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Driving Anxiety is Ruining My Life: How to Get Over It

Busy roads, intersections, fast-moving highway traffic, and drivers cutting in and out can all contribute to stress and anxiety while on the road. If you can relate to the sentiment of "driving anxiety is ruining my life," this article is here to assist you in overcoming it.

Driving Anxiety and "Not being able to drive"

Driving anxiety is a common issue that affects many individuals across the globe. It can manifest in various ways, such as a fear of highways, anxiety about traffic congestion, or apprehension when merging lanes. These anxieties can significantly impact people's lives, limiting their mobility and independence.

One of the most distressing and debilitating consequences of experiencing driving anxiety is the overwhelming feeling of "not being able to drive," which can significantly impact your quality of life.

The inability to drive can lead to various practical limitations and social isolation. Everyday tasks such as grocery shopping or attending appointments can become sources of stress and anxiety because individuals must rely on others for transportation or navigate unfamiliar and unreliable public transportation systems.

Moreover, it can hinder career prospects and limit educational pursuits. Many job opportunities require a valid driver's license, so without one, individuals may find themselves restricted to certain jobs or unable to pursue specific career paths.

On a social level, the feeling of "not being able to drive" can result in loneliness and exclusion, as driving plays a vital role in connecting with others and participating in social activities.

However, as promised at the beginning of this article, I will now share practical strategies to help you overcome your anxiety and improve your symptoms of driving anxiety.

First and foremost, if you've been experiencing disruptive anxiety and panic attacks while driving, and it feels like "driving anxiety is ruining my life," it may be time to delve deeper into understanding the causes behind these experiences.

not being able to drive is ruining my life

Driving Anxiety is Ruining My Life

Some individuals with driving anxiety or a driving phobia are aware of when it all began, while others find themselves puzzled, not knowing when or why it started. Driving anxiety can manifest suddenly for some.

People experiencing driving anxiety often alter their routes to avoid highways, bridges, or busy streets. Others might begin limiting the distances they're willing to drive.

For many, the anxiety is so overwhelming that they choose to avoid driving altogether.

Common Driving Anxiety Symptoms

  • Rapid Heartbeat and Shortness of Breath: When faced with driving anxiety, your heart may start pounding, and you might experience difficulty breathing, leading to a feeling of suffocation or loss of control.
  • Sweating and Trembling: Excessive sweating, trembling, or shaking are common physical manifestations of driving anxiety. These symptoms can further escalate feelings of fear and discomfort.
  • Nausea and Digestive Issues: Anxiety can disrupt your digestive system, causing stomach discomfort, nausea, and even vomiting. These symptoms can make driving a daunting task.
  • Dizziness and Feeling Lightheaded: A heightened state of anxiety can induce dizziness and a sensation of lightheadedness, making it challenging to focus on the road.
  • Panic Attacks: In severe cases, driving anxiety can trigger panic attacks characterized by intense fear, sweating, chest pain, and a sense of impending doom. These episodes can be debilitating and may lead to avoidance of driving altogether.

What Causes Driving Anxiety

Anxiety while driving is a common issue that many people experience. Your anxiety while driving may stem from various reasons, such as past bad experiences on the road, anxiety disorders, or simply feeling overwhelmed by the task of driving.

Driving anxiety can result from a combination of factors, including:
  • Past traumatic experiences while driving or riding in a car, such as a car accident
  • A history of anxiety, panic disorder, or other mental health conditions
  • Fear of losing control while driving or feeling vulnerable on the road
  • Concerns about having a panic attack or other physical symptoms while driving
  • Negative past experiences while driving, such as getting lost or getting a traffic violation
  • Apprehension about other drivers or the potential for traffic accidents
  • Fear of unfamiliar places or roads
  • A history of substance abuse that may have led to a DUI or other legal issues related to driving
  • Genetically inherited phobia
Some individuals may develop driving anxiety due to the stressful nature of driving in certain areas, such as heavy traffic, busy city streets, or winding roads.

How To Get Over Driving Anxiety

Your active participation is required to determine the exact cause(s) of your driving anxiety. The following quick tips can help you learn more about the what, why, when, and where of your driving phobia.

What you'll need:

i) A pen

ii) Your Progress Journal, or 1-2 blank sheets of paper

iii) Estimated Time to Complete this activity: 10 to 15 minutes

Find relief from anxiety and driving phobias with the following tips:

1. Create an affirmation to repeat to yourself when you do have anxiety and panic attacks about driving. These thoughts should be truthful and believable to you and your particular situation.

Here is an example affirmation:

“Millions of people travel the roads safely every day.”

“If I observe the speed limit and I am careful to observe other drivers, I will get there safely.”

“I can drive in the right lane so that I can go at a speed that’s more comfortable to me.”

2. Discover what your “automatic thought” is. These can be described as intrusive thoughts that may just pop into your head at inopportune times- like when you’re approaching a busy street or an on-ramp to the highway.

An automatic thought may be:

”I’m going to get into a car accident.”

”Highways are dangerous.”

These types of thoughts are often absolutistic, that is, they may seem like the end all be all, absolute truth. Remind yourself that these thoughts may or may not be true, and there is a more adaptive response to the situation.

3. Write down your (own) ideas based on the above structure. It will also be helpful to document specific situations that have caused you fear and anxiety in the past.

Is there one experience that is marked with a deep impression?

What does that mean to you?

What does that mean about you?

Lastly, if your driving anxiety is severe and is impacting your quality of life, do see your doctor or a mental health professional. They will assess your condition, rule out any underlying medical factors, and provide you with the necessary tools and support to overcome your anxiety and fear.

Driving Anxiety Treatment


According to NIMH, several types of psychotherapy may help a person identify and change certain emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. [ See Ref. here ]

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most successful approaches for treating driving anxiety. This type of therapy helps you to identify and change the negative thoughts and behaviors that contribute to your anxiety.

Exposure therapy is another effective therapy for driving anxiety. Exposure therapy involves gradually exposing yourself to the situation that you're anxious about, in a controlled and safe environment. For an individual with driving anxiety, this may involve gradually increasing the amount of time they spend driving or driving on different types of roads.

Relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques (deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, etc.) can help to lower your overall stress levels and anxiety symptoms. [Read more in detail here on Relaxation Techniques: Natural Remedies for Anxiety]

Here is a short video on an Easy Breathing Exercise for Anxiety:

Driving Anxiety Medication

Medication can help to reduce the symptoms of anxiety. There are a few different types of medications that can be effective for treating driving anxiety. Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication (like benzodiazepines), and beta-blockers can be used to manage symptoms of anxiety related to driving.

The most common type is an anti-anxiety medication. This can help to reduce the overall anxiety you feel, making it easier to drive.

Antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can help reduce symptoms of anxiety by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain.

Another option is beta blockers. These can help to reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as a racing heart. This can make it feel less daunting to get behind the wheel.

It's mostly recommended to combine medication with psychotherapy or other non-pharmacological treatment to get the best results.

Driving anxiety medication over the counter

There are a few over-the-counter medications that may help reduce driving anxiety, such as antihistamines and herbal supplements. Antihistamines like diphenhydramine (e.g. Benadryl) can have a sedative effect and help reduce stress and tension. Keep in mind that these can also cause drowsiness and impair driving ability, so use caution when taking them before driving.

There are some herbal supplements that may help reduce anxiety, e.g., valerian root, chamomile, and lavender. However, it's necessary to speak to your doctor before taking any herbal supplements as they may interact with other medications you're taking.

There are also dietary supplements available over the counter that may help reduce anxiety, such as omega-3 fatty acids. Do your research and choose a reputable brand, as not all supplements are created equal.

Over-the-counter medications may help reduce mild anxiety, but they are not a substitute for seeking professional help if your anxiety is severe. A mental health professional can provide additional support and guidance in managing driving anxiety.

How to Overcome Fear of Driving Alone

Many people experience anxiety or fear when it comes to driving alone, but this common fear can be overcome with practice and patience.

Here are some strategies you can follow to conquer your fear of driving alone and build confidence on the road:
  • Understand your fear: Begin by identifying why you're afraid of driving alone. Is it due to unease about being on the road by yourself, or perhaps you had a frightening experience while driving alone in the past?
Is the fear rooted in concerns about getting lost, handling unexpected situations, being in an accident, or getting stranded somewhere?

Identifying the root cause of your fear will give you a better idea of what specifically makes you anxious about driving alone. This understanding will guide you in finding effective ways to overcome your fear and become a more confident driver.

Review the practical tips provided in the "How To Get Over Driving Anxiety" section above. These tips can help you identify the cause of your fear of driving.
  • Start small:  Set small goals for yourself, such as taking short drives on familiar routes, like driving to nearby shops or visiting a friend who lives a short distance away. As you achieve these goals, your confidence will naturally grow. Gradually progress to more complex drives as your confidence increases.
Gradually increasing your exposure to driving alone – beginning with short trips and gradually extending the length and complexity of your drives over time – is an exposure therapy exercise."
  • Manage your anxiety: Practice relaxation techniques to help manage anxiety while driving. Techniques like deep breathing or muscle relaxation exercises, or visualization can help you stay calm and centered. Here is a short video on a simple but powerful breathing technique:
  • Take a driving course: Consider taking a driving course or education program to build your driving skills and confidence. You'll learn techniques for handling different driving situations, which can make you feel more prepared and less anxious.
  • Seek support: Talk to family and friends about your fears and ask for their support. You may also consider seeing a therapist or counselor to work through your anxiety.
Remember that it's okay to take things slowly. Don't feel pressured to rush into driving alone if you don't feel ready. Take your time and build up your confidence gradually.

Be kind to yourself and celebrate your progress. 

I wish you all the best of luck.


Q: How do I get over severe driving anxiety?

Ans: Severe driving anxiety can make driving a daunting task and may even lead to panic attacks. Review the tips in the 'How To Get Over Driving Anxiety' section above to help reduce your stress and anxiety.

Apply the following strategies to manage your severe driving anxiety:
  • Practice relaxation techniques and deep breathing exercises to calm your nerves and make driving easier. Practice these techniques before you get behind the wheel, and focus on your breathing as you drive. This way, you'll better manage your anxiety levels. (Refer to the previous section of this article for a detailed discussion.)
  • Try driving short distances to get out of the house and practice. Begin by driving around your neighborhood and gradually increase the distance. If you feel overwhelmed, take a break and step out for a while. Remember, your goal is to become comfortable with driving, not to become an expert overnight.
  • Familiarize yourself with the route before you drive. This can reduce anxiety by making the drive less unknown. Knowing the route ahead of time will help you feel more in control and confident.
  • Plan a few breaks during your drive. Taking short breaks allows your mind to relax and reset. It can also help you refocus on driving tasks and lower stress levels.
  • Collaborating with a driving instructor and/or a therapist can be highly beneficial. A driving instructor can teach you techniques for becoming a safer and more confident driver. A therapist can help identify the root cause of your anxiety and develop a plan to manage it.
Don't be too hard on yourself. Driving with anxiety can be challenging, and it may take time to become comfortable. Stay positive and remind yourself that you are capable.

Q: Is driving anxiety a mental illness?

Ans: Driving anxiety is not a mental illness itself, but it can serve as a symptom of underlying mental health conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or agoraphobia. These conditions involve excessive and persistent worry and fear that can impact a person's ability to function in their daily life.

Anxiety while driving can also fall under a specific phobia known as Vehophobia or Amaxophobia, characterized by an excessive and irrational fear of driving.

If your driving anxiety is affecting your daily life, consider seeking professional help.

Q: Does driving anxiety ever go away?

Ans: Driving anxiety is a common issue for many people, and it can be a distressing experience. However, the good news is that it is treatable, and for many, it can be overcome. The extent to which driving anxiety diminishes depends on the severity of the anxiety and the individual's efforts to address it.

Some individuals may experience a reduction in their driving anxiety with the assistance of therapy, self-help techniques, or medication. Others might find their anxiety is so severe that they require more intensive treatment, such as exposure therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy.

In many cases, the goal of treatment is not necessarily to eliminate the anxiety but rather to manage it so that it doesn't interfere with daily activities, including driving. This can involve learning coping strategies, practicing relaxation techniques, and gradually exposing oneself to driving situations to build confidence.

For more detailed information on overcoming driving anxiety, refer to the earlier sections of this article.


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