Reasons Why You Might Experience Anxiety While Driving and How to Overcome

Reasons Why You Might Experience Anxiety While Driving and How to Overcome

Anxiety while driving is quite common.

Every time you put your hands on the wheel of a car, you essentially take lives into your own hands.

Though almost 1.3 million people die from car crashes each year – with over 7 billion people in the world, an astronomical number such as 1.3 million suddenly just seems like a blip on the radar. The fact of the matter is, the chances that you’re going to get into a fatal car accident the next time you hit the road are pretty slim.

However, the knowledge that an everyday means of transportation can be turned into a dangerous weapon is a great responsibility that can bear heavily on one’s shoulders!

Partaking in a life-or-death task is a strong foundation for an anxiety attack, for millions of people. 5-10% of drivers will experience anxiety while driving at some point in their lives. (If you think that sounds marginal, with 7 billion plus in the world, that equates to roughly 700 million people experiencing anxiety while driving.)

Do You Suffer From Anxiety While Driving?

Before you can face the anxiety at hand, be sure that you are actually having anxiety to begin with.

While driving, do you often do any of the following?

  • Play music every time, maybe even sing along
  • Arrive at a destination but not remember how you got there
  • Go into a trance during a red light that makes you miss the light turning green
  • Avoid highways
  • Stay in the right lane at all times
  • Stay off of bridges
  • Avoid going under tunnels
  • Put off taking left turns
  • Refuse to drive during rush hour
  • Always have a beverage in your cup holder
  • Prefer to drive alone

If any or all of these apply to you, you may be suffering from anxiety while driving.

Here are 3 common reasons for anxiety while driving.

The 3 P’s:

  • Panic attacks

  • Past experience

  • Performance anxiety

Let us discuss in detail these reasons, as well as, how to cope with anxiety while driving.

Past Experiences

There are many reasons why we get into car accidents. Sometimes we are careless when pulling out of a parking lot. Other times we are in a rush and far exceed the speed limit. Then there are the times when it was somebody else’s fault.

  • Whatever the reason(s) may be, past experiences have a heavy hand in leading to future anxiety while driving.

As explained in an article about the brain and stress published by Harvard Medical School, “When someone confronts an oncoming car or other danger, the eyes or ears (or both) send the information to the amygdala, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing. The amygdala interprets the images and sounds. When it perceives danger, it instantly sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus.”

The hypothalamus is the area in the brain responsible for keeping our bodies in balance. This includes regulating blood pressure, body temperature, emotions, and many other functions in our bodies that can be negatively affected by anxiety while driving. All of these emotional responses can be triggered from a past experience we’ve had while driving.

Panic Attacks

Anxiety can be a sick cycle.

Sometimes what sets off a panic attack is the fear of having a panic attack. Getting behind the wheel and knowing that you are confined to that space while driving at dangerous speeds, can set off a panic attack in anyone who suffers from anxiety.

Panic attacks usually become a part of your life over time, due to situations out of one’s control. These situations could be a stressful job, bad relationship, or a sudden illness. The gradual development of panic attacks in everyday life will eventually begin to bleed over into other areas that are less stressful such as family get-togethers, sports activities, or behind the wheel.

  • The fear of having a panic attack and not being able to get off the road can lead to anxiety while driving.

When anxiety gets a hold of a person who is afraid of having a panic attack, they can end up making mistakes they normally wouldn’t make. They might become hyper-aware of the cars around them. They may feel there isn’t enough room in their lane.

anxiety while drivingThese fears of having a panic attack and the errors that it could potentially cause may lead to an actual panic attack. From there, heart palpitations and heavy breathing may begin.

If you feel you are having a panic attack behind the wheel, follow the RABBIT Method to calm down your nerves and regain your focus on the road.

Performance Anxiety

People who experience performance anxiety while driving prefer to drive alone and off of highways. They lack confidence in their own driving abilities.

  • Performance anxiety-ridden drivers are worried about not only causing an accident, but they’re concerned with how other drivers perceive them.

This type of anxiety may cause the driver to drive faster in situations where they shouldn’t be driving so recklessly, such as, residential areas or slower in areas, like merging onto a highway.

Performance anxiety while driving is further exasperated by other things out your control. These could be driving through a construction site, somebody honking the horn as soon as the light turns green, being followed too closely, or bad weather.

How Do You Handle Anxiety While Driving?

The best way to handle anxiety while driving is to figure out what is triggering it.

If you realize that you are anxious because of your fear of having a panic attack while driving, look into how to handle your panic attacks better. If it is too overwhelming to drive, stop.

Work on other less dangerous activities that may bring on panic attacks, such as, waiting in a long line or going to a concert. Once you work on panic attacks in those situations, then you can begin to make progress on tackling your battle with anxiety while driving.

If you find that performance anxiety or past experiences are causing you anxiety while driving, try implementing the RABBIT Method.

Learning how to:

  • identify,

  • accept,

  • and work through anxiety,

Can make a great difference in how you handle anxiety while driving.

Whatever is causing your anxiety while driving, the main forces at work is one, or all, of the 3 P’s: Past Experiences, Panic Attacks or Performance Anxiety.

Do you experience anxiety while driving? If so, which of the 3 P’s do you identify most with? Let us know in the comments below!