For many people, there’s a sense of freedom associated with jumping in the car and driving wherever and whenever they want. Unfortunately for others, the thought of operating a vehicle generates sweaty palms, restlessness, and a racing heartbeat.

Driving anxiety is real, but it doesn’t have to keep you from taking a trip to the grocery store or enjoying a Sunday afternoon drive. Continue reading as we explore how to overcome driving anxiety.

Driving Anxiety Symptoms

Excessive worrying is a common symptom of anxiety that can make it difficult to concentrate or perform even the easiest task. Having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep is one of the most common indicators of anxiety. If you mentally dissect and agonize over the driving tasks you must perform long before you’re even in the car, you might have driving anxiety.

Tension is another common symptom. If you feel tense hours before you get behind the wheel, anxiety may be affecting your desire to drive. Of course, life stressors may also play a role in causing tense muscles or even tension headaches. However, you can’t rule out tension being associated with anxiety.

Fear of being trapped in traffic is a feeling mentioned by many people who experience driving anxiety. While no one likes to be stuck in traffic, the claustrophobic feeling can lead to a panic attack in some people. Fear of the unknown can also keep people from driving. What if the car breaks down in a strange part of the city? What if I don’t know where to go? What if there’s no one around to help? Anxiety can make seemingly routine tasks challenging.

Finally, if you often find excuses to avoid getting behind the wheel, driving anxiety might be a burden you’re carrying. You may experience multiple anxiety symptoms that can make even the shortest trip feel overwhelming. Rather than deal with those feelings, you might decide to avoid driving altogether.

Triggers of Anxiety and Driving Symptoms 

Driving anxiety doesn’t usually manifest on its own. It’s typically triggered by an event or the exposure of new information. As a result, your mind stores this information, and the emotions struggle to reconcile. Consequently, you may then develop driving anxiety. There are a number of possible causes for driving anxiety.

Past experiences can trigger driving anxiety. Maybe you’ve been in an accident, lost someone in an accident or heard stories of terrible accidents. These are traumatic experiences that can deeply impact the way you feel about getting behind the wheel. It’s never something to be ashamed of. Information has the power to inform your beliefs in any direction.

The fear of going fast, losing control, and ultimately crashing can trigger driving anxiety because no one wants to experience an accident. Car crashes can be fatal. Whether they’re fatal to you, people in your car or people in another car, it can be extremely devastating to deal with the aftermath of a car crash. So in order to prevent any potential tragedy, some people opt to avoid driving altogether.

More Anxiety and Driving Problems

A lack of driving experience is a common driving anxiety symptom for new drivers. Whenever you step into a completely new experience, it’s understandable to have a certain level of trepidation or anxiety surrounding it.

When a person doesn’t know all of the details within a specific subject matter, they’re not going to confidently offer their opinion on it. The same concept applies for someone who has a lack of knowledge surrounding traffic laws and how to navigate the roads. They’re going to feel a certain sense of anxiety because this is not their area of expertise. Knowledge and experience are key in avoiding more anxiety and driving problems.

How to Overcome Driving Anxiety

Get Behind the Wheel

The best way to overcome driving anxiety is to face your fears head on. Develop a practice schedule and stick to it. Go to a large empty parking lot, and practice the rules of the road. Take your time throughout the process. Once you get the hang of parking lots, graduate to roads that aren’t very busy throughout the day.

As you get more comfortable behind the wheel, you can advance to highways, busy streets and interstates. Be intentional about breathing through the entire process and creating rituals to calm yourself down. This might include listening to calming music, using deep breathing exercises, and taking time to stop when you’re overwhelmed. It’s okay to take small steps to overcome anxiety. If you need a short break, pull into a parking lot or side street and reset your thinking.

Be Patient with Yourself

When you’re trying to overcome a difficult hurdle, one of the worst things you can do is try to rush through the process. Instead, take your time. Understand that Rome wasn’t built in a day. The fear you developed is real. In that case, you have to approach it from a realistic perspective. By taking your time to acknowledge your anxiety, develop a plan to conquer it, and give yourself adequate time to graduate to the next level of improvement, you’ll be in a better position to manage and eventually overcome your driving anxiety.

Keep Your Stress Levels Low

When your emotions are high, it’s much harder to maintain a level head behind the wheel. This is one of the reasons why road rage is such a huge problem. If you plan to go for a practice drive at 4 p.m., consider taking a nap at 2 p.m. A good rest can calm you down, relax your nerves, and ensure that you’re well-rested before getting on the road. Besides, if you’re exhausted, you should never get behind the wheel.

If you’re emotionally spent, it’s going to be difficult to focus clearly. You can also keep your stress levels low by maintaining a ritual before you get on the road. Whether you like to meditate, color, or go for a jog, find an activity that helps you boost your mood and decrease stress before you get on the road.

Drive with Someone You Trust

In their studies surrounding burnout, Drs. Amelia and Emily Nagoski discovered that one of the best ways to heal from burnout involves surrounding yourself with people who provide a safe, home-like space. The right person’s personality and demeanor allow you to relax in their company. In turn, this helps to heal people from burnout.

The same concept applies to someone who is dealing with driving anxiety symptoms. Whether it’s a close friend, a spouse, or another loved one, find someone who can help you navigate through learning how to overcome driving anxiety. Ask them to sit in the passenger seat as you drive during your practice sessions. Their presence can allow you to feel relaxed, focused, and motivated to conquer the hurdle of driving anxiety.

Take an Online Defensive Driving Course

Knowledge is power that builds confidence. One of the most effective ways to overcome anxiousness is to study and thoroughly understand the subject matter. When you prepare to get behind the wheel, you might feel insecure in your lack of knowledge about driving laws and regulations. As a result, this can contribute to or cause anxiety and driving problems. By taking an online defensive driving course, you will learn about traffic rules, regulations, and even safety tips to help you navigate hazardous driving conditions and more.

Facing Driving Anxiety

Though it might seem overwhelming at first, conquering driving anxiety involves the commitment to show up. As you adjust your mindset, take baby steps and commit, your confidence in your ability to drive will increase.