Does the thought of driving down the highway or in heavy traffic make your heart race?
Driving anxiety is a very real and disruptive fear for many Canadians. Symptoms can range from uneasiness to a full-fledged panic attack, and for those dealing with driving anxiety, getting behind the wheel can be one of their biggest fears.
In Canada, our primary mode of transportation is automobiles. Getting from one end of a city to another, or reaching smaller rural communities is often only accomplished by driving. Our cities are spread out, making travel by foot often difficult. Though it’s possible to use public transportation, accessibility is more limited when compared to major metropolitan cities in Europe or the States.
In short, when living in Canada, there is a pretty good chance that you will need to drive.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America listed the top 5 causes for driving anxiety. By understanding the potential cause of your nervousness being in the driver’sseat, you can slowly begin to find strategies to manage these emotions.
The Top 5 Driving Anxiety Causes:
Symptoms of Driving Anxiety
Driving anxiety can manifest in several different ways, as shared by Desjardins Insurance. Symptoms may include:
Driving anxiety is not only a very emotional experience for the person encountering these symptoms, but it can also put their own life and the lives of others at risk.
If you are experience driving anxiety, there a a few strategies and tips available to help you overcome this fear and become a more confident driver on the road. Psychology Today stated in a recent article that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as one of the most effective ways to treat driving-related panic attacks. CBT includes using a few techniques to help you face your fear instead of avoiding it
If you want to start taking control over your fear of driving, give these 3 tips a try:
Slowly exposing ourselves to our fears is a powerful way to retrain your brain and nervous system. The more we practice doing the things that make us uncomfortable, the better we get at managing our emotional response and teaching our body that it doesn’t need to panic. To begin, go on easy, 5 to 10-minute drives around your neighbourhood. Over time, increase the distance you drive away from home and your minutes on the road.
Those with driving-related anxiety are often thinking about the whole trip ahead before they even pull out of their driveway. By doing this, you are trying to anticipate what is to come like bridge crossings, high-traffic areas, and worrying about different scenarios. Though we may think that this “pre-planning” is a good idea, it can cause the brain to feel overwhelmed, triggering anxiety.
Instead of mapping out the entire drive, focus on the present moment. Think only about what is in front of you, and manage only one section of your trip at a time. This takes practice as the brain likes to jump ahead and stay busy. But if you focus on one portion of the journey at a time, it feels less overwhelming and more attainable.
If while you are driving, you begin to experience a panic attack, pull over when it is safe to do so. Turn on your hazard lights (safety first!) and then focus on controlling your physical symptoms. You can do this by taking slow, deep inhales and exhales. If your hands are trembling, shake them out, and if you feel hot or sweaty, turn on the AC.
Close your eyes, and remind yourself that these symptoms are temporary and will go away. Try your best to avoid thinking about your fear and just focus on your breathing. This will help to calm your nerves. As soon as we start thinking about our fear, a physical reaction can arise in the body. By learning how to control those emotions, we can slowly develop techniques to overcome our anxiety on the road.
If you’ve experienced a panic attack while behind the wheel, or are worried about having one, it might be a good idea to speak to a therapist. They can share useful strategies and tips to help you cope with driving anxiety.
Remember, this is a common fear amongst Canadians. However, with a little practice and by facing your fears head-on, you can become a confident driver on the highway.