Do You Get Anxiety While Driving? Here's What You Can Do

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Driving anxiety is a perfectly normal and common condition—after all, it’s natural to worry about road safety. However, it can have severely negative effects on your life. 
For example, having a panic attack in traffic can be seriously dangerous for both the driver and others on the road. Moreover, depending on where you live, refusing to drive can make it difficult to get around, leading to loneliness and isolation. 
Since driving is such a core part of the American identity, many people who experience anxiety while driving may feel ashamed and hesitate to seek help.
Fortunately, there are tips to follow and ways you can mitigate your driving anxiety. Studies show that approximately 80% of those who attend therapy for driving anxiety experienced a decline in their symptoms. 
If you often get anxiety while driving, there are steps you can take to feel better.

Anxiety while driving is more common than you think

If you suffer from driving anxiety, it’s important to know that you’re not alone. More than 19 million people across America suffer from phobias, including anxiety while driving. 
Driving anxiety can be called by many names, such as amaxophobia, motorphobia, and ochlophobia. Psych Central describes it as the experience of “intense distress while driving” and “participating in avoidance behaviors, like having other people drive for you.”
While driving anxiety isn’t classified as an official mental disorder in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition), a clinically anxious driver could still receive a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder or even post-traumatic stress disorder.

Some common symptoms of anxiety while driving

According to Choosing Therapy, some common symptoms of driving anxiety include feeling overly restless or geared up while driving or while thinking about driving, feeling overly exhausted after or while driving, struggling to focus while driving, and having regular and disturbing nightmares about driving. 
Driving anxiety often manifests as panic attacks, which can be particularly dangerous if they occur while you are driving. Symptoms of panic attacks include excessive sweating, chest pain or tightness, shakiness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, numbness, and chills.  

What to do if you have a panic attack while driving 

Having a panic attack while driving is always distressing, but there are ways to cope. If you find yourself having a panic attack while driving, be sure to immediately acknowledge what’s happening and let any passengers know. 
Pull over as quickly and safely as you can and put on your hazard lights. Give yourself time to recover before you start driving again. This might include deep breathing, mindfulness practises, or other coping skills you have learned in therapy.  

How to seek help for driving anxiety 

First off, you may want to visit your doctor to check whether you have an unrelated physical reason that’s causing your anxiety, such as impaired vision or hearing. 
Even if there’s no easily diagnosable medical reason for your anxiety while driving, know that it is valid and can be dealt with. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help treat generalized anxiety disorders, phobias, and PTSD, and it can likewise help with driving anxiety. 
Another option is exposure therapy, which involves gradually exposing yourself to your anxiety triggers. While it can be scary and uncomfortable, confronting your anxieties head-on with the help of a professional can be an effective way of overcoming them. 
You may also be able to get medication to treat your anxiety while driving, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications. Be sure to discuss your symptoms and medical history with a professional to determine what treatment is best for you. 

Overcoming driving anxiety 

Choosing Therapy recommends several ways to cope with and treat your driving anxiety. First, try to understand your anxiety while driving—where it comes from, what it feels like in your body, and how you can cope with it. 
Moreover, set achievable goals for your recovery. Don’t aim too big too fast; if you’re terrified of driving, don’t start with a long road trip. 
Finally, don’t be afraid to tell others about your driving anxiety. You don’t need to do this alone, and friends and family can help support you through your journey.

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