Many people experience anxiety while driving at some point in their lives. A driver who has been confident for years may suddenly find themselves feeling anxious at the wheel. Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can deal with driving anxiety, which can mean more freedom and independence with your car.
Why do people get anxiety while driving?
Some common triggers of anxiety whilst driver are:
- Experiencing an accident or near accident while you were the driver
- Being a passenger while another driver has an accident or near accident
- Witnessing an accident, hearing about one or seeing one on the news
- Not driving for a long period of time
- Fear of being away from home or agoraphobia
- Having Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Worrying a bit about driving is healthy, as it is this regular worry that makes us drive carefully and avoids us being reckless. However, the feeling can sometimes be so powerful that it prevents you from doing regular things in your life.
Learning to cope with driving anxiety can mean more freedom and independence with your car
Sometimes, the answer to overcoming driving anxiety isn’t to try and cure it, but to learn to live with it and adapt your behaviour to keep it under control.
Try saying to yourself, “I am feeling anxious but I won’t let that stop me doing what I want.” Although you may not be able to make the anxiety go away altogether, accepting this may help you in using coping mechanisms to significantly lessen the impact this anxiety has on your life.
If you have GAD, of which driving anxiety is a manifestation, you might find Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) useful. This teaches you coping mechanisms that are specific to your worries. Speak to your GP about how to access this on the NHS.
Even if you don’t have GAD, you might find the principles of CBT useful. Some of the principles of CBT are mindfulness and breathing techniques, and even if you don’t have GAD, you may find these principles useful.
Practice makes perfect
Driving regular short journeys and building up to longer ones can help improve your confidence. Try taking someone with you to begin with and then start going out on your own as much as you can.
Counsellors use words such as ‘reframing’ and ‘cognitive restructure’, which mean thinking about something in a more positive way. Try using these techniques before you drive. For example, think to yourself, “I’m looking forward to driving again” or “I enjoy driving”. Think of all the positives that driving brings: freedom, independence, control, travelling, holidays and visiting family and friends.
Practising driving as much as possible can sometimes help with worries on the road
Dealing with panic attacks
Often, driving anxiety is linked to the fear of having a panic attack at the wheel and freezing. The fear of a panic attack can be worse than the actual attack, which is what’s known as “anticipatory anxiety”. Try deep breathing while at the wheel. Drive safely, observing all the rules of the road and be aware of where you’d be able to pull over should you have to. You might find having this possibility to be reassuring in itself.
A lot of drivers who manage fine on all other roads are anxious about motorway driving. In fact, motorways are safer, statistically, than other roads.Although, of course, knowing that doesn’t necessarily help. A motorway driving lesson may help alleviate the fear. Your local driving school may offer one or try IAM Road Smart. Also, you can try practising going from one junction to another. Go at times during the day when the motorways are least busy, avoiding rush hour.
We hope that you’ll find these tips helpful in overcoming any driving anxiety you might have, so you’re free to enjoy the freedom and independence that a Motability Scheme car can bring.