How to Overcome Tunnel Anxiety

by | Apr 16, 2020 | Traffic School

Overcoming the Fear of Driving Through Tunnels

Gephyrophobia is the fear of crossing bridges while claustrophobia is the fear of enclosed spaces. Perhaps the fear of driving through a tunnel is a combination of both. Or, perhaps it’s a symptom of a panic disorder, which 2-3% of Americans suffer from.

If you have a fear of driving through a tunnel, you may experience anything from travel delays to bouts of distracted driving.

Overcoming this fear will help you to gain control of your life and avoid accidents or risky driving maneuvers!

Read on to learn more about how to overcome your fear of and cope with the anxiety it may produce.

Symptoms of Tunnel Anxiety

How do you know that tunnels are causing you anxiety? Imagine that you’re driving down the road beneath the open sky. You feel relaxed but alert and know that you have full control over your vehicle. However, all of that begins to change as you approach an oncoming tunnel.

Tunnel anxiety may manifest physically. You might feel shortness of breath, an increased heart rate, and it may even feel like your eyes are struggling to focus. Your hands may begin to shake or your body temperature may increase.

You may also feel mental symptoms. Some people experience racing or scattered thoughts that disconnect their minds from the road. It could feel as though you are entering into an almost dream-like state.

If these feelings arise when you approach or attempt to drive through a tunnel, you likely have a specific phobia or anxiety reaction that is triggered not by driving as a whole but to this specific situation.

Is Driving Through a Tunnel Safe?

Before we get into the in’s and out’s of overcoming your fear, let’s address the safety aspect. Perhaps you worry that your safety levels decrease once you enter a tunnel.

In actuality, statistics reveal that fewer accidents occur inside of tunnels than they do on the open road. It’s not entirely clear why this is the case but may have to do with drivers’ heightened alertness that is brought on by driving through a dark, enclosed space. It may also be that the discouragement of changing lanes or abruptly changing speeds in a tunnel could also contribute to a low accident rate.

In other words, you have little to fear when driving in a tunnel. Remembering this could be an important part of overcoming your tunnel anxiety!

Techniques to Overcome Your Fear of Tunnels

If your tunnel anxiety is extreme or debilitating, you may want to seek a registered therapist’s help. They are best suited to walk you through a number of techniques that can reverse your physical and mental response to tunnels. The biggest goal is to replace the fear response with coping and relaxation techniques.

Therapists may use systematic desensitization to address your tunnel anxiety. This involves helping you achieve a state of relaxation before walking you, mentally, through potential triggers. When you and your therapist stumble across a trigger, the therapist will ask you to focus on this source of anxiety while working to keep yourself calm and relaxed.

A therapist may also try cognitive behavioral therapy. The goal is to locate the thoughts that accompany your feelings of anxiety that create unrealistic fears or scenarios to play out in your mind. Isolating these negative thoughts and working through them until you can identify them as unrealistic will help you to move past them entirely.

One of the best things you can do in the moment is to practice a series of grounding techniques. When you know you are approaching a tunnel, begin a cycle of deep breathing. Draw a deep breath in through your nose and let it out slowly through your mouth to slow your heart rate.

Another grounding technique you can practice in the car is isolated muscle relaxation. When our muscles tense, it sends a signal to our brain that there is a reason to panic. Grip the steering wheel or tighten your arm or leg muscles (as long as it does not affect your ability to control the car) and then release the tension so that your brain is told that the coast is clear.

Finally, employing defensive driving techniques will help you to overcome your tunnel anxiety.

Driving Defensively Through Tunnels

If you’ve experienced trouble with driving through tunnels in the past that led to accidents, you may need a refresher in defensive driving. Not only can this give you a renewed sense of safe driving techniques but it can also help to lower your insurance rates if they’ve gone up after a tunnel anxiety-related accident. Both you and your insurance company will appreciate this effort to improve your driving skills!

When you are entering a tunnel, turn on your headlights to illuminate your path but avoid your high-beams, which will distract other drivers.

Do not change lanes when you are within a quarter of a mile of a tunnel, while you are in the tunnel, or until you are a quarter of a mile away from the end of the tunnel. Most drivers do not anticipate this lane change and will not be prepared to safely let you over.

Maintain the same speed while you are in the tunnel. Naturally, you will need to mirror the speed of the driver in front of you. While remaining at a steady pace, keep a larger distance from the car in front of you than you would on the open road.

By doing all of these things, you are ensuring that your trip through the tunnel will be safe. Focusing on defensive driving techniques is a great way to refocus your brain on the things you can control, rather than the fears you’ve felt in the past about driving through tunnels.

Sign Up for An Online Defensive Driving Course

If you’ve had issues with driving through tunnels, whether they’ve led to accidents or high levels of discomfort, consider signing up for one of our online defensive driving courses to help you feel more confident in your driving skills.

Select the state you live in to get started today!

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