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Overcoming Driving Anxiety

At the age of 16, begins the nights of fun with friends and driving to and from school on your own. I was not a part of that group of people who were able to do that. I began to notice around the time that I enrolled in driving school (a required course in the state of Maryland), how hard it was for me to stay focused and relaxed behind the wheel. I would sit up straight until my back ached. I would speak nervously and make rash decisions. My driving instructor would be forced to slam on the brake on his side of the car, which I was most thankful for. When I moved to Atlanta as a first year college student, I did not have my license as I had failed the test once before and refused to take it again. I was still overwhelmed behind the wheel and would do anything to avoid having to drive.

Around Spring Break of that year, I went home and passed my driving test. I declared that I would finally get over the iffy feelings I had behind the wheel and begin driving. That did not happen for a few years. The summer before my third year, my father purchased my first car. I no longer had an excuse for why I could not drive to and from my summer job. On the first day driving the car (after begging my mom to drive me to work instead) I tried to stay calm. The drive was only about twenty five minutes from my home but I could not manage to get out of my head. I panicked as I drove and when it was time for me to change lanes I began making rash decisions again. I blindly changed lanes and slammed on my breaks. I felt horrible about it, but I knew that I had to move forward. So, I kept driving to and from work.

I got used to the feeling of driving the same route. When I was forced to drive places I was unfamiliar with, or at night, I would panic again. My hands would shake and sweat. I would breath uncontrollably and almost begin to cry. My father would give in sometimes, noticing that I was too afraid to drive. I began to realize that although people felt bad about my driving anxiety, they could not relate. They could not believe that a simple task such as driving would be so hard for me to do. I would watch videos on YouTube about women who had the same issue. I could honestly list the number of things that confused me about driving but that would just take too long. So instead, I want to give you all some advice.

  1. Give yourself time to get used to being on the road. It’s all about taking it a day at a time. If you’re only comfortable with driving for five minutes, do that. I noticed that I would get exhausted from driving long periods of time. Don’t overwhelm yourself.

  2. I would stop and think about the fact that I was driving a huge mechanical object and that any wrong move would cause harm to someone else. Thinking that way causes even more stress. How about listening to music instead. Or, talking to the person in the passenger seat.

  3. Never allow the passenger to get into your head. If the passenger is doing what I like to call “Passenger Seat Driving”, tell them how it makes you uncomfortable. The added pressure from someone else is not necessary.

  4. Every little mistake on the road is not the end of the world. If a mistake feels like a little too much for you, it’s okay to pull over and take a break. I got into the habit of beating myself up and refusing to drive for a few days when I made mistakes.

  5. Try to read over the directions before getting behind the wheel. It will most likely put you at ease while driving because you’ll have some idea of where you are going.

  6. If your major issue is with parking or changing lanes, consider a personal driving instructor. This is something I considered but never decided to do.

  7. Driving on the highway was the biggest milestone for me. It was during the drive from Maryland to Georgia. I decided that I needed to do it for myself and as a new driver, your time will come. Remember that every milestone, big or small, is still a step toward overcoming the anxious feelings you get while driving.

Finally, I would like to say that you are not alone. You are not crazy or emotional. It’s okay to be afraid of something. Overcoming something as serious as driving anxiety makes you brave so congratulations, you’re on the right track.


Hi! I'm Aliyah, a Senior Business Administration major with a concentration in marketing from PG County, Maryland. I spend my time watching YouTube videos, Netflix and reading books. I love all things storytelling.
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