How can I get over my anxiety or fear of driving on highways?
Last Updated: 01/25/2021 at 8:06pm
★ This question about Anxiety was starred by a moderator on 5/12/2016.
Alex DS Ellis, MA, LMFT
Marriage & Family Therapist
Feeling depressed or anxious can be so overwhelming. I want to help you feel better and be able to enjoy life. You are not alone and you deserve emotional support.
Top Rated Answers
It's okay to stay in the right lane. Feel free to hug that shoulder. You don't have to get close to other cars if you don't want to. If someone is riding your tail you can lightly tap the break as a "please get further back from me" sign. The speed limit is a maximum, and if you don't feel safe driving at that speed, you can slow down a bit. You got this
Remember that you know what you're doing, and the drivers around you likely do. You have been trained to drive and if you stay confident in your skills, you will be okay.
I would suggest driving on the highway at a time when it's mostly empty and when you have someone you trust in the passenger seat. That way if you get too nervous, they can talk you through it. I used to have this fear and what helped me get over it was exposing myself to the conditions I was afraid of, making it progressively harder once I was able to successfully complete the easier ones.
The only way to get over it is to face your fear. You won't get over your fear if you keep avoiding it. Drive more often on highways and you'll see it isn't that bad.
Hire a driving instructor! Practice with parents and friends. Also remember that anxiety is healthy-- it can save your life. If driving at 70 miles an hour in a metal can alongside a bunch of other metal cans doesn't make you anxious, there's something wrong with your innate survival mechanisms. That anxiety will keep you alert and making responsible decisions on the road.
I used to get terrible anxiety when ever I traveled...I found the most effective method of managing my anxiety was controlling my breathing and to become very mindful of my breath. I would inhale and exhale slowly and deeply so that my mind would come under control and my body would also calm down and stop going into fight/flight mode. A lot of anxiety is related to our breath which causes a vicious circle, the more anxious we feel, the more shallow our breath comes which makes us feel more anxious and so on. By taking control of the breath we can take control of our mind.
I cannot give you advice but I can only listen to you. Everyone has their own fear and I believe that nothing is impossible. I believe in you, you can do it! :)
I think the best approach would be to approach your anxiety or fear slowly. First think about what it is that makes you anxious or fearful about driving on the highway. Then slowly expose yourself to these elements in a safe way, possibly with a therapist, a close friend, or family member. Make sure that you are relaxed before exposing yourself to these things. While you are exposing yourself to driving on the highway, by doing something such as being in the passenger seat while someone else drives, do some relaxation exercises. Do not stop exposing yourself until you are able to stay calm while doing that thing. Eventually, try driving on the highway yourself (preferably with someone else) while relaxed. This is based on the cognitive behavioral therapeutic technique called systematic desensitization.
I used to have the same problem. I used breathing exersized to calm myself down, and listend to music that made me feel good. It changed the way I looked at the highway and i started to learn how to own them instead of fear them. And most important: don't avoid it, but face it.
If you have driving anxiety the bet way to treat it is to get more experience driving and make sure you are driving a safe (or one that makes you feel safe) vehicle. Personally I had a crippling fear that made it very hard for me to even step foot into the driver seat. Now, I drive so well my friends make me be the designated driver quite often. I got over my fears by driving around my local neighborhood and on back roads near my house. At first I started with my mother and then my close friends. Finally, then by my self. It takes time to be confident with your driving skills. Your insecurity is just admitting to yourself that you need more training. Driving is an everyday part of life, don't suffer because of it. Hope this helps, SM
Just tell yourself that you can always stop if anything goes wrong. There's always a way out of a stressful situation. :)
Drive during off-peak hours — Avoid rush hour traffic if possible. That’s when highway driving is at its worst. Take along a trusted friend — Having someone you feel comfortable with in the car helps you calm down. Plus you have another pair of eyes to help keep track of things. “Sensory overload,” aka hypersensitivity anxiety, is one of the biggest complaints about highway driving, so having someone to watch your blind spots helps. Take a defensive driving class — Your anxiety may be due to a lack of good driving skills. Skillful execution of the physical mechanics of driving means more confidence in scary situations like highway merging.
I personally got over my fear of driving on highways by listening to calming music on my drive. Music always has helped calm me down ever since I was a baby, and if music is a part of your life O believe this can help you as well. Another way that helps eliminate or at least calm anxiety over any subject is repetition. Every day I have to drive on a highway to and from school. The first few times it was terrifying, but the more I did it, the more confident I became.
I have to take medication to be able to drive on highways, take deep breaths and focus. I'm getting a camera to put on my dash to feel safer if another accident were to happen again.
If your fear of driving is mostly about panic attacks, the way to solve this problem is to learn how to better handle panic attacks. If you have panic attacks in situations other than driving, it might help to start with a situation in which your role is more passive - perhaps waiting in a long line, or walking through a crowded mall. You can then work with driving after you've made progress in the more passive role first. If your fear is more like the performance anxiety described above, you need a similar progressive practice with driving in which you can practice accepting your fearful thoughts and feelings while doing the work of driving. You can use the same techniques as the person with panic attacks, because the underlying fear, of becoming so afraid as to be unable to drive, is similar to the fear of losing control to a panic attack. The main difference in the thoughts with performance anxiety is the extent to which you worry that others are watching, and judging, you.
Driving on the road has plenty of unknowns and for some, it can be a very scary place to be. However, if safety is your worry, just practice general road rules. Go by the speed limit in the slow lane, put on your safety belt, keep your eyes on the road and breathe. As long as you are being safe, there is nothing to be afraid of. A distracted and distressed driver is more prone to an accident than one who is calm and adjusted.
Pick a time when the roads aren't that busy. Stay in the right lane until you think you feel comfortable to try and switch lanes when there isn't a ton of traffic. Take deep cleansing breaths and remind yourself you are not in danger.
Trust in yourself and your ability to confidently drive safely while staying in the moment and not predicting the worst outcome.
I would recommend cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) through a psychologist. This helps to rewire how you think and react to things.
For me personally, it was just the immersion therapy approach. I hate driving on freeways or busy streets and would get panic attacks. I had a friend tag along at first and they'd keep an eye on me and try to keep my mind focused on something other then my approaching anxiety. It took some time but it helped me out.
There are multiple ways of overcoming this anxiety. First off though, if you do not feel comfortable driving on highways please have someone else drive until you become comfortable. Anxiety and driving can be a dangerous pair. But you could always watch others drive on the highway and take what you learn from them and apply it to your driving. You could try driving small trips. Possibly one exit to another exit to get used to getting on and off the highway.
My mother had a similar fear. I asked her to give some thought as to what aspect of motorways specifically gave her anxiety and she replied that it was the high speed. The fact that the vehicles are all travelling in the same direction makes the relative speed very low. Once she felt safe enough to match her speed on the slip road to that of the traffic on the motorway, she found merging quite easy. The slow relative speed of everyone else's movements helps you plan ahead for slower traffic and anticipate earlier what action you need to take in terms of lane changes or exits. Confidence came to her in practice having braved her initial fear but now she and my father enjoy trips away all over the country. She is happy to take the motorway at her own pace in the slowermost lane and travels hundreds of miles.
You can get over the fear by being brave and courageous, because if you are afraid that you will be in a car accident, you will never be, this is because alcoholic and crazy people make car accidents on highways but not sane people like you :)
It's helpful to drive with people you trust or learn to drive yourself so you hold the power. It's a necessary evil but by showing yourself that it's safe over and over the anxiety can be decreased.
I wouldn't advise in forcing yourself to drive on highways if you don't want to but you could try driving on them late at night when its very quiet so you can get used to the roads and perhaps build yourself up to busier times on the road.
I love this question! I too am trying to get over a fear/phobia. I have been told to slowly face that fear. Maybe in your case this means being a passenger on the highway first with a friend. If that is not an issue, then move on to driving with that that friend as passenger for maybe 5 minutes at a time. Try the on ramp then the next off ramp. The more you do this, stepping it up a little more each time, the fear/phobia should reduce and hopefully, eventually, pass altogether.
Use breathing techniques to calm down, psychological studies suggest you'll begin to associate driving with being calm if you do this repeatedly :)
Know the rules of the road. Make sure you have learned all the safety procedures of safe driving before you head out onto the road. Make sure there is not something else causing you serious anxiety because that will effect your performance in all areas of life. Practice in small increments or steps. As silly as it sounds, try going for a walk or jog first then work your way up to driving. Drive on low traffic roads first, then highways. You could also try a small vehicle like a four-wheeler (ATV) or a lawnmower.
Practice. Getting over a fear or anxiety inducing situation takes practice on many levels. Practicing your breathing and mindfulness exercises is a great first step. If you practice these and get really good at them during the good times it will become second nature to implement them when you are in a stressful situation. You may never be completely comfortable when you drive on highways but as you practice being calm and mindful, it will hopefully become easier for you.
Everyone gets afraid but sometimes you have to be strong.Think about the reason why you are afraid and try to change your perspectives.Believe in yourself,think positive :)
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