Conquering driving anxiety

Conquering Driving Anxiety

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So first I have to give a little bit of a backstory. I have had severe driving anxiety since I was about 10 years old when I accidentally hit the corner of my sandbox while driving my dad’s lawnmower. I was a very sensitive child and he was a fairly unhappy daddy. That combination resulted in flashbacks to his lecture every single time I even considered learning how to drive a car.

Despite that fact, my dad insisted that I would get my driver’s license. So much so that when I was 14, my dad brought home the book from the DMV so I could start studying for my learner’s permit (which I couldn’t get for at least a year). I studied, and I got my permit.

Then I had to actually get behind the wheel. It was terrifying! There were so many things to remember, and worse yet, my dad was there to tell me each and every mistake I made. And no matter how calm he was, my mind would drift back to that day years before and I would tear up and just stop.

Eventually I did get to the point that I would drive with my mom in the car a little bit at a time. But I wasn’t happy about it.

Then Came The Day To Get My License

My mom drove me to the Department of Motor Vehicles and after a ton of paperwork and a couple of trips to have the correct documentation, I was called to take the test. Much to my surprise, I actually passed the test on the first try!

But guess what? I never got behind the wheel again until this past year. That’s right. I’ve been married for 8 years. We do not live in an area that’s great for public transportation (and who wants to take 4 kids on a bus anyways) but I’ve managed to survive as a stay at home mom with no way of driving throughout everything. But this year, as part of my resolve to reclaim my smile, I decided I needed my independence. But I was way too scared to hit the road.

Baby Steps

Despite my husband’s dismay, I was way too afraid to just hit the open road. Rather, I began a small series of baby steps, starting with just going up and down my driveway and gradually increasing the distance to a local church about five miles from my home. Prior to this week, I had only driven there with just me and the kids a total of three times by myself, and each time I was pretty nervous. I never drove in the rain, or after dark. And only at times when I felt very, very calm.

Then I got kicked out of the nest. After a tee-ball game on Thursday night, we pulled into the driveway and smoke started pouring out of the hood. It was late evening, and we were tired so we decided to wait until the next day to deal with it. Morning came around and so did the clouds. And then the power went off. Where we live, if you lose Internet, you also lose your phone service.

So there We Were In The Dark

We were trying to decide what to do but my emotions were getting the best of me. Midst the frustration, my anxiety took hold. My husband announced he was going to drive our car out to get parts that I knew we couldn’t afford and my anxiety won out.

The fear of being alone with 4 kids and no way to communicate with anyone, and the fear of finances required to repair our van sent me into a full-fledged panic attack. I began hyperventilating and shaking with fear.

After I calmed down a bit, he decided to see if the van would make it to my parent’s house. But along the way we knew we would not have cell phone service so he made a decision that I would drive the van with the kids and he would follow along behind me with the car in case something happened.

Talking Myself Into Driving

I almost said, “That’s twice as far as I’ve ever driven alone. It’s on a road I’ve only driven on with you once. It’s pouring down the rain and I’m already really stressed. I can’t do this.” I began picturing all of the scenarios that could go wrong. What if it started smoking again? Could I handle things if I missed the turn and had to turn around? What if…

But then I stopped myself and said, “No, I will not allow anxiety to control what I can do. The speed limit is only 30 miles per hour and I can go slower if I need to. There’s not much traffic and he will be right behind me.” I took a deep breath and got into the driver’s seat. Tears came to my eyes as I put the keys into the ignition but I brushed them away in determination.

Despite my anxious breathing, I began singing at the top of my lungs and the girls joined in. That 12 mile drive felt more like 120 but we did it. I pulled in safely to my parents driveway and I said, “See there. This is how I can reclaim the smile I used to have.” I may have been trembling with fear, and I may have sat in the driver’s seat for a few minutes before getting out, but I did it and I am so glad I did!

Some Suggestions For Others With Driving Anxiety

Do you struggle with a fear to drive? If you’re like me, you may feel embarrassed because you feel like at your age, you should already be an expert. Or maybe you’re afraid of an accident, or of being harmed. If you’ve had a bad experience, that certainly doesn’t help anything. Regardless of your reasoning, however, I’ve come up with some tips that may help you overcome your driving anxiety.

1. Find A Good Instructor

You need someone who is patient, and encouraging, but who you can also take constructive criticism from. If the person you’re currently receiving help from is panicky, and afraid, you need to find someone else. Family and friends can be great at this, but sometimes it may be better to find a certified driving instructor to provide some help along the way.

2. Take It Slow

Don’t jump on the interstate the first time you get behind the wheel. Rather, find a small road, or even a parking lot to get your feet wet (not literally, obviously, driving near bodies of water may not be the best idea).

3. Push Yourself

Okay, so maybe a little bit of a contradiction to point number two, but if you don’t push yourself, you’re never going to do this. So go ahead and push yourself out of your comfort zone, just a little at a time. If lists help you like they do me, write down a list of small goals of where you’d like to drive to. Cross them off each time and you’ll be comfortable driving in no time!

4. Take Medication (If You Need It)

Don’t be ashamed to take some anti-anxiety medication if you need it. If you’re too jittery to be safe, then trust me, you need something to help you stay calm before you get behind the wheel. Talk to your doctor and see what they recommend, or even try some natural anxiety remedies. But do something to calm your nerves and explore the open road.

If you know someone who struggles with driving anxiety, please consider sharing this page with them.


  1. Ashley

    Hi, Jennifer! I can absolutely understand anxiety whenever driving. I also have a trauma from childhood that still affects me to this day. Great article! And good for you, working on being more independent.

  2. Lisa irvin

    Jennifer, that’s so awesome you were able to overcome your fear, especially in such a stressful situation. Sometimes we have to be thrown into our fears in order to get over them. I came across this article after an interesting drive we had this weekend. I actually had a near panic attack with my husband driving through holiday traffic, construction and highways. That was a first for me. I feel that as we get older (I just turned 40😢) the more we know about the world and the more we have to fear. It is what we do with that knowledge that makes or breaks us!

    Thanks for sharing,

    1. Jennifer

      Thanks so much for visiting with us today! Yes, it was stressful but sometimes that is the best catalyst. I can’t even begin to count the panic attacks I’ve had in crazy traffic even with others driving. We regularly drive through a large city on the way to visit family a few hours away, and I always try to purposely make sure I’ve fallen asleep before we get there because otherwise my panic nearly causes him to panic as well and that is NOT a good situation lol. Innocence definitely is bliss.

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Reclaiming The Smile