10 tips to deal with Driving Anxiety
Many people avoid driving or being a passenger in a car because of Driving Anxiety.
Driving anxiety is intense fear, phobia, or distress at the possibility of driving or being a passenger in a car. These feelings can also appear in specific situations, such as driving over a bridge, at night, during winter, or being a front-seat passenger. In many cases, people are afraid because they think that something bad can happen to them.
Strategies to help
The good news is that there are tips and strategies to help you manage your symptoms and fear of driving. Here are 10 tips to help you:
1. Recognize signs of anxiety in yourself
Signs of driving anxiety include:
- Stopping the activity (e.g., you’ve ceased driving)
- Physical reactions (e.g., sweating, headaches, chest pains, dry throat, etc.)
- Plan driving routes that are very elaborate and longer than necessary, to avoid certain roads
2. Recognize what specifically triggers your anxiety (e.g., certain intersections, loud sirens, car screeching)
3. Plan your trip in advance:
- Know what route you will take
- Anticipate what challenges might arise and be prepared to deal with them
4. Avoid black and white, or absolutist, thinking.
- Being in a car does not mean you will be in an accident
- Accept that there are always risks with driving; cut those risks by driving responsibly (be alert, know your own limitations, don’t drink and drive, etc.)
5. Realistic thinking
It is important for your mind to stay focused on the task of driving and that your internal thoughts are positive and helpful for the goal of returning to driving. You can use Calming/Realistic Thinking anytime that you notice worry or doubt thoughts coming into your mind. When you recognize a worry or doubt thought, counter that thought. Here are some sample questions you can counter the thought with to help your thinking be more calm or realistic:
- Would most people agree with this thought? If not, what would most people think?
- What would I say to a friend if a friend was in a similar situation?
- What will happen if I continue to think this way?
- What is a more encouraging or useful way of thinking?
6. Learn to reduce your tension when at the wheel.
- Relax before, during, and after you drive
- When you are aware of yourself becoming tense, engage in the stress reduction management strategies that work best for you, such as playing music and breathing techniques
7. Return to driving in a graduated fashion
- Start small and slow
- Gradually increase the driving time (duration), frequency, and environmental stimulus (how busy the streets are)
8. Use affirmations to confirm that you’re doing the right thing while driving.
Reassure yourself that you are ok! Such as:
- I am driving carefully and within the speed limit. Careful driving is safe driving.
- Driving is a common, everyday activity. I am an alert driver participating in a common activity with care.
- I do not have to drive fast, I can drive in the right-hand lane if I want to travel slower than other cars.
- I have power and control over what happens to me.
9. “Safety Sack”
Prepare a bag or collection of objects that make you feel safe. This “sack” is something that you can then carry around with you when you travel in a vehicle to help you feel safe wherever you go.
10. Seek professional help
Seeing a counsellor, psychologist or Occupational Therapist might be helpful to manage your driving anxiety.
An OT can help
Together, you and your OT can identify triggers, develop calming techniques, create checklists and prompts, and develop a gradual plan to resume this important activity. Your OT can also help you practice driving – they can ride as a passenger in your car while you practice your strategies and build up confidence as a driver.
Occupational Therapists at OT Works! have experience with driving desensitization and can help you overcome your driving anxiety and get back to being a successful driver or passenger.
If you or someone you know is looking for support with driving anxiety, contact us today.
Phone: 604.696.1066 ext. 1000.