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About to Go on a Long Drive? Here's How to Manage Your Anxiety

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Whether you’re visiting loved ones, moving home or just taking a good old fashioned road trip, there are times when you may need to get behind the wheel for more time than you’re used to. However, it’s common to experience some degree of anxiety when going on a long drive.

There are plenty of reasons why you may feel anxious before and during a drive. However, it is possible to manage your anxiety and have a more comfortable time on the road. We’ll break down the reasons behind the symptoms, and provide tips and advice that you can use before your next trip.

What does driving anxiety feel like?

Anxiety can affect any driver, and symptoms can come on in the build up to or during your drive. They often resemble more general symptoms associated with anxiety disorders, including a faster or irregular heartbeat, dizziness, or a shortness of breath. You can visit the NHS GAD symptoms page for full list of potential symptoms.

Meanwhile, the RAC advises people to look out for signs that friends or family members are experiencing driving anxiety. This includes:

Before we know how best to treat these symptoms, it can be really helpful to know what causes it. Let’s take a look at why driving anxiety is likely to arise.

Understanding driving anxiety

Drivers can experience anxiety for numerous reasons, and without properly understanding its source, it can be much more difficult to treat. As such, if you want to overcome your anxiety, you need to know why it exists in the first place. We’ll discuss some of the most common causes below.

Lack of experience

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If you’ve only recently passed your driving test, you might not have had much solo experience behind the wheel. The prospect of going on a lengthy road trip can therefore be a source of considerable dread. You may, for example, question whether you’re up to the task of driving long distances, or worry about heading onto the motorway for the first time.

This kind of anxiety doesn’t just affect new drivers, though. It’s also common amongst those who’ve had an extended break from driving and who may feel their skills have deteriorated. Even more experienced drivers can feel the jitters before heading out on an unfamiliar route.

What you can do about it

The good news is that this is one of the easier forms of anxiety to deal with, as your confidence will naturally increase as you spend more time driving. Our top tips here are:

  • Start small — work up to a long drive by practising in your local area and trying out progressively longer distances over time.
  • Get support (if it helps!) — taking a friend or family member with you can ease your nerves, though some people may find it more distracting than helpful.
  • Brush up on your skills — if you’re worried about a certain manoeuvre, make sure you give it a go before you head out on a lengthier journey.
  • Remember the stats — though it’s easy to worry about driving on motorways, DfT figures show that they’re actually the safest type of road in the UK.

Past traumatic experiences

Having had a negative experience on the road is another common cause of driving anxiety. You may, for example, have been involved in a collision. However, an incident doesn’t need to be major to trigger anxiety. Even something as simple as taking the wrong route could cause you to worry about driving in the future.

What’s more, traumatic experiences can affect anyone, whether or not you were actually behind the wheel at the time. You might have been a passenger, or simply a witness. Even hearing about an event could cause anxiety for a driver further down the line.

These kinds of feelings may arise any time a driver takes to the road. However, they may be exacerbated if your drive reminds you of that experience—e.g., if you’re taking a similar route.

What you can do about it

The good news is that this is one of the easier forms of anxiety to deal with, as your confidence will naturally increase as you spend more time driving. Our top tips here are:

  • Rebuild your confidence — if you’ve been through a traumatic event recently, you may still feel shaken. Don’t rush back into driving; take the time to feel confident behind the wheel before attempting longer or more difficult drives.
  • Be aware of the roads — brush up on the Highway Code again and make sure you know what to do if you’re driving along a more challenging route or in inclement conditions.
  • Don’t avoid it — it’s tempting to steer clear of the site of an accident, but this only solidifies the idea that you need to feel anxious about certain locations.
  • Drive defensively — to minimise the risks of further accidents, adopt defensive driving techniques that can help keep yourself and other road users safe.

Phobias

Another reason why you may feel anxiety about a long drive is a phobia. There are a range of different phobias which could trigger these feelings. The most obvious of these is vehophobia—the term for a fear of driving. This is most commonly caused by traumatic experiences, as discussed above, but can arise spontaneously.

Other phobias, however, can also contribute to driving anxiety. This may include:

What you can do about it

Left unchecked, phobias can dominate your thinking, distracting you from the road ahead. Here are some tips on how to stay in the right frame of mind.

  • Drive at quieter times when possible — if you’re worried about the prospect of long queues and bottlenecks, then avoid peak times such as rush hours and bank holidays.
  • Try stress management techniques — from breathing exercises to calming music, there are plenty of ways in which you can take your mind away from your fears. This list from Direct Line is a great place to start.
  • Take breaks — build time into your journey to stop and rest, giving you time to collect your thoughts, get away from heavy traffic and use the facilities at a service station.
  • Play it safe — try to resist the pressure to drive in ways you’re not comfortable with. If going a little slower helps you to feel safer, do it—just don’t come to a standstill!
  • Set yourself achievable targets — our guide to SMART goals for phobias can help!

Other anxiety disorders

Finally, other anxiety disorders can have an impact on your driving. Examples include generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), social phobia, panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

These disorders can affect you in a number of different ways, such as:

What you can do about it

Anxiety disorders can seriously affect your ability to drive safely. Here’s our advice on coping with these conditions:

  • Manage your symptoms — if you experience panic attacks behind the wheel, it can be incredibly frightening and unsettling. However, it is possible to ride out the attack with the help of distractions such as music, breathing exercises and certain types of food and drink, such as mints. Carry on driving if you feel comfortable to do so; otherwise, find a safe place to pull over and come safely to a stop.
  • Tell the DVLA — it’s a legal requirement to inform the DVLA if you have a medical condition that affects your driving. Check out the full details at GOV.UK.

Getting help for driving anxiety

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Image source: Ryan Moreno via Unsplash

While we’ve covered a range of different tips that can help you to deal with anxiety before and during a long drive, some people may find that their symptoms are so severe that they make it near-impossible to get behind the wheel at all. If that’s the case, then it may be time for you to consider getting professional help.

Therapy can help you not only to drive more confidently, but also to tackle the root causes of your anxiety. Some of the most popular options are:

If you’re looking for an expert therapist that can help you to deal with your driving anxiety, then ManageMinds can help. Our team is affiliated to some of the UK’s top professional bodies, so you can rest assured that you’re in safe hands.

To get started with ManageMinds, get in contact with us today. One of our senior therapists will be in touch to discuss your personal story and to help you decide on the right course of action. Together, you can put your driving anxiety to bed and look forward to the road ahead.

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