1. Seek to understand what triggered your anxiety
When trying to overcome driving anxiety, it’s helpful to first understand where it comes from. Think back about your experiences driving, riding as a passenger or just being exposed to cars and reflect on moments that made you start feeling anxious. Perhaps it was a memory of an anxious parent driving or a television show that depicted a particularly traumatic car crash that first triggered your anxiety. Did you or a loved one experience a recent accident that preceded your anxious symptoms?
Understanding the cause of your driving anxiety can help you effectively cope with it. For example, if a scary driving situation brought on anxious feelings, it may be best to confront that memory to get over your symptoms. On the other hand, if you find that you have anxious tendencies as a person, it may be best for you to seek professional help.
2. Reframe your thoughts
Those with driving anxiety can experience intrusive thoughts that cause great distress while driving. These thoughts could be about getting lost or stranded, panicking in case of an emergency or even just the what-ifs about potential danger and accidents. It’s easy to focus on these thoughts and let them dictate whether we avoid driving or are limited in our abilities, but reframing those thoughts can help.
For example, if you’re worried about merging onto the freeway, instead of thinking about the potential for danger, recall all the times you successfully merged without an incident. Or if you’re scared that you’ll panic during an emergency, remind yourself that you know what to do and run through the steps that you’ll take to resolve the situation.
3. Concentrate on driving in the moment
Whether you’re taking a long drive or a short one to an unfamiliar place, it can be easy to think about all the unknowns you may encounter on the road. If you’re worried about things like heavy traffic, crossing a bridge or making that one unprotected left turn, you’ll be a bundle of nerves the entire drive. Instead, try concentrating on getting through each part of the journey one step at a time, and don’t let that one scary part dictate your emotions. Stay focused on your driving in the moment and practicing safe driving habits at all times.
4. Test out different relaxation techniques
Another way to overcome anxiety while driving is to rely on relaxation techniques that work for you. Anxiety can manifest in many ways, so first learn about what symptoms affect you and find an effective way to relieve them. A common symptom of anxiety is an increased heart rate, but practicing deep breathing can help you calm down.
Some people feel tension in their neck and shoulders when at the wheel. If that sounds like you, work on relaxing your muscles by starting with your grip on the wheel and working your way up your arm to your shoulders. If your mind races with a million thoughts about what might happen, try to put yourself in a mindful state before you even start the car. Do this by putting on calming music to keep your nerves at bay. Additionally, you can repeat positive driving affirmations if you begin to doubt yourself or mentally list things you see in your surroundings (e.g., trees, dog walkers, stores, etc.) to ground your thoughts.
5. Drive outside of your comfort zone
If you’re feeling ready to face your anxiety head-on, getting experience driving outside of your comfort zone can work wonders for alleviating your symptoms. Many people get anxious about driving in an unfamiliar place, but the more you expand your boundaries, the more places will become familiar to you as a driver.
Additionally, as you gain positive experiences driving in new places, you’ll build up confidence in yourself and your driving skills that will help you overcome anxious tendencies. Remember that driving outside of your comfort zone will trigger your anxiety, so it’s good to start small and be patient with your progress.
6. Get help from a specialized professional
If your driving anxiety is extreme and significantly interferes with your everyday routine, it’s best to consult a mental health professional. Depending on your genetics and other factors, your symptoms may be caused by a larger concern such as an anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder or phobia. It’s best to seek out help from someone who specializes in these mental health conditions so that you can effectively learn to cope or find the right types of treatment.
7. Consider cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a specific type of psychological treatment that’s been known to help people with anxiety disorders. CBT assesses your patterns of thought and behavior and specifically targets the unlearning of unhealthy patterns, so that you learn to regain control and cope effectively. If this type of therapy seems helpful for your symptoms, you can locate a CBT therapist near you with this Therapist Directory from the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.
8. Try virtual reality exposure
Although exposure therapy is found to be an effective treatment for anxiety, not everyone is ready to actually drive outside of their comfort zone. One way to still work toward overcoming your anxiety through experience is through virtual reality (VR) exposure. VR exposure therapy (VRET) allows therapists to offer gradual, controlled, individualized and immersive treatment for anxiety disorders and phobias in an environment that patients deem safe and acceptable.
It’s found success in treating anxiety disorders, panic disorders and PTSD and allows patients to practice new behavioral coping skills under the guidance of a therapist. For those interested in VRET, inquire with your provider about whether this option is available to you or visit a VR clinic in your area.
Although driving anxiety is a problem that as many as 66% of Americans deal with, there are ways to understand and overcome it. Use our tips for getting over driving anxiety and remember to seek professional mental health help to understand the root of your anxiety and learn effective ways to cope. For added peace of mind on the road, make sure you and your vehicle are covered with a car insurance policy so you’re protected no matter what.
This survey was conducted for The Zebra on YouGov Direct. A sample of 1,500 U.S. adults ages 18 and older were surveyed on September 14, 2021, between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Pacific time. Data is weighted based on age, gender, education level, political affiliation and ethnicity to be nationally representative of all adults 18 and older in the United States. The margin of error is approximately 4.0% for the overall sample.