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On The Road

Overcoming Driver Anxiety

A fear of driving can be crippling – but it doesn't have to be. Take a look at these signs of driver anxiety, and tips on how to work through them.

by Team Onlia

From sweaty palms on the highway to an outright fear of getting behind the wheel, driver anxiety can present itself in many ways. Nervousness can stem from anything, including bad weather or a previous car accident — and for those who suffer from panic attacks, the fear of having one in the driver’s seat can be emotionally paralyzing.

However crippling driver anxiety may be, there are ways to help drivers regain the confidence they need to get back on the road. Before we get into that, let’s take a look at some common symptoms of driver anxiety. 

Signs of driver anxiety

Even the mildest of symptoms can be enough to make a trip to the grocery store exceedingly stressful. Signs that you may be fearful of driving include: 

  • Taking active steps to avoid certain roads 
  • Avoiding driving altogether
  • Feeling as though you’re driving on ‘auto-pilot’
  • Constant fear of getting into an accident or losing control of the vehicle

Although many symptoms are mental, driver anxiety can also cause physical symptoms including: 

  • Heart palpitations or rapid heartbeat
  • Faintness or dizziness
  • Chest pains or difficulty breathing 
  • Dry mouth or throat

Working through driver anxiety

Whether you’re scared of merging onto the highway or driving near big trucks, there are many coping strategies to alleviate your fears.

Identify exactly what you’re scared of

Are you worried about losing control of your vehicle? Or maybe you’re scared of having a panic attack while trapped in a traffic jam. The key is to be as specific as possible about your fears, so you can address them effectively.

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Check your car before taking off

Some anxieties can stem from concerns about your car breaking down, but technological advances have dramatically improved driver safety. Some cars have built-in sensors to detect oncoming vehicles as well as other alerts to let motorists know of potential hazards. Driving a vehicle with good safety features will give you the peace of mind that you need to drive calmly, and safely.

Practice mindfulness

Don’t let your anxiety allow you to lose focus on the road. Try bringing yourself to a place of mindfulness instead. As you become more self-aware, you’ll be able to de-escalate the urge to panic. Mindfulness is the psychological process of acknowledging your present experiences without judgement. Take a look at these simple strategies to help refocus your attention:

  • Deep and controlled breathing
  • Repeating words or suggestions in your mind that calm you
  • Slowly tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups

Refresh your knowledge

If you’re losing confidence in your driving skills because feelings of anxiety cause you to become flustered behind the wheel, consider taking a driving lesson – even if you’ve already passed your driving test. Ask a local driving instructor if they have experience working with nervous motorists; chances are, you’ll be able to find someone that’s able to work with your situation. A good tip to get started is to focus on skills that make you feel uneasy, then test them out on quiet roads.

Practice makes perfect

This cliche is certainly true when conquering driver anxiety. Practice can be beneficial when learning how to merge safely or working on your parallel park. Pick a window when there’s less traffic, and you’re not rushed for time. If practising on your own is overwhelming, bring a companion who can offer friendly encouragement.

The foundation of anxiety is often the exaggeration of danger and an underestimation of one’s true abilities. But if the above strategies aren’t working, there’s nothing wrong with seeking professional guidance. Restoring your confidence can take a lot of bravery, but you stand to re-gain the freedom and independence that comes with being able to drive yourself (and maybe others) around.

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