breaths in and out. It works to remind your brain (and your body) that you’re okay, and not in any danger.

6. Practice over and over

The best way you can train your brain to stay calm is to practice driving over and over with these calming strategies. With repetition, your system will start to realize that driving doesn’t need to be a stressful activity. And don’t go too long between practices – you could even schedule a set driving time every day or every few days, so that you can practice and get into a routine that feels safe to you.

7. Take baby steps and be patient

Don’t try these tips all at once! Remind yourself that change comes with time, so it’s perfectly okay to take small steps and to be patient. If one of these tips doesn’t seem helpful after you’ve tried it, it’s fine to move onto the next one. Every driver is different and will find different things to be helpful.

If you are an anxious driver, don’t give up! Keep trying different methods to help you feel less anxious behind the wheel, and seek out a professional if you need support. Don’t forget to apply for a handicap parking permit if you qualify – this can make your driving experience even more stress-free. Soon enough you’ll be feeling much calmer when you set out on the road.

Featured image by Jan Baborák on Unsplash