In my last blog Understanding Driving Anxiety, I focused on understanding driving anxiety, where it may come from, and how it can become a roadblock in everyday living. Amaxophobia, the fear of driving, as well as different forms of travel anxiety, can get in the way of your everyday living. This leads to increased stress, low mood, and doubting your everyday tasks. Below are some tips and strategies that can support you on this journey to combating your driving anxiety. As we dive further, we will look at different types of therapy if you need additional support.
8 Tips to Combat Driving Anxiety
Notice Your Warning Signs
An important piece to challenging unwanted anxiety is to notice when it sneaks up on us. Sometimes it can feel like it goes from 0-100, however, we may be missing some key signs along the way. Our body sensations can be key factors in helping ourselves before we are at our breaking point. These can include feeling sweaty or hot, clammy hands, tapping our leg, racing heart, difficulty catching our breath, a headache or stomach ache, etc. Noticing these signs when in a vehicle can help you support yourself and feel in control.
Reframe Your Anxious Thoughts
When we are able to gain insight into our warning signs, we may also notice our racing thought pattern or worst-case scenario thoughts. By using the BMW skill, we can challenge and reframe our thought patterns and take back your power. BMW challenges us to look at what is the
- Best case scenario
- Most likely scenario
- Worst case scenario
As mentioned, anxiety usually takes us to the “W” which keeps our cycle of anxiety constant. However, when we challenge our thoughts to look at what will most likely happen, or even the best case of what could happen, we can ease or break the cycle. BMW gives you a highly refined vehicle to pause, reflect, challenge, and steer yourself to your destination.
Our self-soothe skills are endless, as these skills utilize our senses of touch, taste, hearing, sight, and smell. When we are using self-soothe, your goal is to be mindful or bring your attention to the present skill you are using. A few ideas are listed below to start creating your car kit.
- Cold water: Cold temperature is a quick way to help calm yourself. Cold temperatures can change our body chemistry, working with the parasympathetic nervous system. This slows down your heart rate and works with your body sensations to help feel better. Putting a cold water bottle on your eyes, back of your neck, or cheeks can help, or even taking a few sips of cold water.
- Candy: Any favorite candies are great to keep in the car. These draw our attention to the sensations of the candy, working to decrease the height of the worry. Try out anything from lifesavers, Lemonheads, mints, or gum for this tip.
- Music: A self-soothe playlist is a great way to feel prepared in the car. Think of music that is calming or relaxing or even music that you can sing along to. When we are focused on our playlist, the anxiety will lessen.
- Diffuser: Having essential oils readily accessible can be a great way to engage our sense of smell. Having a car diffuser is a simple way to use this skill while driving and increase grounding. I suggest keeping a water bottle and favorite scent in the car for quick refills as needed when on the go.
Ride the Wave
Just like a rollercoaster or wave in the ocean, our emotions tend to rise and fall. When an unwanted emotion, like anxiety, is at its highest, our urge may be to avoid or stay away from that trigger. This can lead to avoiding driving when your anxiety is at the highest point of your wave. It sometimes feels like the anxiety is going to last forever. However, by using our ride the wave skill, we can reassure ourselves that emotions rise and fall, and reinforce that this emotion will, like a wave, reach a point where it comes down. This process lets you know you can have an emotion AND still continue on with your driving. Eventually, this process tends to ease the anxiety with every continued effort so your wave doesn’t always reach its highest peak.
As mentioned in Part 1, driving anxiety can lead to self-doubt, low self-esteem, and negative self-talk when feeling frustrated in our abilities. When this comes up, a helpful tip can be increasing or challenging these negatives with positive affirmations. Positive affirmations are positive statements about yourself. To incorporate this into your driving, try repeating back a list of affirmations to yourself or out loud. If you need some reminders, have a list of affirmations on your visor, or turn on a positive affirmation podcast to follow along. When it comes to positive affirmations, use your “I” statements! Some examples may look like this:
- I can do this.
- I am capable of making it to my destination.
- I am confident in my abilities.
- I will make it through this.
- I am filled with focus.
Remember, affirmations can be reflections of statements you know to be true such as “I will make it through this” Indeed, you will make it through this moment as you have so many that have come before. Affirmations can also be reminders of what you are capable of even if you have not quite achieved that goal, such as “I am capable of making it to my destination.” They can also be an attempt at framing your mindset such as “I am filled with focus.” So don’t get caught up on if the affirmations aren’t quite where you are at the moment. Indeed, even pro-ball players visualize making their best shot and use affirmations to reinforce their focus.
Call a Friend:
If we find ourselves needing a quick break, calling a friend is a quick way to ease our minds and get back on track. Your loved ones want the best for you, so use them to your advantage when you need that extra push. Sometimes all it takes is the sound of a support’s voice to feel centered and keep going.
Step Out of Your Comfort Zone with SMART Goals
As we have covered, anxiety and avoidance tend to go hand in hand. Along the way, our comfort zone or window of tolerance may get smaller and smaller, such as driving less, or shorter distances. When feeling stuck, reset some goals that take you to that next step. By using SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely) you can set a goal that is specific yet designed to meet the needs that you want to work towards. This could look like, driving to a specific destination, that is a certain distance away, by a certain time. Create steps to gradually work toward this goal. Perhaps, drive to a few places half the distance away. Or drive with someone for the first time to the destination before driving on your own. Either way, set the goal and the steps to make it there!
Create a Routine:
Most of these above tips require some preparation before we depart on a drive. Before setting off for a drive, typically we adjust our seat, mirror, and buckle up. Adding in a few deep breaths, or any of the above-mentioned skills to your driving routine can help you to feel grounded before your journey. This can also save some time if we need to refill on candy, grab a water bottle, or refill our diffuser before we’re on the road.
When it comes to driving anxieties, there are numerous helpful approaches to support you with building bravery, reclaiming your confidence, and taking back your freedom.
- Exposure Therapy: Anxiety convinces us that we should avoid situations in order to ease our anxiety. However, this makes these tasks more and more agonizing when we are unable to avoid them. Exposure therapy exposes us to anxiety-provoking situations in order to reprogram our brains to know we are safe and able to manage these situations. By working with a therapist, you will have support in finding which steps are appropriate yet challenging for you.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a popular treatment model that demonstrates how our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are connected and intertwined. This process happens repeatedly throughout your day-to-day living. Using this modality can help us challenge our anxiety and irrational thoughts when it comes to driving.
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): DBT provides us with numerous concrete skills to manage crisis situations and gain awareness of the different intensities of emotions we experience. DBT is based on four core components including: distress tolerance, mindfulness, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.
- Mindfulness: Mindfulness tends to be incorporated into many treatment modalities especially when targeting anxieties. Mindfulness helps us to remain present in the moment and challenge our judgments. When we are able to ground ourselves in the present, the constant worries of the past and future are not weighing us down.
Why Driving Anxiety?
I am specifically passionate about this topic because I have witnessed it firsthand, and how it can impact many areas of life. I have seen those close and dear to me struggle with driving and travel anxiety. It can be difficult to break free. A negative experience as a young person can cause trauma that can follow you. For my brother, it was on a plane as a teen. My brother and I share this for any reader out there experiencing anxiety while driving or anxiety with an everyday task. You are not alone.
My worst feeling during driving anxiety is not being able to feel like I’m in control. I get sweaty hands, heart palpitations and shortness of breath. I just want the trip to be finished ASAP. -Richard.
When our anxious thoughts take off, it is common to feel alone, inadequate, or stem into feeling down about other areas of your life. However, that does not mean we are destined to feel this way forever. Now as an adult, my brother continues to learn and grow into mastering his driving anxiety. He is able to manage his worry, plan ahead and feel prepared when needed. He leans on his supports when things get tough. Overall it is inspiring to watch his progress continue. I think his 16-year-old self would be pretty proud of where he is today.
One coping skill I use is telling myself that this feeling isn’t going to last forever and it will pass. Also, if I am not familiar with a certain destination, I will try to do exposure therapy by driving half the way. I still do experience some levels of anxiety but they are much milder. -Richard
Struggling with Driving Anxiety?
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How can a New Jersey therapist help with fears of driving?
At Brave Minds Psychological Services, we can support you. We can help with processing your driving anxiety or your traumatic experience with driving, and take action to get you where you want to be. We are here to break down your anxious barriers and support you in getting back to driving in comfort and peace.
Located in Scotch Plains, NJ, our therapists work with teens and adults. We can help whether you are a newly experienced driver or a frequent driver. For our teen drivers, Brave Minds believes in working with parents and teens together to create all-around support and a successful environment to create positive change. If you aren’t sure where to start, here are some quick steps below:
- Call to schedule a free phone consultation and connect with a New Jersey therapist that fits your needs.
- Schedule your first appointment and get started with sessions via either online therapy in New Jersey or in our Scotch Plains, NJ office.
- Take back your freedom without fear holding you back.
Other Mental Health Services We Offer in Westfield & Scotch Plains, NJ
At our Scotch Plains, NJ-based therapy practice we offer many types of counseling services to support you. For individuals, we offer EMDR trauma therapy, food allergy therapy, and postpartum counseling. While for children and adolescents we provide teen anxiety treatment, social phobia therapy for teens, child sexual abuse therapy, and child anxiety treatment. In addition to these, we also offer group therapy, marriage counseling, couples therapy, and more. Our trained therapists provide services both in person and through online therapy in New Jersey.