What is driving anxiety?

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In this blog we will discuss what driving anxiety is.

We will also briefly touch upon what the symptoms are, the factors that cause driving anxiety, and what you can do to cope.

What is driving anxiety?

Driving anxiety refers to feelings of anxiety, fear, and discomfort related to driving a vehicle. 

This particular anxiety is understood as a phobia and can be diagnosed as a Specific Phobia disorder under the DSM-5 criteria. This anxiety is also referred to as amaxophobia, ochophobia, motorphobia, or amaxophobia.

This anxiety is observed with persistent fear of driving a vehicle across context and this particular fear is often intense and inappropriate compared to the actual level of threat.

Individuals with this fear or anxiety experiences a lot of distresses even with the thought of driving or the possible prospect of having to drive and go through extreme lengths to avoid driving. 

Some individuals also fear being a passenger in the car, others experience anxiety of having to be the one driving only, while others experience fear of having to drive in certain situations like across a bridge or under a tunnel etc. 

Driving anxiety can cause some limitations in an individual’s movement, they might have to depend on public transport, on other individuals, and might find their anxiety to be an obstacle that limits them in the face of emergencies- like getting to medical aid etc. 

However, this particular anxiety might not cause much distress if they have easy access to other forms of transport and supportive individuals in the family that can help them move around places. 

It is most probable that indi dvd ausl who seek out help for driving anxiety do so because their inability to overcome this fear is causing them much distress and limitations.

Another reason could be, it is affecting their occupation for example, an individual whose primary form of employment is driving- ambulance driver- or someone who needs to drive due to new life situations, for example, they need to drive their children to school since they became a single parent etc. 

What is anxiety?

Anxiety refers to the body’s natural response to stress and it involves a fear or apprehension of a possible threat. 

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines anxiety as 

“…an emotion characterised by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.”

According to this definition, anxiety involves emotions, thoughts, and physiological reactions to a stressor or a state of stress. 

It is a normal response that many people have as a mechanism developed to help people survive and it is what triggers our flight or fight response in the face of danger.

However, when there is no apparent threat and this state of apprehension is caused by triggers that are inappropriate to the anxious response or this state persists for more than six months, it could be possible that the anxiety has developed into a disorder or that in its indication of a negative state of well-being. 

Anxiety that is persistent is a key part of several anxiety disorders identified by the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for mental disorders. 

The various types of anxiety disorders include:

  • Panic disorder where the disorder is characterised by recurring panic attacks at unexpected times and individuals usually live in fear of the next panic attack.
  • Specific phobia Disorder where the individual has inappropriate and excessive fear of a specific object, situation, or activity- this is where driving anxiety applies. 
  • Social anxiety disorder where individual experiences anxiety symptoms related to the extreme fear of being judged by others in social situations
  • General Anxiety disorder where the individual has a pervasive pattern of excessive, irrational, and inappropriate worry or tension regarding various aspects of their lives. 

What are the symptoms of driving anxiety?

The most common symptoms of an individual who has driving anxiety occur when they are met with the possibility of having to drive or even at the mere thought of it.

They experience the following:

  • Fear and panic related to driving that is persistent
  • They engage in avoidance behaviours
  • They experience sweaty palms and disorientation. 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing
  • Tremors.

They might also experience a panic attack where they might exhibit the following symptoms:

Heart palpitations

  • Excessive sweating
  • Feeling shaky
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Chest pain and tightness
  • Nausea or stomach discomfort
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Having chills or feeling very hot
  • Numb or tingling sensations
  • Feeling disconnected from the body
  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • Fear of dying (Choosing Therapy)

What causes driving anxiety?

It has not been clearly determined what causes this anxiety however, it is suspected that the anxiety is caused by the following factors:

  • Genetic vulnerability to anxiety and other mental disorders.
  • Family history of anxiety disorders
  • Past negative experiences, such as experiencing a car accident when they were driving- PTSD related.
  • Witnessing a car accident of a loved one or a friend as in the case of PTSD.
  • Trauma related to vehicles like getting lost. 
  • Experiencing a panic attack in the car prior.
  • Being a victim of road rage 
  • Negative experiences related to going to new locations- getting lost etc.
  • Negative experiences with certain situations like getting stuck on a bridge or a tunnel
  • Fear of causing an accident that leads to deaths- especially in the case that you have had past experiences or someone close to you have experienced this. 

How to cope with driving anxiety?

Here are a few things that you can do to cope with driving anxiety:

Better Understand Your Anxiety

Taking time to understand what anxiety is, what driving anxiety is and what is causing these symptoms and fears in you. 

Take time to explore when it started, how it started, and when it got worse, and how it is affecting your life.

Try to understand if it could be related to something else like a traumatic incident, another condition such as OCD or depression, or whether this fear ran in the family. 

Desensitise Yourself

Once you have understood this anxiety a little bit, take a moment to set goals for yourself that are realistic. 

It does not mean that you start driving the next day but maybe, you can start with trying to think of coming close to a car without panicking. Next, you can try going close to a car without panicking, and gradually getting inside a car and so forth. 

This process is called systematic desensitisation and it is best done when you are supervised by a practitioner but you can also try it by yourself if you think you can manage on your own. 

Engage in Relaxation

As you engage in desensitisation, incorporate realtations into it. Use relaxation techniques such as:

  • Deep breathing
  • Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)
  • Guided imagery
  • Mindfulness meditations

When you feel anxious or panicked, engage in these activities to help you relax. 

Consider therapy

If your symptoms are debilitating or severe to the point where it is getting in the way of your day to day life, the most advisable thing you can do is to seek treatment from a mental health professional.

Various treatment options for anxiety include:

Cognitive behavioural therapy

In terms of Cognitive behavioural therapies your therapist will teach you how to regulate your negative and irrational thoughts when you come across triggers. 

As you engage in therapy you will start learning to alter your thoughts, develop an awareness of how you feel, and as a consequence the way you react in situations where you are faced with a real or imagined trigger. 

Rational Emotive Behavioural therapy

REBT is an action-oriented type of CBT that addresses unhealthy or irrational beliefs and attitudes that influence thoughts,  emotions, and behaviours. 

It follows the ABC model of developing an awareness about the processes that influenced the development of the anxieties such as the activating event, the beliefs that were developed as a result and the consequences of those beliefs. 

It uses a method known as “disputing” to assist individuals develop realistic and healthy beliefs and as a consequence develop the ability to rationalise their thoughts and their emotional and behavioural responses as well. 

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) 

MBSR is an evidence-based program that involves mindfulness training to help people who are suffering from anxiety and other mental health issues. 

MBSR could be helpful in helping individuals deal with their anxieties as it has been found to be effective in tackling anxiety issues in most cases. 

The program involves teaching and training individuals to develop skills to cope with the anxiety or to reduce the intensity of the anxiety. 

Pharmacological treatment

If your anxiety is extremely severe your doctor may prescribe you antidepressants or an anti-anxiety medication to assist your treatment, your panic, and other physical symptoms.

These medications will most probably be prescribed to you in the case that you have been diagnosed with the disorder, meaning that the anxiety has now affected your life significantly. 

Conclusion

In this blog we discussed what driving anxiety is.

We have also briefly touched upon what the symptoms are, the factors that cause driving anxiety, and what you can do to cope.

How do I stop driving anxiety?

Here are a few things you can do to manage driving anxiety:

  • Seek out professional help
  • Engage in desensitising yourself
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Understand the anxiety. 

Is driving anxiety common?

It is quite common, according to the zebra– about 66% of the American population experience driving anxiety.

Does driving anxiety go away?

Without treatment or efforts to manage and tackle this phobiaMany people with high anxiety about driving end up not driving altogether. So it is unlikely that driving anxiety will go away on its own however with treatment and therapy it can be managed.

Why am I suddenly scared of driving?

The most common causes of fear of driving include:

  • Witnessing a car accident of a loved one or a friend as in the case of PTSD.
  • Trauma related to vehicles like getting lost. 
  • Experiencing a panic attack in the car prior.
  • Being a victim of road rage 
  • Negative experiences related to going to new locations- getting lost etc.
  • Negative experiences with certain situations like getting stuck on a bridge or a tunnel
  • Fear of causing an accident that leads to deaths- especially in the case that you have had past experiences or someone close to you have experienced this. 

References

Felman. A. What to know about anxiety. Medicalnewstoday. Retrieved on 3rd February 2022. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323454#what-is-anxiety

Lindberg.S. Understanding Your Fear of Driving. Healthline. Retrieved on 9th February 2022.https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/understanding-your-fear-of-driving

Overcoming the Fear of Driving. ADAA. Retrieved on 9th February 2022.https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/overcome-fear-driving

Causes of Driving Anxiety & 5 Ways to Overcome It. Choosing Therapy. Retrieved on 9th february 2022. https://www.choosingtherapy.com/driving-anxiety/

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