Driving Anxiety

As a younger generation, more and more of us are suffering from anxiety or from feeling constantly anxious, (The Guardian 2015). We don’t yet know why this. Maybe it’s the increased pressure on us to succeed? Maybe it’s the increased pressure to be perfect at everything; have the perfect good looks, the perfect body, be smart, be rich? One thing we do know is that this is a problem. Anxiety sucks, big time! And worse? You can never be sure when it will hit, leaving you in a constant state of worry that at any moment, a panic attack can occur, you can pass out, be sick, all of it. This can have a massive impact on our everyday lives but what about our driving?

In our last in this driving series, we discuss the effects of anxiety on our driving and what problems this can cause. Laura Whitehurst at Anxiety UK talks us through techniques to avoid anxiety in the car and ways to tackle with anxiety long term.

Q1. What might cause someone to feel anxious when in their car?

“There are many reasons why somebody may feel anxious when in their car. For some, they may have had a negative experience when driving in the past – perhaps an accident – and as such the anxiety is caused by the notion of getting in another accident, or brings up frightening flashbacks of the accident whenever they go to get behind the wheel again. Some people who are already living with a panic disorder, or have experienced panic attacks in the past, may be anxious about having a panic attack behind the wheel. Some may experience agoraphobia, and therefore may feel anxious about getting lost whilst driving, and driving outside of their ‘safe zone’, or some people may experience claustrophobia and find being stuck in traffic whilst driving very triggering of their own phobia.

There are a variety of different reasons why somebody may experience anxiety, and they will all experience their anxiety differently, however ultimately what it means for this person is that their anxiety could be interfering with their daily life, and this is when it needs to be addressed.”

Q2. What tips or techniques would you give to a driver, to help them control (or avoid) their anxiety before they get behind the wheel/ whilst driving?

“In the short term, we would certainly recommend breathing exercises in order to control any anxious feelings, in addition to gentle exercise beforehand if they are feeling anxious, by way of yoga or swimming which will help relax the muscles and release any excess adrenaline. We’d also recommend to avoid caffeine and any sugar fixes before or whilst driving as these can exacerbate any feelings of anxiety. Mindfulness and meditation are also great ways to manage anxiety, and we’ve partnered with Headspace to offer a free subscription to their mindfulness and meditation app, which is great for when you’re on the go to practice mindfulness and meditation when experiencing anxiety. In the long term, we’d recommend seeing a GP or speaking to a charity like ours to discuss options on how to manage your anxiety day-to-day.

There are many ways in which people learnt to manage their anxiety each day, such as through therapy or through medication if appropriate. The best way in which to manage such emotions is to learn about it, and learn how to control it. You don’t have to let anxiety stop you from driving as there are many ways in which you can learn to manage it each day so it doesn’t have to interfere with your day-to-day life.”

Q3. Why is feeling anxious distracting? How does it cause lack of concentration? How might this lead to dangerous driving?

“Anxiety is a very normal emotion. It can keep us safe by preparing us for any future danger and allowing our bodies to respond to threats. However, like a smoke alarm that goes off when there’s a fire, it can also go off just as easily when you use the toaster. In the same way, anxiety is like a smoke alarm, and can often be ‘set off’ easily when there is no real threat or danger involved. Anxiety is our bodies responding to a threat and our adrenal system kicking in, therefore can result in a rapid heartbeat, palpitations, excess sweating, shaking, ‘jelly legs’, headaches, butterflies in your stomach and many other physical symptoms. These symptoms can of course be very distracting, and can lead anyone to panic further about how they’re feeling.

People who experience severe anxiety whilst driving could have a panic attack, which is a rush of all the physical symptoms described over a short period of time. Panic attacks can be extremely frightening, especially if you’ve never experienced one before, and can lead someone to be frightened they’re going to pass out or have a heart attack. These intense emotions can cause a person to lose focus on the task at hand, whether it be driving or something else, in an attempt to control their physical symptoms.”


Do you worry about driving? What helps you to remain calm in the car? Let us know in the comments or on our twitter page – twitter.com/Student_Wire

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Brittany Guymer

Editor of the Student Wire | Studying PR and Journalism at Leeds Beckett | Lover of good music and all things quirky | Easily bribed with mini eggs

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