Anxiety Mental Health

How to Overcome Long-Term Driving Anxiety

Developing an anxiety disorder after a car accident is incredibly common. One study cites as many as 67% experiencing depression, up to 47% having increased anxiety and driving phobias, and 40% of survivors suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a motor vehicle accident.

One of the most common responses to an accident is driving anxiety. Unlike the worry most people experience, which can be uncomfortable but is often fleeting, driving anxiety can be constant, intense, and affect your day-to-day.

How to Overcome Long-Term Driving Anxiety

Car accident survivors with driving anxiety might experience debilitating fear at the thought of getting back behind the wheel, have nightmares — if they can sleep at all — and be in a constant state of hypervigilance. They often also avoid places and activities that could trigger memories of the accident, causing upheaval and affecting their quality of life.

While accident survivors can use several techniques to manage anxiety, overcoming driving anxiety entirely takes time — some might experience symptoms long after their physical injuries have healed.

Fortunately, there is plenty of support available to combat driving anxiety over the long term.

Overcoming Long-Term Driving Anxiety: Discover how Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and exposure Therapy can be effective in managing driving anxiety.

Lean On Your Support Network

You might not realize how much you rely on your vehicle until driving becomes a struggle. Even mundane tasks like going to the grocery store or taking your children to school can feel overwhelming or impossible if you have driving anxiety.

Worse still, because many triggers can remind you of your accident, even leaving your home can be daunting.

Having the support of friends and family can significantly benefit your recovery. Loved ones can not only lend an ear when you’re ready to talk about your accident and anxiety, but they can also help with the practicalities, like taking you to appointments, picking up your kids, and running errands.

Don’t be afraid to lean on them — they want to support you, and you will not be a burden. If it helps, try to view it as being given the space and time to heal and regain your confidence rather than becoming dependent on them.

Seek Professional Help

While speaking to those closest to you can support your recovery, sometimes it can be harder to open up to loved ones, or you might not have a support network. Whatever the case, when driving anxiety affects your life and changes your behavior, it’s worth seeking professional help.

It’s vital to remember that seeing a therapist or psychiatrist for your driving anxiety is not a sign of weakness but the opposite. It takes tremendous strength to acknowledge that you are struggling and to seek help to overcome it — and it’s more common than you might think.

The key to overcoming driving anxiety is to find what works for you. A professional will create a tailored treatment plan comprising traditional talk therapy or self-guided exercises with regular check-ins to assess your progress and minimize setbacks.

Overcoming Long-Term Driving Anxiety: Discover how Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and exposure Therapy can be effective in managing driving anxiety.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Driving Anxiety

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a widely recommended and effective treatment for mental health conditions and emotional challenges, including driving anxiety.

How CBT Works

CBT works by identifying the negative or irrational thoughts that trigger certain feelings or behaviors — in this case, your anxiety around driving.

The goal of CBT is to modify these thought patterns through cognitive restructuring. This foundational step involves rationally exploring a negative thought or belief and considering, “Is this true?” and “What is an alternative, more positive way to look at this belief?”.

Often, driving anxiety is so severe because it is unrealistic. That doesn’t make it any less real or valid — anxiety can lead you to believe that you will be in another car accident every time you get behind the wheel, even though it’s highly unlikely.

By identifying these patterns and working to change them, you create new neural pathways that will take hold over time, reducing your anxiety. Combined with coping mechanisms such as breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization, CBT can be highly effective.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy often takes place alongside CBT and involves building your way back to driving by facing the situations that trigger your anxiety. By progressively confronting your fear in a controlled environment and realizing you are safe, you reduce your anxiety. While exposure therapy can be uncomfortable, it can also be empowering, allowing you to take back control.

The key to exposure therapy is to take gradual steps and be gentle. Pushing yourself too hard — such as by jumping in your car and driving down a busy highway or volunteering to be the designated driver on a night out — could set back your overall recovery.

You might start by sitting in your car in the garage for 10 minutes and being present, focusing on the feel of the steering wheel beneath your fingers. Then, you might switch the engine on to familiarize yourself with the sound and vibration of your car running. The aim is to feel safe in a vehicle again by riding in the front passenger seat as a friend drives around the block, taking your car out for a short drive down a quiet street, and, eventually, tackling a busier road or highway.

Professional support is crucial when undergoing exposure therapy. A therapist can help you identify your triggers — whether a particular intersection, driving at night, or the mere thought of driving. They’ll then explore the best ways to address your triggers. A trigger could even be the song playing during your crash, in which case, listening to the song in a safe environment while engaging in a relaxing activity or using other coping mechanisms can help you forge new positive associations.


Speak to a Personal Injury Lawyer

A personal injury lawyer might not be the first person you think to call if you’re suffering from driving anxiety. Still, if your accident happened due to someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation for the impact of your injuries on your life, including your mental anguish.

Driving anxiety can be life-altering, especially if you’re also dealing with painful physical injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder. Still, compensation can cover your medical expenses and provide financial stability as you seek support to overcome your driving anxiety.

Early action is vital — each state imposes a time limit on legal action, and evidence is best gathered after the accident while it is fresh. For example, if you suffer driving anxiety after a car accident in South Texas, a personal injury lawyer in McAllen can gather evidence, arrange the best medical attention, and pursue compensation within the two-year statute of limitations.

Overcoming driving anxiety can be a long journey, but the right support can make all the difference.

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