Driving has become a big part of our lives. It’s a right of passage for teenagers and a way to get to work for many adults. However, driving doesn’t come easily for everyone.
Driving anxiety is a common experience. A 2022 survey found that 66% of Americans experience driving anxiety. People will experience driving anxiety differently. Some may feel panicked while merging onto a freeway, but for some, even the thought of getting into a vehicle is enough to make them anxious.
Driving Anxiety and Driving Phobia
Anxiety can happen all the time or when triggered by certain events or places. It doesn’t have to be connected to a specific location, event, or environment. For some people, anxiety can occur without the need for a trigger. Although for some, certain environments can trigger anxiety.
These instances of anxiety can be linked to a phobia. An intense anxiety disorder is where a person might experience a panic attack or severe anxiety symptoms when exposed to a specific fear.
Vehophobia and Amaxaphobia
Vehophobia is defined as the fear of driving a vehicle. People who experience vehophobia have an intense fear of operating a vehicle. Amaxaphobia is the fear of driving a vehicle or being a passenger.
People with these phobias will find it makes daily life a challenge. Cars have become such an ingrained part of daily transportation. Not just that, but some people may even feel a fear of riding in any vehicle including trains, subways, or buses.
Why Would People Develop Driving Anxiety?
There are a couple of reasons why someone may develop a phobia of driving or driving anxiety.
However, causes of anxiety aren’t specifically known, but we do know that specific phobias can be triggered by certain events. Those who develop anxiety are often at risk by family history and brain biology.
A Traumatic Experience
People who have experienced a traumatic event are much more likely to develop driving anxiety.
When people experience trauma, their brain has a difficult time storing the event properly. Therefore, they often struggle with troubling memories or intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event.
PTSD from a traumatic event such as a car accident may create anxiety when thinking about or driving a vehicle.
Other Anxiety Disorders
Someone with a general anxiety disorder or panic disorder may feel pressured or panicked by driving. Experiencing symptoms of anxiety while driving makes it difficult to operate a vehicle, and can be dangerous.
Being Somewhere Unfamiliar
Some individuals may experience fear of getting lost in an unfamiliar place. They may fear running out of gas and having no way to call anyone.
When a person experiences these fears it can be difficult to drive, especially cross country.
Intrusive Thoughts About Accidents
Intrusive thoughts seem to be a buzzword right now, but they’re more than a trendy fad. They are unwanted, invasive thoughts about scary, or out-of-character things. Those experiencing intense intrusive thoughts often feel compelled to act upon them.
When a person experiences intrusive thoughts about accidents, they may feel unable to continue driving.
Therapy for Driving Anxiety
In the 21st century, driving or riding in a vehicle is centric to professional and social life. It can be hugely detrimental to those experiencing driving anxiety. However, there are a couple of options for dealing with driving anxiety.
Talk Therapy to Treat Anxiety
Talk therapy has been a proven therapy for generalized anxiety disorder and can be applied to driving anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a great treatment option for those experiencing driving anxiety.
In talk therapy, you’ll identify triggers and learn what to do about them. It’s a great treatment option that deals with the root of issues.
Take Small Steps at a Time
For some, treatment could take a long time. Take it one step at a time. Exposure therapy doesn’t mean going beyond what you feel comfortable with. Taking a short drive down the street, sitting in a car while someone drives slowly for a short period. Go at your own pace.
Breathing exercises are proven to reduce anxiety. Practicing relaxation techniques is a great option for keeping yourself calm while in stressful environments. Employ these relaxation techniques before going into driving and while driving.
Deep breathing is a simple tool that slows down your heart rate and brings in more oxygen into your system. Elongate your inhales and breathe through your nose then exhale through your mouth.
Mindfulness is a great tool for grounding yourself and staying relaxed. There are multiple options for learning these exercises including in-person classes, but if you’re looking for some guidance, there are lots of online guided training.