I have suffered from driving anxiety since I first got my license in 2008. There have been periods in my life where my driving anxiety has seemingly vanished, and other points where it resurfaced with a vengeance. Driving anxiety has kept me from applying for jobs because they were located in a certain location, visiting friends alone, and going to events without a ride. I’ve also missed work because of it.
Not a lot of studies have been conducted about driving anxiety; the ones that do exist tend to focus on driving anxiety as a symptom of PTSD after an accident. Either that, or there is not a strong enough control group to argue one way or the other about driving anxiety when it is indirectly related to car accidents.
I had no idea what I was experiencing was anxiety surrounding driving, nor did I really fully understand how it was affecting my life until I realized that other people were doing things I felt I “couldn’t” do. People younger than me who had been driving for a shorter amount of time were able to do things like attend shows downtown or take a road trip with their friends– things that I never in a million years felt I could do.
Thanks to therapy and some soul searching, I’ve found some effective ways to manage my driving anxiety.
6 Tips to Manage Driving Anxiety
#1. Practice driving when you can.
This probably isn’t what you wanted to read, but hear me out. If you only drive when it’s absolutely unavoidable, your driving anxiety will be much harder to manage.
I used to always make excuses for not being able to be the driver when I went out with friends. “I’m a horrible driver, no one wants me to drive!” I would say. (In reality, I’m actually quite a safe driver.) I would pretty much only drive to work and school, when I was in college after I’d moved off campus. Eventually, my anxiety got to the point where I couldn’t even go to the grocery store without a ride.
When I moved out of my college apartment, I found myself needing to drive more often and for longer distances, but my driving anxiety was the worst it has been. It took a few months of driving regularly and running routine errands to become okay with the idea of being behind the wheel on a regular basis.
#2. Remember that no one else wants accidents.
When I was first learning how to drive, it helped me a lot to remember that other people driving are also just trying to reach their destination safely.
For me personally, my driving anxiety involves the other drivers. I am confident in my ability to drive, but I tend to find myself worrying about distracted and/or careless drivers. Gently reminding myself that everyone else has the same goal as me helps me a lot when my anxiety starts to rise.
#3. Remind yourself that it went okay.
After you’re done driving for the day, or after you do something that’s especially frightening (e.g., drive on the freeway, drive in heavy traffic) remind yourself that you are safe. You did it!
Let yourself relax when you’re done driving– try not to think about it anymore, especially if you have to drive again tomorrow.
#4. Make your car cozy.
Personalize your car so that it’s a comfortable place for you to be. It sounds a little cheesy, but it really does make your car a more homey and relaxing space.
I love to get the car fragrances from Bath & Body Works to keep my car smelling nice (especially when I can get their seasonal fragrance!). You can also get coasters for your cupholders! I used to also have a steering wheel cover, but my steering wheel has strange dimensions and I find them difficult to put on. I have a few decorative items hanging from my rear view mirror as well.
Keep your car free of clutter and trash. I know it can be difficult sometimes, but it’s way more comforting to be in a cleaner car. I try to do a deep clean of my car every 3-4 months just to make sure she’s looking her best.
#5. Make a playlist of comforting music.
I have a playlist of my absolute favorite songs that I like to put on when I’m driving. I can just set it to shuffle and not have to worry about hitting next song. Music also helps keep intrusive thoughts at bay.
An alternative to this is to drive in complete silence. For some people, silence might be preferable to the distractions of music. If you’ve tried music or podcasts and that doesn’t help, silence might help you focus better.
Don’t feel pressured to listen to a certain type of music (or music at all) while you’re driving. If you’re the driver, you can set the tone to listen to what you like.
#6. Have a plan, just in case.
Make sure you know what to do in case of an accident or if you break down. Your insurance and registration papers should be easily accessible in your glove box. Keep jumper cables with you in case your battery dies, and if you feel comfortable familiarize yourself on how to jump a car (admittedly, I’m not there yet, but that’s the next step).
Know in advance who you will call if you break down, even if you just decide to get an Uber or Lyft. If you can afford it, consider purchasing roadside assistance.
Acknowledging the fact that something could happen can be pretty scary, but at least you can get in your car knowing you have a solid plan in place in case something does happen.
What are your favorite tips for managing driving anxiety? Have you successfully overcame an intense fear of driving? I’d love to know!
Until next time,
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