Some people say that they don't like driving or that they fear being behind the wheel. If you notice that you have an extreme fear of driving to the point that it causes you distress, you could have a driving phobia. It could make you feel like your life is in danger when you're driving or riding in a car. You might even experience panic attacks, a racing heart, rapid breathing, or feelings of dread. If the anxiety you feel about being behind the wheel controls you and prevents you from driving calmly or even driving, it will be important to face your phobia. In this way, you can get back behind the wheel and you can take control of your life.
Part 1 of 3: Practice relaxation techniques
Step 1. Create a calm environment in the car
You should feel comfortable just sitting on it regardless of whether it moves or not. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes. Practice sitting in the car and relaxing before you start driving it. Consider playing soothing music. This may help you overcome some of your panic and may muffle the sound of other cars.
- Even the safest driver can feel anxious if there are noisy passengers in the car. Make sure there is no noise, trash, or clutter.
- Increase your sense of security in the car by making sure the car has the necessary repairs.
Step 2. Practice abdominal breathing
If you start to feel like a panic attack or your neck and chest muscles get stiff, take a deep breath. Breathe in slowly through your nose with the goal of drawing air into the lower part of your lungs. Let your belly expand and pause for a moment while holding your breath. Breathe out slowly and let your whole body relax.
You can repeat this process 10 times, counting backwards on each exhale. Try to complete 3 sets of 10
Step 3. Try Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
Tense and relax the muscles of the body so that you are aware of how to maintain and release tension. Start by clenching your fists for 7-10 seconds. Release them for 15 to 20 seconds as you focus on how the tension leaves the muscles in your hands. Repeat the exercise with other muscles and move from the arms to the head, then move from the lower part of your body to your feet and the balls of your feet.
You can even practice RMP every day for 20 minutes even if you don't experience panic. This can improve your sense of control over your mood, reduce the frequency of panic attacks, and increase your concentration
Step 4. Use positive affirmations
Affirmations are brief positive statements that remind you that you can make changes. To drive a car, the type of affirmations you could use are the following:
- I am driving carefully and within the speed limit. Safe driving is safe driving.
- Driving is an ordinary activity. I am an alert driver who participates carefully in a common activity.
- I don't have to drive fast. I can drive in the right lane if I want to travel slower than other cars.
- I don't have to risk changing lanes at the last minute. If I miss the detour lane, I can return.
- I have planned this trip from start to finish. I know where I am going and when to make lane changes and detours. I am well prepared.
- Even though I am a passenger, I control my reactions to being in the car. If I feel uncomfortable at any point, I can ask the driver to park.
Part 2 of 3: Using Exposure Therapy
Step 1. Consider confronting your phobia
You may have been told that you have to face your fear. Exposing yourself to it is very important if you have been avoiding driving for fear of having a panic attack. Exposure therapy is still one of the most important ways to overcome a phobia, although you should know the relaxation techniques and be able to use them before you begin to confront your phobia. This way, you will have a sense of control during the session.
Avoiding your phobia will actually only make the fear worse over time and could lead to other phobias
Step 2. Create an anxiety scale
Have a familiarity with your anxiety levels so that you can act before reaching a full scale panic attack. Having an anxiety scale will also help you know when to stop exposure before you hit a moderate panic. Your scale should describe the physical and mental characteristics of your anxiety. An example scale could be like the one below:
- 0 - completely relaxed: no tension, calm, calm
- 1 - minimal anxiety: slightly nervous, more alert or aware
- 2 - mild anxiety: muscle tension, tingling or butterflies in the stomach
- 3 - moderate anxiety: increased heart rate and breathing, slightly uncomfortable but in control
- 4 - marked anxiety: clear muscle tension, increased discomfort, doubt to remain in control
- 5- onset of panic: racing heart or irregular heartbeat, dizziness, clear fear of losing control, desire to escape
- 6- moderate panic: heart palpitations, labored breathing, disorientation
- 7 to 10 - full panic attack: terror, fear of dying and increased feeling of moderate panic
Step 3. Write down your fears
Be specific and write about everything you fear while driving. Then go through it and rank your fears from least to greatest. This will help you gradually expose yourself to these. However, you will slowly get through them so that you never really feel out of control.
For example, holding your keys in your driveway might be the least of you to fear, while driving on the freeway can cause you to have a panic attack
Step 4. Take a few gradual steps
Start with the least scary thing on your list and gradually expose yourself to this until you no longer feel anxiety. When you've mastered it, move on to the next thing on your list or scale. For example, your list could show your fears from least to greatest and look like this:
- Hold the car keys and watch it in the driveway.
- Sit in your car for up to 5 minutes.
- Drive down the block.
- Drive through the neighborhood marking the turns to the right and then to the left.
- Driving down a main road by making a few left turns at traffic lights or stop signs.
- Drive on a highway in the right lane for 1 or 2 exits.
- Drive on a highway in the left lane for 2 exits.
- Driving on a highway changing lanes and passing other cars through 3 to 5 exits.
Step 5. Transport yourself with drivers you trust
If you find that you can't even bear to be a passenger in a car, follow the steps of exposure therapy. Instead of driving, you could gradually cope with your fear by being transported in a car with a driver you trust. Pick someone you know will drive very carefully. When you feel comfortable with this person, try to transport yourself with other drivers or to transport yourself through more difficult areas (such as the highway).
Find what is most comfortable for you when you start to transport yourself as a passenger. You may notice that you prefer to sit in the back. You may find that sitting next to the driver is less stressful for you. Experiment to find what works for you
Step 6. Commit to learning to drive
Most people fear being behind the wheel for the first time. To calm your fear, choose a driving instructor who is knowledgeable in the area and has experience teaching new drivers. A good driver can put you at ease and make you feel comfortable in the driver's seat.
Consider having an instructor from a driving school. You may notice that the anxiety you felt about learning to drive actually came from your previous instructor, especially if it was a relative trying to teach you how to drive
Part 3 of 3: Get a Help
Step 1. Determine when to see a doctor
If your fear of driving disrupts your life, you should get medical or psychological treatment. If you're not sure who to ask for help, contact a doctor, who should be able to connect you with trained professionals. You could work with a doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or trained phobia counselor.
If you become increasingly depressed about your inability to drive, be sure to seek help. Don't just adjust to the fear that is keeping you from driving, as this could cause other phobias to develop
Step 2. Try the therapy
You could work alone with a counselor or therapist. In addition to relaxation techniques and exposure therapy, your counselor may just want you to talk. Talking is an important way for your brain to learn to handle fear. It will give you the opportunity to think about what is behind the fear and can treat your driving phobia.
Don't expect your counselor to give you advice. Many counselors just listen to you and ask you questions so that you can give thoughtful answers and can explore your fear
Step 3. Join a support group
If you'd rather talk to a group about your phobia, find a local driving phobia support group. Similarly, you could find an online support group that has people who experience symptoms similar to yours. Simply knowing that you are not alone can help you overcome your fear.
You can also talk to your friends and family. Share your fears and explain the difficulties you face. It can be helpful to know that they understand what you are experiencing
- Consider going to driving school or taking a defensive driving class. Some people specialize in helping anxious drivers get back on the road through practical lessons in safe places that graduate the roads or places they fear the most.
- Try various therapies and treatments. You never know what treatment might work for your phobia until you try it.
- Other forms of treatment that may help include hypnotherapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, although the research conflicts as to their usefulness.
- Driving phobia is usually more common in novice drivers. This can be overcome with practice.