While winter can make us want to hibernate and stay home, there are days when we still must get out, run errands, and travel. In the Midwest, that means being prepared to drive on snowy and icy roads.
Despite many of us being used to driving in the winter, drivers can still feel anxiety, dread, or even full-on panic at the prospect of driving in such conditions – or just driving in general, no matter the weather. Performing certain driving maneuvers, like merging onto the freeway, parallel parking, or navigating to a new place can all create anxious feelings. For many who’ve been in car accidents or with an anxiety disorder, those feelings of dread and panic can be exacerbated.
Below is some advice for dealing with driving anxiety, but please consult with a mental health professional if you feel that driving anxiety is negatively impacting your daily life.
1. Get to the Root of Your Anxiety
Ask yourself the question, “Why do I feel anxious when I have to drive?” Is it a specific incident that happened in your past, whether you were the driver or a passenger? Or was it someone in your life who had an accident? If it’s not a specific incident, do you have anxious tendencies? Are there specific driving maneuvers that trigger your feelings? Speak to yourself honestly about this, and if possible, work with a mental health professional to get to the root of your anxiety so you can best learn how to handle it.
2. Try Different Coping and Relaxation Techniques
There are many different treatments for anxiety disorders. Seek out a mental health professional who can offer different strategies to help you cope with your anxiety. When you are driving, think about the times you’ve driven successfully despite less than desirable conditions, and practice positive self-talk/self-affirmations. Chances are you did fine in the past, so you’ll do fine this time. If you find that your heart rate has increased, or your neck and shoulders are tense before or during driving, try focusing with some deep breathing techniques.
3. Focus on the Present When Driving
Take your journey one step at a time instead of thinking about what lies ahead. While it may be helpful to check road conditions before making a trip (you can check them on your state’s department of transportation website) focus on the present task of driving. Put away distractions like your phone or fiddling with your radio and focus on driving safely. Focusing on the scenery outside your car in the present helps you to get out of your internal focus which tends to exacerbate anxiety.
4. Set Small Goals Outside Your Comfort Zone
If you are feeling more confident and wanting to face your anxiety, set small driving goals for yourself that may be outside of your comfort zone, like driving somewhere new. Building up new positive experiences can help with your confidence. Remember that this will take time, so set small, achievable goals and be patient with yourself.
Remember, you are not alone – nearly 66% of Americans experience some driving anxiety. There are lots of techniques and options for handling it, and always seek help from a mental health professional when needed.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 50 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org