Anxiety behind the wheel is common, especially among people living in cities with heavy traffic and little public transport.
A Baylor College of Medicine psychologist explains the fear of driving and how to overcome it.
If you are an anxious driver, this anxiety can increase when road situations are more stressful, such as driving on a busy five-lane freeway in heavy traffic or driving in the rain.
“One of the biggest challenges revolves around fear of the trigger, and this can be exacerbated by a variety of factors such as weather, traffic or fear of traffic jams,” said Dr. Eric Storch, Professor and Associate Chair in Psychology at Menninger College Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in Baylor.
Aside from stress, avoidance is the most common symptom of fear of driving. When anxiety gets extreme, you can stop driving altogether and let others give you a ride, or use ride-sharing apps like Uber.
Other strategies could be to drive only in the presence of other people or under certain conditions, such as during the day or on non-motorways.
Unfortunately, for many, these are not practical options and can lead to greater anxiety and avoidance over time.
Learning how to address driving anxiety gradually and taking a progressive approach by systematically confronting the feared trigger is crucial to managing anxiety.
First drive on secondary roads and then gradually switch to secondary roads. Take the next step by riding the same roads during busy periods.
Finally increase it to different traffic situations. Some fear driving over large bridges. So start small and go over small bridges first and then go over more robust bridges little by little.
“You think about being in this moment all the time and emphasize what you learned after dealing with the dreaded trigger of driving, which is that you can deal with it, the dreaded outcome usually doesn’t happen, and that the fear decreases as the intensity of the confront it increases,” Storch said.
Try to be polite and obey the rules of the road when other drivers are throwing tantrums or other undesirable behavior on the road.
When you find yourself in a situation where someone is throwing anger at you, avoiding arguments is a helpful approach.
“Have a good cognitive flair — if you get involved with someone else’s anger, you’re not going to get anywhere,” he said.
Storch describes how to calm the nerves of anxious drivers who encounter people having tantrums on the road:
When in doubt, give people confidence: they don’t know what’s going on in their lives
Forgive others for the mistakes they make and give yourself the opportunity to let them go
Think about your score, which is usually getting from point A to point B, and that an incident on the road will affect your score
Take a deep breath to drop your physiological arousal by a few notches
“The reality is that in Houston it’s difficult to drive on busy roads, especially when there’s a traffic jam. But avoiding these things doesn’t help you achieve what you need in life,” Storch said.
“If you’re scared about something, you need to take baby steps to deal with it and learn what happens when you face it.”
Written by Homa Shalchi.
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