I used to be so scared of driving that I couldn’t even look at my car parked outside my house. I didn’t drive for seven years. I was too afraid.

Happily, these days I can and do drive whenever I want to. So what makes people scared of such an everyday activity as driving, and how do those of us with a driving phobia overcome it? If the thought of zooming off down the motorway brings you out in a cold sweat, then rest assured you’re not alone. Fear of driving is one of the most common phobias that exist, yet we seldom talk about it. Official statistics are hard to find, yet hypnotherapists say that this is one of the most common complaints they hear from their that clients. Why do some people and not others develop fear of driving? There are four key factors:

  1. A parent who was a non-driver or an unconfident driver
  2. Experience of any type of car crash, including minor prangs
  3. A prolonged and high degree of stress, particularly in the time before the car accident
  4. Stopping driving for a period of time

Any of these factors by themselves can lead to a fear of driving, and if more than one applies to you then the risks are higher. So someone who’s suffered a car crash might not develop a phobia, but if they are also highly stressed at the time, and then take a prolonged break from driving, driving anxiety could easily develop.

All of these factors applied to me - my mother is very nervous in cars and has never gone beyond a provisional licence; I’d had a near miss whilst out driving, when my brakes had failed in heavy traffic; I had a very stressful job as a TV producer; then I had a baby and got rid of the car, and didn’t drive at all for several months. I’d also fallen out of a moving car on to a dual carriageway when I was four. The seeds that grew into this phobia were sprinkled throughout my life.

Take comfort in the fact that this phobia is much more common than you might think.

Whilst both men and women can develop fear of driving, it’s women who tend to be more vocal in talking about it and coming forward for help. Or, as one hypnotherapist told me “women come for help with their fear of driving. Men come because they’re stressed, and it will emerge later that they’ve got anxiety about driving”.

So what can you do if you’re scared to drive?

  • Deal with the root cause of your stress - what is it that has made you stressed enough to develop this phobia? It might have nothing to do with driving at all.
  • Practice breathing exercises, relaxing your muscles and using positive affirmations such as ‘I am a calm and confident driver’
  • Recall your past successes - the times you drove well and took journeys you enjoyed
  • Take refresher lessons
  • Use music to boost your mood – play music you love whilst driving and sing along
  • Seek professional help – many hypnotherapists are skilled in helping people with driving anxiety.
  • Enrol at a professional specialist driving school
  • Keep driving –  you won’t want to, but aim not to let a week elapse between drives

Above all, take comfort in the fact that this phobia is much more common than you might think. Many of the people you see out driving are just as scared as you are, they’re just masking it better. Having a fear of driving doesn’t mean that you don’t drive at all - it could be that you’re scared of certain situations, such as motorways or driving over bridges.

What worked for me was a combination of these techniques. I took around 10 refresher lessons and used them to relearn to drive in my local area. I forced myself to drive frequently, even when I didn’t want to and felt afraid. I kept an eye on my blood sugar and caffeine levels, as both can contribute to panic attacks - so no driving on an empty stomach or after too much coffee. I had a stab at hypnotherapy, though to be honest the most effective part of the session was standing in the rain waiting for the bus afterwards, reflecting on the fact that if I had driven I would have been home and dry by then. So take comfort in the fact that this phobia is much more common than you might think. Many of the people you see out driving are just as scared as you are, they’re just masking it better. Having a fear of driving doesn’t mean that you don’t drive at all - it could be that you’re scared of certain situations, such as motorways or driving over bridges. My experience of overcoming this phobia has brought me to the conclusion that the important thing here is not that we drive. It’s that we stop living in the shadow of fear, because that is a very stressful place to be. I love that I can drive anywhere I want to. But I love even more that I overcame my fear and moved beyond it. Living with a fear you have not dealt with is an enormous mental pressure. And the relief when you’re free from that pressure the best kind of freedom of all.  

Click here to buy How to Overcome Fear of Driving by Joanne Mallon

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