Do you ever feel nervous while you're behind the wheel? Perhaps you get sweaty palms and a knot in your stomach as you merge onto the freeway or parallel park? If you're nodding your head yes, you may be one of the many Americans experiencing driving anxiety — anxious feelings tied to driving. Read on to learn more about this common issue and five ways to overcome it.
The Majority of Americans Are Experiencing Driving Anxiety
As it turns out, many Americans experience driving anxiety. In a 2021 survey of 1,500 U.S. adults, about 66% of respondents reported experiencing anxious feelings tied to driving. Further, 55% reported feeling anxious when performing common driving maneuvers like merging onto the highway, backing up, and making unprotected left turns. According to the results from another 2021 survey, 65% of the 2,000 U.S. respondents reported feeling more anxious in vehicles since the pandemic.
So, what's causing all of this driving anxiety?
Common Causes of Driving Anxiety
The root cause of driving anxiety can vary from one person to another. However, some of the potential causes include:
Phobias related to driving (fear of being criticized, fear of losing control of the car, and agoraphobia, which sometimes means fear of traveling long distances away from home)
A lack of confidence in driving skills
Previous negative driving experiences
A lack of practice during the pandemic
Being a victim of road rage
Being yelled at and intimidated when learning to drive a car
Driving in dangerous weather conditions, such as in deep snow, on black ice, in heavy rain, fog, smog, etc.
Frightening news stories about bad vehicle collisions
How to Ease Driving Anxiety
While there isn't one surefire way to ease driving anxiety, here are five tips that may be able to help.
1. Confront the Root Cause of Your Anxiety
It's hard to solve a problem when you don't know what's causing it. A good place to start can be observing yourself. Pay attention and take note whenever you feel anxious. For example, do the feelings only occur in certain driving situations, or is it every time you drive?
Once you realize when your anxiety kicks in, explore the root cause of those feelings. For example, if you feel nervous every time you're in traffic on the freeway, ask yourself what it is about the traffic that makes you nervous. What are you afraid might happen? Has something happened in the past that scared you? From there, you can begin to work through potential solutions.
2. Seek Help
If you're having trouble getting to the root of your anxiety, you could also try seeking some help from a close friend, significant other, or licensed therapist. Often, talking about your fears and feelings can help to turn them from something big and intimidating to something more manageable. You don't have to deal with it alone!
3. Keep Up On Car Maintenance
A key part of staying safe on the road is ensuring your car is in good working order. When your tires are bald or brake pads are running thin, it's a valid reason for concern. Follow the maintenance recommendations for your vehicle and tires. Having a mechanic reassure you that all is in good working order can put your mind at ease as you're driving around on a daily basis.
4. Learn Relaxation Techniques
What about when you're in traffic and anxious feelings strike? In those moments, it can help to have some relaxation techniques up your sleeve. For example, taking slow, deep breaths or counting backward can have a calming effect. You may also want to keep a playlist of songs on hand that make you feel happy and relaxed. Research different techniques that can help you in stressful moments.
5. Build Driving Skills to Boost Confidence
Lastly, consider brushing up on your driving skills. A driver's ed course can keep you up to date on all the latest traffic laws and best practices for safe driving (including defensive driving techniques). They are not just for helping teens learn to drive! With a stronger skillset, anyone can feel more confident about the many scenarios they may encounter on the road. Plus, nowadays, you can enroll online and complete the course from the comfort of your home!
Driving has inherent risks, there's no doubt about that. But those risks don't need to leave you in an ongoing state of distress. If driving makes you feel more nervous than you'd prefer, try out these steps and see what works best for you.