May 21, 2024

Driving Anxiety is Ruining My Life: How to Cope

Anxiety & Depression
Mental Health & Wellbeing

Driving anxiety ranges from mild nervousness to debilitating fear that can prevent one from driving. For some people, just the thought of driving triggers intense stress responses. When driving anxiety begins to impact day-to-day life, it can be helpful to explore coping strategies to help overcome this challenge. If you’ve ever thought “driving anxiety is ruining my life,” this article will provide practical tips to help you manage it.

Understanding Driving Anxiety

Before trying address driving anxiety, it’s important to understand what’s happening internally. In summary, driving anxiety is a type of phobia that could stem from various sources including past accidents, fear of the unknown, an overactive nervous system, or generalized anxiety.

If a past accident occurred and there was a sense of lack of control or self-blame, that understandably can increase one’s anxiety about cars and driving. The act of moving at high speeds can trigger a sense of lack of control or inability to respond quickly at high speeds, which can lead to anxiety. The nervous system has a fight and flight response, which can be activated when in high pressure situations such as while driving. If one experiences anxiety in many areas of life, this is considered generalized anxiety, and can apply to driving scenarios.

Symptoms for driving anxiety include:

  • Panic
  • Feeling trapped or stuck
  • A sense of danger
  • Lack of control
  • Sweaty hands
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Hyper vigilance
  • Catastrophizing (going to worst-case scenario).

The Impact of Driving Anxiety

For many people, driving is an essential part of daily life, from commuting to work to running errands. When this kind of anxiety interferes with driving, it can have a profound negative impact on an individual’s life.

Restricted Mobility and Independence – Driving anxiety can limit an individual’s ability to travel freely, affecting their independence. This can make it challenging to engage in daily activities, such as commuting to work, running errands, or visiting friends and family.

Social Isolation – Avoiding driving can lead to social isolation, as individuals may be reluctant to attend social events, meet friends, or participate in group activities that require traveling by car. This can impact their social life and relationships, leading to feelings of loneliness and disconnection.

Increased Dependence on Others – Individuals with driving anxiety may rely heavily on family members or friends to get around. This dependence can strain relationships and may not always be a reliable or convenient solution.

Mental Health Issues – Driving anxiety can contribute to or exacerbate mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, and depression. The constant fear and worry about driving can lead to general anxiety disorders, panic attacks, and a decreased quality of life. The stress of managing this anxiety can also affect other aspects of their mental well-being.

woman driving with eyes visible in rearview mirror

Practical Coping Strategies

To reclaim your confidence on the road, here are a few practical strategies that you can start implementing today.

Gradual Exposure – Slowly exposing oneself to driving in a way that feels manageable. Starting with short, familiar routes and gradually increasing the distance and complexity of the drive while becoming more comfortable and confident.

Mindfulness and Breathing Techniques – Practicing mindfulness, such as taking in the sensory information in the surroundings, can increase the sense of presence while driving and increase focus, in contrast with being overwhelmed by anxious thoughts. An additional mindfulness tool is to take 4-5 deep, slow breaths to calm your nervous system and reduce stress.

Seeking Professional Help – If additional support is needed, consider seeking professional help. A therapist can provide personalized strategies and support to help you overcome your driving anxiety. If you’re interested in working with a therapist, view our Therapists page or fill out a Get Started form.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – CBT is a structured therapy approach that helps to identify and challenge negative thought patterns, replacing them with more realistic and positive ones. It’s particularly effective for anxiety disorders, including driving anxiety. There are also other forms of therapy such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP) that can also help with driving anxiety.

white car driving down a sunny two-way road next to a cliff

Addressing Anxiety During Driving Lessons

For new drivers or those returning to driving after a long break, anxiety and driving lessons can go hand-in-hand. Here are several ways to cope during this crucial learning phase.

Find the Right Instructor – Choose an instructor who is experienced in dealing with anxious drivers. Their understanding and patience can make a big difference in your learning experience. Also choosing an instructor who you know and trust can help with decreasing anxiety.

Practice in Safe Environments – Begin lessons in a quiet area, such as an empty parking lot, to build confidence before tackling busier roads. Take small steps that are challenging without being overwhelming.

Take Breaks as Needed – Don’t be afraid to take breaks during lessons if you’re feeling overwhelmed. A short pause can help with regaining composure and focus. Bring water and snacks and practice when well rested.

Use Technology to Assist with Driving

Modern technology offers various tools that can assist in reducing driving anxiety.

Driving Simulators – These can provide a risk-free environment to practice driving and become familiar with various scenarios.

Navigation Apps – Reliable GPS apps can alleviate the fear of getting lost, one of the common triggers for driving anxiety.

Relaxation Apps – Apps that offer guided relaxation and breathing exercises can be a great resource to use before or after driving to maintain a calm state of mind.

car dashboard with phone mounted displaying GPS

Building Confidence on the Road

Confidence is key when it comes to overcoming driving anxiety. Often this looks like building confidence over time through incremental goals such as driving new roads, increasing speed, anddriving with or without someone else in the car with you. Here are additional tips to help you build your confidence.

Defensive Driving Courses – These courses can improve driving skills, increasing preparedness to handle unexpected situations on the road.

Positive Affirmations – Use positive affirmations to increase self-confidence. Phrases like “I am becoming a capable and safe driver” can reinforce a positive mindset. This is especially helpful when thoughtfully constructed in conjunction with a therapist.

Create a Comfortable Driving Environment – Adjust your car’s environment to make it as comfortable and stress-free as possible. This includes setting the temperature, seating position, and even playing calming music or no music at all.

Celebrate Small Victories – Every time you drive without incident, acknowledge your success. These small victories will add up and reinforce your ability to cope with anxiety.

When Anxiety Persists

In cases where driving anxiety persists despite implementing these strategies, it may be indicative of a deeper issue. Persistent anxiety should be addressed by mental health professionals who can offer more targeted treatment options like medication or intensive therapy. Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy can be helpful when the disturbance in the anxiety feels related to past events or memories.


Driving anxiety is a common issue that can significantly impact one’s quality of life, but it’s not insurmountable. With the right coping strategies, support, and practice, one can move in to areas of discomfort and anxiety to decrease the impact of anxiety on daily living. Consider that progress may be gradual, but with persistence and patience, a sense of freedom and confidence on the road can be achieved.

By utilizing gradual exposure, mindfulness, professional help, and technology, one can be better equipped to address driving anxiety head-on. So next time you feel anxious about driving, remember these strategies and take one step at a time towards a more confident and anxiety-free journey.

Ready to set up your first appointment?

If you haven’t been in touch with us yet, you can get started by filling out our intake form.