How to Overcome Fear of Driving
There should be a rational amount of concern when driving a car. Traffic collisions can be fatal. This is why it is so important to have a driver's license, the test for which prepares you for the responsibility for a life on wheels. Apart from obeying the rules of the road, one of the keys to driving safely is to have confidence in your driving ability. If you lack it, it can lead to developing a fear of driving, a condition known as vehophobia. Once you develop this fear, it is not easy to get over. If you want to get back behind the wheel with confidence, this oneHOWTO article will show you the steps you may need to take if you want to know how to overcome fear of driving.
What is a fear of driving?
Like any fear or phobia, a fear of of driving requires mental exercise to overcome. It is not easy and, unlike some fears, it can be difficult to avoid. To help understand what is a fear of driving, we should take a look at the causes. Unfortunately, some causes of vehophobia are more easily understood than others.
Many people who fear driving do so as a result of being involved in or witnessing some sort of vehicular accident. This is a form of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) whereby they have been so shaken by the incident, they can't shake it when they are confronted with the possibility of being in a similar situation. This means getting back behind the wheel of a car.
Another cause might be due to a specific phobia. While having an adverse reaction to a certain past trauma might be more easily understood (not necessarily overcome), a specific phobia is one which may appear more irrational. It is a form of anxiety disorder whereby the mind associates a certain object, experience or situation with feelings of panic and fear. Whether or not the reasons behind this anxiety are traceable, the results are similar to PTSD.
Sometimes there may have been a combination of a phobia leading to a traumatic incident. This could have been an increased level of anxiety leading to a panic attack. Panic attacks while driving can be very disconcerting and can put lives in danger, so the resulting episode can be enough to push someone over the edge in terms of driving fear.
There are other, even less understood causes of driving anxiety. They could be part of another phobia or they might be part of another type of anxiety disorder or mental health problem. If fear of driving is a symptom of another disorder, then treating this disorder first will likely be an effective way of overcoming it.
Whatever the cause of your fear, fighting it requires mental fortitude and patience. Exercising your brain to help you overcome this phobia will mean the difference between driving again and being a full time pedestrian.
Relaxation techniques for fear of driving
Like any anxiety disorder, overcoming a fear of driving can have many different approaches. Each approach will be different for the individual and will depend on the intensity of the fear. As we said, it is reasonable to have a certain amount of fear when driving. It will keep you alert when on the road and should result in you being a safer driver.
Fear of driving becomes a problem when it prohibits you from being able to drive the car at all. Some people may have another form of driving fear known as amaxophobia. This is the fear of riding in a car, regardless of whether or not you can drive. Sometimes your fear of driving can go hand in hand, but this article is specifically discussing those who want to get back to (or even start) driving themselves.
For many, coping with anxiety requires different configurations of relaxation techniques. If your fear of driving is relatively mild, they may be enough to put you in the right frame of mind for driving. Here are some examples:
- Mindfulness meditation: this is a form of relaxation which is designed to work with mind and body to create a level of harmony. Some people see it as a spiritual practice, others find it is simply useful to deal with everyday stress.
- Breathing exercises: while this is usually part of your meditation, taking long deep breaths can help calm you on their own, especially if you are sitting by the wheel trying to drive.
- Create stress free environment: anyone who has done the school run knows how difficult even getting out the door can be, so creating a harmonious space to relax before you get in the car can help put you back into the right mindset for driving.
- Listen to relaxing music: you don't want to be so relaxed you fall asleep, but listening to comforting and reassuring music can help you relax back into driving.
- Do a relaxing activity: health spas, massages or even just watching an appropriately soothing film can help you decompress and take the edge off your driving fear.
- Mantras: repeat reassuring statements which will help you get back into driving mode. Some people will find them cliché, but reaffirmations can be helpful.
Practising these relaxation techniques before it comes time to drive can help you to stay calm while driving. For many, just being in the right state of mind behind the wheel can be enough to overcome this fear.
Take your time when getting back in the saddle (driver's seat)
If you have had a hard time overcoming fears surrounding driving, you may need to slow down before you even get in the car. Apart from the preparations you might make such as meditation or creating a stress-free environment, you should ensure that you feel as comfortable as possible in the driver's seat by taking it slow.
Start off with the car in a quiet space. If you feel the need, a friend or someone else you trust might take the car to this quiet place first so that you minimize any negative interaction with other drivers. Get into the seat and sit awhile before you even start the car. Remind yourself of the steps you need to check before you set off (checking seatbelt, mirrors, etc.).
You can incorporate some of the steps form our previous section here before you turn the engine on, like deep breathing or putting on calming music. When you are ready, turn on the engine and set off. Another part of the reason for being in a secluded space is so that you can move more slowly than usual. Driving slow can be dangerous also, depending on the circumstance. If you are in an empty parking lot or similar space, then you can drive as slow as you need.
Once you start to drive a little, you might feel some of your confidence coming back. Don't overshoot. If you find yourself starting to get anxious again, you don't want to make it worse. You might want to park and try again another time rather than exacerbating the fear.
This is a type of exposure therapy. Those with a very mild case of driving phobia might be able to do it from their house, even if they still need to take it slow and practice remaining calm. Make sure to give yourself enough time before you have to be anywhere. Practising exposure therapy on the way to work might be a step too far.
Drive with somebody else
If you are worried about driving, going out on your own might be too much for your fear to overcome. You need to learn how to get back to the wheel gradually, especially if a long time has passed since you last drove.
Having someone else in the passenger seat as you drive can be helpful. They might be able to help relax you and keep you both figuratively and literally on the straight path. However, having the wrong person beside you might be even worse and set your recovery from vehophobia back even further. This person might be someone you know and love, but who stresses you out in certain stressful circumstances.
A good idea might be to take a driving lesson. Tell the driving instructor the reason and they should be trained in keeping their student's calm when driving on the roads. Unfortunately, some instructors are better at this than others. Don't choose one who is too eager to grab the wheel or press on the safety pedal. Make sure it is someone you are comfortable around and can trust to keep your safety a priority.
Seek professional advice
If you have tried taking it slow, preparing with mindfulness or any of the other methods of getting over your fear of driving, it might mean your anxiety is acute. If this is the case, you will probably best need some CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). This is process by which discussion of issues and suggestions of coping strategies are undertaken. It is a form of psychological evaluation which includes breaking down and desisting negative behavioral patterns.
It can be used for a variety of different purposes and to deal with a wide spectrum of conditions, anxiety and phobias being only two. It may be enough to be used on its own, but it is also sometimes incorporated with a treatment of medication. In relation to anxiety, this is usually an anti-anxiety medication such as beta blockers or even some antidepressants.
Other types of therapy might also be useful. These can include hypnotherapy which many have found useful in the treatment of anxiety disorders. However, there are some reports which question the efficacy of this therapy. This is why you should seek professional medical advice when wanting to combat the types of PTSD or anxiety disorders which make you fearful of driving.
For all of these methods of how to overcome fear of driving, you will need to admit to your fear before you confront it. Speaking to a trusted friend to begin with or going straight to a medical or mental health professional will be the best way to help you do this.
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