When high anxiety becomes a feature in our lives, driving anxiety is commonplace. Why do we get anxious when driving, and how can we overcome it?
For the everyday, ‘normal’ driver, bombing up and down the motorway at 70mph (70mph tops, of course) isn’t an issue.
But if you’re dealing with high anxiety it’s a different story – and it all comes down to the story we’re telling ourselves.
We’ve all got that little voice in our heads. That little voice sounds very different when anxiety is your focus.
When driving home from work, a balanced person’s little voice is saying things like ‘what shall I have for dinner tonight’, and ‘will I get back in time for my TV programme.’
When you’re highly anxious, that little voice is saying things like ‘I hope I don’t crash the car’, and ‘what if I get stuck on the motorway – what the hell am I going to do!’
When you’re balanced, thoughts are about everyday things. When you’re highly anxious, thoughts are connected to our survival instinct. (i.e. not dying.)
High anxiety makes us focus on our survival, and that creates a whole raft of irrational thoughts.
These irrational thoughts become our sole focus, continuously fuelling the fear cycle.
The more we allow the cycle to continue, the worst the fear gets, until we might reach the point when we don’t want to get in the car.
What can we do about driving anxiety?
It all comes down to small steps.
You’ve got to retrain your brain so it knows that driving is a normal everyday activity.
So the first step is to rationalise your thoughts.
Driving carries a risk, but so do all modes of transport.
You have to decide if you’re willing to take the risk of driving.
If you put your rational thinking cap on, it will tell you that millions of people drive every day without issue. In other words, when you’re thinking rationally, the right decision is to drive.
The second step is to have to look at where you are right now.
If you’ve just started to experience driving anxiety, you’re in a different place to someone who’s not been able to get in a car for the last year.
Based on where you are right now, you have to decide what the next small step of action is for you.
That step should take you a little further outside of your current comfort zone.
That might mean you:
- Take a friend out to drive with you.
- Drive a little further outside of your comfort zone.
- Go on the motorway or an A road.
- Drive past the place that makes you anxious.
- Sit in a car.
Pick the option that is right for you based on your current situation.
For example, if you haven’t been able to get in a car for the past year, just sitting in a car might be the thing that expands your comfort zone.
Each small step that you take should push you a little further outside of your comfort zone.
Like a snowball, with each step you take, your confidence is growing. You’re telling your brain that the thing you’ve been too nervous to do is OK.
The key to making this process work is appreciating two things:
- Like a snowball, you have to continue your momentum.
- Accept that you will be challenged by the feelings of fear and anxiety.
When we expand our comfort zones, anxiety hits back and tries to stop us. It’s easier for anxiety (your survival instinct) to keep you in a little box. The job of keeping you safe is easier.
But you and I know that is no way to live.
You have to first decide that you are willing to face up to the challenge, and accept that you will feel anxious and challenged.
It means that you might feel like you’re going backwards at times.
Sometimes you’ll feel like you want to give up.
Use your rational thinking, and don’t give up.
To help with the rational thinking here, when making the decision whether or not to give up I want you to consider the prospect of never driving again.
What does that mean to you?
A loss of a job?
Your independence – gone?
A feeling of being trapped?
Allow the fear of these things to drive you to make the right decision. (Pun intended.)
Allow the prospect of these things becoming a reality to push you that extra step when you need it.
Keep making those small steps, and with each step keep expanding your comfort zone – just a little each time.
When you’re brave enough to face up to the challenge, you’ll be surprised by how quickly you can change things.
In other words, the challenge is worth it.