Driving Anxiety: Causes, Symptoms, and Solutions

Driving anxiety is a common issue. It can range from a slight uneasiness at getting behind the wheel to an all-out phobia that causes you to avoid driving, no matter what. 

It’s actually one of the most common phobias out there, and it can have a number of causes. But no matter how it arises, when anxiety gets in the way of driving a car, it can really limit your independence.

So if you think you or someone you know is dealing with a fear of driving, here’s what you need to know: there are a number of options that can help you overcome it.

But first, here are some common causes of driving anxiety, and the symptoms that it can bring.

Insights and Strategies from Activa Clinics

What Causes Driving Anxiety?

  • Traumatic experience: If you were in a car accident or near-miss, it can trigger a fear of driving. That can also be true if you witnessed an accident or even just heard about one.
  • Panic attacks: If you’re someone who has ever experienced panic attacks or just felt on the verge of one, you may be afraid of having one in the car and losing control.
  • Vicious cycle: Some experts say that if you become anxious about driving, it leads you to make more mistakes, which then feeds your anxiety.  

Symptoms of Driving Anxiety

For people with a fear of driving, getting behind the wheel will cause some of the usual physical symptoms of fear:

  • Sweating
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Shaking
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling faint
  • Tingling
  • Chest pain 
  • Dry mouth 

And these are some behaviors that are common signs of driving anxiety:

  • Avoiding driving altogether
  • Avoiding driving on the highway, bridges, tunnels, or certain routes
  • Feeling as though you were on “automatic pilot” while driving
Overcoming Your Driving Anxiety
Relaxation techniques

As with any form of anxiety, there are relaxation techniques that may help you overcome the symptoms and be better prepared to face your fear. Many people find that simply focusing on taking deep slow breaths is an effective method, but there are a variety of relaxation techniques to choose from, such as:

Mental Health Therapy

If relaxation techniques aren’t working, you may want to consider mental health therapy, as it is highly effective at treating anxiety disorders. Psychologists can help you identify the cause of your anxiety and deal with it. Typically, they do that with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). 

CBT addresses the negative thoughts that contribute to your anxiety and then helps you change those thinking patterns. It also gives you guidance on how to face your fear and see that your anxieties were unfounded.


Keep driving

While you’re working on addressing your anxiety, you should continue driving as much as you can. Completely avoiding driving can increase your anxiety, and the idea of getting back on the road will grow into a more daunting task over time. 

Phobias are often treated with exposure therapy, which means facing your fear, one baby step at a time. So try to gradually drive more and more, and work towards the routes or situations that give you the most anxiety.

If you’re worried that you lack driving skills or that anxiety will make you unsafe behind the wheel, there are driving instructors who specialize in helping people with anxiety. And as always, drive safe!