Breathe in, breathe out: how to cope with driving anxiety
November 3, 2022
40 million adults suffer from anxiety disorders every year. Of those 40 million, just over a third are treated for their anxiety, according to theAnxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).
It can be common to mistake anxiety for simple stress. And it makes sense—both can mirror similar symptoms. But they are different, which is why we’re here to help build the conversation around mental health. We’ll bring awareness to driving anxiety and share some ways to reduce anxiety while driving.
Driving anxiety is common
Driving anxiety is just a small piece of the anxiety pie. In research done by The Zebra, they noticed that this type of anxiety occurs most when someone experiences anxious symptoms while driving, getting ready to drive oreven, thinking about driving.
66 percent of Americans experience driving anxiety, but why? Addressing the why of this phobia can help us better understand the reasons behind the fear or anxiety of driving.
The Zebra data showed that nearly 55 percent of survey participants have the most anxiety while performing basic driving maneuvers such as backing up or reversing, merging, switching lanes, completing a U-turn or passing other vehicles.
The biggest anxiety inducer? Merging onto the highway. With 26 percent of survey participants stating they feel the most anxiety during this driving practice, it doesn’t come as a surprise. The U.S. Department of Transportation has stated that a major bottleneck of traffic and safety concerns exists near freeway merges.
With such little time and distance to make a series of smart, safe decisions, we can understand why folks have driving anxiety related to merging.
There are real phobias or fears that folks experience with driving, which may lead to overall anxiety behind the wheel. The fear of fatalities, getting lost, losing control of a vehicle and getting trapped in a car can all trigger anxiety.
Along with a fear of driving, also known as amaxophobia, the ADAA also highlights a few additional phobias related to driving:
The fear of getting lost (Mazeophobia)
The fear of being trapped (Cleithrophobia)
The fear of accidents (Dystychiphobia)
Prior history of anxiety
Family history has its own set of perks and pitfalls. If you experience driving anxiety, you may want to take a look at any family history of anxiety disorders. Also, if you are naturally predisposed to anxiety in other areas of life, it can certainly increase your anxiety from behind the wheel.
Lack of confidence in driving ability
People learning how to drive or those who don’t trust their own driving skills can be susceptible to driving anxiety. This can lead to overcompensating on the road, which may lead to mistakes while driving.
Previous negative driving experience
We learned from The Zebra data that more than 3 in 5 Americans have had a traumatic driving experience. Of those participants, nearly a quarter of them developed PTSD afterwards, resulting in lifestyle limitations or extreme distress.
And if you speak to those who have been in a car accident, you may hear about their fear of getting back on the road again. Scary or negative driving experiences—be that of their own or another—can cause anxiety. Major or minor car accidents, being a victim of road rage, even driving in certain weather conditions, can all result in symptoms of anxiety.
Understanding the why and where driving anxiety comes from, can help us better understand what it looks like behind the wheel and how to reduce anxiety while driving. Plus, this understanding of driving anxiety can help us be more kind, calm and helpful to those who are anxious.
Anxiety symptoms while driving
Anxiety while driving is more than simple stress. The symptoms of general anxiety disorder (GAD) may mirror closely with driving anxiety, which is why it’s important to understand anxiety symptoms. Beyond distress and avoidance around driving, this article from Healthline gives us some symptoms to pay attention to:
Excessive panic and fear
Strong desire to get away from the car
Shortness of breath
When driving it's important to take note if you're regularly experiencing any of these symptoms, because they may be a sign of driving anxiety. Beyond seeking assistance from a mental health provider, there are practices you can do at home and on the road that may help lower your anxiety while driving.
How to reduce driving anxiety
Understanding and addressing the root of your anxiety or fear of driving is important. This could be through professional help or trying different types of therapies, but the key reminder here is to try and understand what aspects of driving are triggering the anxiety and to develop a self-awareness when you’re on the road so you know best how to handle it in the future.
Ways to lower anxiety on the road
Anxiety can happen at any time. So when you experience it while driving, it can feel overwhelming and distracting. We learned from both Healthline and The Zebra some useful tips for managing anxiety while driving.
First, breathe. Anxiety can leave you with a shortness of breath, which is why it’s important to take slow, deep breaths. Focus on breathing in and out. Deep breathing can help your muscles relax and keep you calm.
Second, focus on your symptoms, not the thoughts behind them. Because driving anxiety can increase your heart rate, recognize it and take deep breaths. Try not to think about the fear or why the anxiety happened. It may be helpful to give yourself something to focus on—like a building or sign in the distance.
Third, engage your senses. Before you hit the road, have a stash of sour or spicy candies and gum in your car. If you start to feel panic or anxiety, take a candy out to suck on or chew. The sharp taste of the candy or gum can help you regain your senses and focus on something else, like your surroundings and driving.
Fourth, use safe distractions What do we mean by safe distractions? As you start to notice anxiety creeping up, we recommend pulling over safely and putting on a favorite playlist or podcast to listen to as you finish your commute.
Music or a funny, engaging commentary can be a great way to distract your thoughts and help you cope with any fears or worries.
As a final thought, when you’re behind the wheel remember to take things in stride. Instead of being focused on why you have driving anxiety, take it one mile at a time. Stay focused on driving in the moment and less on the scary aspects that dictate your anxiety.
Ways to lower anxiety off the road
Finding opportunities to lower your anxiety before you hit the road may help your drive be a little less stressful and help you focus on the important things like the latest episode of your favorite baking competition. Healthline shares some practices you can do from home to help lower anxiety are:
Limiting your caffeine intake
Getting a good night’s sleep
Writing down your thoughts
Taking a media mini-break
Another practice you can do from home is meditating and practicing mindfulness. Most meditation practices focus on having a full awareness of the present moment, noticing all thoughts.The practice of mindfulness or meditation can lead to a sense of calm and contentment by increasing your ability to tolerate all thoughts and feelings—relieving stress and anxiety.
Here’s how to do it: close your eyes, take slow, even, deep breaths and pay attention to your thoughts as they pass through your mind. As thoughts come to your mind, don’t judge or become involved with them. Simply observe and take note of any patterns.
These practices can help you lower stress, anxiety and improve your overall focus to accomplish tasks big and small. Whether that’s driving to college campus for an exam or trying to wrap up a work project from home.
Conquer driving anxiety and take the high road
Overcoming any anxiety disorder can feel daunting, especially when it can affect day-to-day habits like driving. By understanding why folks experience driving anxiety, what it looks like and how to cope, we’re in a better position to not only help ourselves behind the wheel but others.
At HiRoad that’s what taking the high road is all about—creating a world where we recognize those around us and celebrate the good things. When you or others are mindful and staying focused on the road, not allowing their anxiety to dictate the drive, you’re taking the high road.
And you should be rewarded for that.
The information in this article was obtained from various sources not associated with HiRoad®. While we believe it to be reliable and accurate, we do not warrant the accuracy or reliability of the information. HiRoad is not responsible for, and does not endorse or approve, either implicitly or explicitly, the content of any third party sites that might be hyperlinked from this page. The information is not intended to replace manuals, instructions or information provided by a manufacturer or the advice of a qualified professional, or to affect coverage under any applicable insurance policy. These suggestions are not a complete list of every loss control measure. HiRoad makes no guarantees of results from use of this information.
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