Why is driving so scary?
Three Steps to Overcome Fear of Driving
For many, getting your driver’s license is an exciting rite of passage. After enough practice, most people hop behind the wheel without giving it a second thought. But if you’re nervous about driving, you’re not alone. A recent survey found that 25% of unlicensed teen drivers haven’t gotten their licenses because they’re afraid to drive.
The good news is, there are some things you can do to overcome your fear and start feeling more confident on the road. Start with these three tips.
1. Take a Deep Breath
Often, a fear of driving comes from past negative experiences or overthinking about what could happen in the future. When you get behind the wheel, take a deep breath, clear your mind, and do your best to focus on the present moment. When you feel your mind start to wander and begin having thoughts that trigger fear and anxiety, try to stop the thought pattern and come back to the present. With a bit of practice, this will soon become second nature.
If you’re still learning how to drive, keep in mind that you’ve got someone experienced right by your side to help you along your journey. Once you have your license, you just need to remind yourself that you already have all the skills you need. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have passed your driver’s test in the first place.
2. Step Out of Your Comfort Zone (When You’re Ready)
You may have a fear of freeway driving, parallel parking, or driving on that heavily congested road that people are always talking about. Stepping out of your comfort zone and pushing yourself to try the thing you’re afraid of is one of the best ways to conquer your fear.
You can make it a little bit less scary by driving at a time of day when there’s not as much traffic or practicing your parallel parking in a less-populated area. If freeway driving is your fear, try getting on and then getting off at the next exit, just for practice. If you’re really nervous about facing your fear, consider asking a friend or loved one to come along for moral support.
3. Practice Makes Perfect
The more you practice anything, the more comfortable you’ll get, and driving is no exception. When you’re on the road, you can’t control other drivers. There’s always a chance that someone will follow too close, cut you off, speed, or do other things to create a driving hazard. You may also end up needing to change lanes without much room, merge into oncoming traffic that doesn’t yield, or deal with other less-than-ideal situations.
The only way to know you’ll be able to handle it is to keep getting back in the driver’s seat no matter what happens. Remember that everyone was a new driver at one time and they all had the same fears as you have right now. The bulk of drivers on the road have overcome their fears — and you can too!
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Overcoming the Fear of Driving
1. Past negative experiences
Car accidents are the most common negative driving experience; and can be the most horrific, but there are others. Driving through a bad storm, being a victim of road rage, getting lost, or having a panic attack can all be traumatic. You may replay the experience in your mind and worry it will happen again. The repetitive thoughts and fears may then cause the person to avoid driving, only making the anxiety worse.
2. Driving outside of one’s comfort zone… alone
For some driving phobics, driving to a familiar location is no big deal. But give them directions to a new location, near or far, and their anxiety goes through the sunroof.
What if I get lost? What if my car runs out of gas? What if my cell phone gets no reception? What if I can’t find a parking spot?
It is not just the fear that something bad will happen, it is the fear that something bad will happen in an unfamiliar place, far from home, and no one will be there to help.
3. Fear of having symptoms of anxiety and being trapped
Being stuck in traffic is an irritant no one likes, but if you have a fear of panic attacks traffic can be a terrifying experience. People with a history of panic attacks tend to avoid situations where they can’t get out quickly, including freeways and left turn lanes.
What if I’m stuck traffic and have a panic attack!
Anxiety targets certain organs in the body. While some may experience racing heart and difficulty breathing, others experience diarrhea, lightheadedness or nausea. The mere thought of having these symptoms and being stuck in traffic, results in more anxiety and more avoidance.
4. Fear of going too fast and losing control
Feeling the wrath of other drivers for going too slow on the highway, there is pressure to accelerate, but your mind and body won’t let you. Clinching the steering wheel for dear life, your heart races and your body sweats.
The out of control physical symptoms of anxiety make it impossible to trust yourself to drive safely.
The fear of losing control and swerving into another lane is enough to make you drive on surface streets even if takes longer to arrive at your destination.
5. Fear of Fatalities
The basis of all anxiety is an exaggeration of danger and an underestimation of one’s ability. Fearful drivers might not trust their own ability or lack faith in other’s. Either way, they imagine the worst repeatedly. The active imagination of the driving phobic can result in the most gruesome car crashes… in their mind. You don’t have to be a victim of a previous car accident to imagine being in one.
Getting Past the Anxiety
Conquering the fear of driving IS possible but it usually requires help. The gold standard for treatment of any anxiety disorder is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
The first step is to identify your specific fear from the list above.
Then write down all the reasons you want to conquer the fear — why it’s so important. Overcoming any fear means you must face it, which requires a great deal of motivation.
A CBT therapist will help you deal with the thoughts that are causing your physical symptoms and teach you skills to relax your body and quiet your mind. The therapist will also explain the mindset required to face a fear.
Fear of driving affects all aspects of one’s life, from personal to professional. Overcoming this type of anxiety with a qualified professional, will take work and bravery, but it’s well worth, it in the end!
Now available! Recorded ADAA webinar presented by Ken Goodman — Overcoming the Fear of Driving (July 12, 2018).
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