Young woman places her hand on her head in despair while sitting in the driver's seat of a compact car

5 Ways to Manage Your Anxiety Behind the Wheel

If you live with anxiety, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s very common. In fact, “anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year,” according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

While anxiety is highly treatable, anxiety disorders develop as a result of a complicated set of risk factors, including:

  • Genetics
  • Brain chemistry
  • Personality
  • Life experience

If you suffer from anxiety and it impacts your driving, there are things you can do to help deal with it behind the wheel. Here are five ways you can manage your anxiety on the road:

#1 - Stay focused on the road.

Oftentimes, those who suffer from driving anxiety tend to think ahead during the whole drive. If this sounds like you, it may be helpful to try adjusting your focus so that you think about one thing at a time. This can help you remain in the present moment, rather than focusing on what could go wrong along the whole trip.

Shifting your focus in this way requires practice because your mind wants to think ahead to make sure you stay safe. One effective way to start practicing this shift in focus is to keep your attention on sensory experiences, such as seeing the road ahead and feeling your hands touching the steering wheel.

#2 - Stop avoiding what makes you anxious.

Each time you avoid doing something that makes you feel anxious, it teaches your brain that the thing you are avoiding is dangerous. You might try to do what you can to talk yourself out of feeling anxious or stressed, but the most effective way to engrain something in your brain is through direct experience.

Facing the situations that trigger your anxiety is the most powerful way to coach your nervous system into understanding that it doesn’t have to panic.

#3 - Don’t give in to catastrophic suspicions.

Your anxiety may lead to panic, which might tell you that a disaster awaits you behind the wheel, even if that’s never actually been the case before. Fear may tell you that even though you’ve been fine up until this point, the next time something goes wrong, it will be catastrophic and you may not be able to effectively handle the situation.

Of course, something can always go wrong, even if you’re as prepared as you possibly can be. However, just because something goes wrong does not mean that your worst-case scenario will come true. In fact, most of the time, the worst you will deal with if panic becomes very intense is fear and panic.

#4 - Disregard emotional reasoning.

While your fears can help keep you safe, they can also be unwarranted. When your anxiety is high, you may think that feeling like you’re in danger is proof that you are in danger. The issue with this is that your mind can make you feel a false sense of danger.

It is very common for people to live in such a way that “feeling is believing.” Some people are more prone to panic than others, which may cause the interpretation of psychological symptoms of anxiety as dangers.

If you notice that you use emotional reasoning, begin questioning the fundamentals about what you believe fear means. It could just mean that you’re afraid.

#5 - Let go of safety behaviors when you are ready.

As you become more comfortable with the idea that your anxiety doesn’t control you, it’s a good idea to let go of behaviors that you’ve adopted to help prevent you from panicking or avoid a catastrophe if panic hits. Common instances behind the wheel include things like:

  • Conducting internet searches over and over regarding the possible consequences of panic while driving.
  • Checking traffic reports before driving on a bridge to ensure there’s no traffic congestion on it.
  • Avoiding driving during rush hour so that you don’t get stuck in traffic.
  • Trying to find a new route to avoid bridges or tunnels.
  • Avoiding driving in certain lanes on a bridge.
  • Speeding on a bridge in order to get it over with (which is ironically a very unsafe behavior).
  • Driving needlessly slow because it feels safer.

The issue with safety behaviors such as the ones listed above is that they provide a false impression that you are unsafe unless you do x,y,z. When this happens, you may continue feeling as though driving is very dangerous and must be managed closely so that nothing bad happens.

Remember that reducing anxiety is a process and likely won’t happen overnight. All of the aforementioned tips need to be practiced on a regular basis in order to truly be effective.

Go easy on yourself as you work through your driving anxiety. Have realistic expectations with yourself and give yourself credit for the small wins. Your chances of long-term success are much better when you set expectations you can actually live up to.

If you feel anxious behind the wheel as a result of an injury-sustaining car accident, you may be owed compensation for your losses. Don’t hesitate to reach out to our office right away with any questions you may have.

Call us today at (800) 670-0567 to discuss the details of your case!