Top 5 Symptoms of Driving Anxiety

What Is Driving Anxiety?

Traffic, aggressive drivers, and running late can make even the calmest driver feel stressed occasionally. But have you ever felt so stressed while driving that you’ve wondered if you might have driving anxiety? Some worry and stress are normal responses to driving, and can even help us to stay alert, use caution, and react quickly. But anxiety takes those healthy responses up a notch (or several notches) until the feelings are distressing instead of helpful.

Causes of Driving Anxiety

Driving anxiety is not an official diagnosis, but rather a term used to describe the intense feelings of distress some people experience when driving. Driving anxiety can be caused by a situation (such as driving in a storm), a past experience (like being in a car accident), or a phobia related to driving (a fear of heights, for example, may cause some people to feel anxious driving over bridges). 

Other common triggers for driving anxiety are: 

  • Getting lost while driving

  • Having a panic attack while driving

  • Driving on the highway

  • Driving alone

  • Driving at night

  • Driving in unfamiliar places

Wondering if you are experiencing driving anxiety? We’ve compiled a list of some of the most common driving anxiety symptoms below. This list is not exhaustive and not meant to be used to diagnose a mental health problem. If your feelings about driving are impacting your life in a negative way, it’s always best to seek guidance from a mental health professional. 

5 Most Common Driving Anxiety Symptoms

Feeling tense while driving

When you are driving, do you notice you are holding tension in your neck and back? This could be a sign that you are feeling anxious. Focus on relaxing your shoulders and loosening your grip on the steering wheel. Take deep breaths and try to understand what situations tend to make you tense. According to research conducted by The Zebra, merging onto the highway, backing up, and making unprotected left turns are the driving maneuvers that cause people the most anxiety. The good news is that the more you learn and practice safe driving techniques, the less anxiety-provoking these maneuvers become. Many people find taking a defensive driving course helps them feel more relaxed and in control when driving. A driving course gives you the skills you need to protect yourself and stay calm no matter what driving conditions you may encounter.

Physical signs of nervousness (such as trouble breathing, sweating, heart palpitations, and nausea)

Our nervous system reacts with a fight or flight responsewhen we perceive a threat to our safety. People who experience driving anxiety feel as though they are in imminent danger, causing them to feel all the usual physical feelings we associate with anxiety: shortness of breath, dizziness, lightheadedness, a racing heartrate, and nausea. These physical feelings can range from mild to so severe that they feel like a panic attack. No fun at all. If you are noticing any of these physical signs of anxiety, it may be a good idea to seek out the help of a professional who can help you understand where these feelings are coming from and how you can overcome them. 

Feeling exhausted after driving

This is related to the fight or flight response. After the flood of stress hormones our nervous system releases in fight or flight mode, we feel exhausted. Staying on high alert because of driving anxiety is very tiring and energy zapping. If you feel like you want to crawl into bed after you drive, that may be a sign that you have expended a lot of energy feeling anxious while driving. 

Feeling irritated or on edge when driving

If you feel grumpy every time you grab your car keys, this could be a sign that you are dealing with driving anxiety. Think about it: If driving makes you feel nervous and tense (and exhausted), then it’s understandable it would also make you feel irritated! Many people find taking defensive driving helps make driving feel less stressful. Less stress = less irritation. 

Avoiding driving 

A sign that you may be veering into driving anxiety territory is if your feelings about driving are causing you to avoid driving altogether. This is obviously not ideal as avoiding driving can cause you to be isolated, which can lead to all sorts of other problems. And fears tend to grow bigger when we avoid them, so avoiding driving is not the answer. Exposure therapy – working on your driving fears in a safe and controlled environment – can be a great way to build your confidence and conquer your fears.  

Driving School for Adults with Anxiety?

Still wondering if your feelings about driving are cause for concern? We have developed a quiz to assess whether you may show signs of having driving anxiety. While we don’t claim to be mental health experts, we are experts in helping people be the best drivers they can be. You don’t have to live with a fear of driving. You can take steps to get help and learn strategies to keep you and those around you safe. 

Don’t let driving anxiety get the best of you.  

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