How to address driving anxiety?

I am feeling very hampered by my fear of driving in certain situations -- mostly on freeways and especially on bridges. My heart starts racing and I feel like I'm going to have a panic attack and run off the road (I've never actually had one, though, and I do not experience anxiety in general). It's terrifying and unpleasant, and bad enough that I simply avoid driving in a lot of situations. This has been going on for years, but now it's starting to creep in on routes I have to drive all the time. I would really appreciate any advice about how to fix this and specific recommendations. A driving school? Therapy? Thanks.

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This isn't super helpful but I wanted to tell you that you are doing the right thing by taking steps to address this. I've read that when something makes you anxious and you avoid it, you actually increase your anxiety because you are teaching your brain that whatever it is you're avoiding is truly dangerous.  I don't know of any therapists but I seem to recall when my son was learning to drive and had to do the required hours of professional training, that some of the driving schools I looked at dealt with adult drivers with anxiety.  Maybe you could call a few and explain, and see what they suggest.  You might also try just driving a short distance (one exit) on a relatively un-threatening freeway and try to gradually increase it - sort of "do it yourself" behavioral therapy. Good luck.  

Ann's Driving School is what helped me learn to drive at age 43 with the same issues you are having. Very patient and understanding instructors who can really help. Please call them you'll be glad you did.

I don't really have any advice but I just wanted to say that I experience a lot of the same things. I just moved back to California after years of living on the east coast and in the UK where I didn't need to drive and suddenly am now driving a lot. I find freeways, with kids in the car, bridges and anytime requiring a lane change (usually fast moving traffic but also at other times) extremely stressful and occassionally almost panic inducing. Have frequent flashes to car crashes, driving off the road etc. I am trying to just work through it and have had, for work, to drive recently from the east bay to San Jose, Palo Alto and San Bruno, each of which have felt like *major* accomplishments but which I would never want to attempt with my kids in the car! I feel like everyone in the bay area is so blase about freeway driving, people seem to drive their kids great distances to schools whereas I feel much more limited to be close to home (which has limited our options in Oakland). I know this isn't helpful to you at all in terms of practical advice but just to say you're not alone!

I have driving anxiety in some situations, and it’s related to a peripheral vision problem.  I have trouble with bridges and elevated highways.  I also have problems walking on open stairways with glass railings.  This is how I realized that it’s a peripheral vision issue, and not a generalized driving issue.

If I drive in the lanes that aren’t next to the right edge, I’m fine.  Have you tried driving in the inner lanes?

Maybe it is a vision issue?  If so, you can go to Visualeyes to get your vision checked.  They do glasses, but also check other vision problems and have vision therapy for issues that aren’t helped with glasses.  I have 20/20 vision, but also have problems with my peripheral vision.  Most eye doctors don’t test peripheral vision.

Also, it might be possible that a problem in your vestibular system is causing balance/motion issues.  For this, you would start with your regular doctor and possibly get a referral to an Ear/Nose/Throat specialist.  

I would try to make sure that you aren’t having a problem with your vision or ears/balance before trying a therapist for panic attacks.

Good luck, I know this is scary.

I feel you, as one with driving anxiety myself. If you choose to peruse therapy, may I recommend something somatically based so you can work with the physical sensations you’re experiencing. A good practitioner can help you build your internal capacity to be with them and not let them overwhelm you. Somatic Experiencing might be a good place to start exploring. Working with a driving instructor who’s adept with driving anxiety might also be good. Just having someone experienced there as you incrementally drive in more and more challenging situations might help bring down the level of alarm. 

One suggestion is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which is very effective at helping people with this kind of fear in a short period of time. For the fastest results you might try one of the many excellent therapists in the Berkeley area, but there are also books such as Mind over Mood. You would want a book focused on phobias (fear of flying has many similarities with fear of driving on freeways and bridges). 

Another suggestion (which you could do at the same time) is try a CES device (cranial-electrical stimulation), which is FDA approved for anxiety, depression, and insomnia. You will need a prescription for this, but the prescription can be from any licensed health professional -- your therapist, MD, chiropractor, etc. Here is one lower cost source for the device:

I had something similar begun to happen to me over the past several years on bridges. Once it started, I couldn’t drive a bridge without remembering, partway onto it, that this is where I have the anxiety and the attack would start simply from triggering it by remembering past issues. I also have issues if I feel claustrophobic or can’t breathe well. 

I found the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 method to work well for me. This link describes it well.

Using this method, I’ve gotten my anxiety attacks under control or can at least stop them in their tracks and now only have issues wth claustrophobia from time to time and not usually while driving. 

Good luck. It sucks. 

I am a therapist and you can absolutely get therapy for this--driving phobia is not uncommon in the world of anxieties. Look for a therapist willing to do exposure therapy (which is a type of behavioral /cognitive-behavioral therapy) that includes you driving as part of the treatment. You can try "flooding" yourself by going for a long drive and driving until your anxiety dissipates, but if you are feeling like that might be unsafe, go for a therapy. Places to search for a therapist include your health insurance website, places like Psychology Today (where therapist can list themselves for a fee) or google CBT or behavioral therapy for your location. Good luck! This is a very treatable condition.

I am a therapist and I've had a lot of success using EMDR.  It can be very effective in your sort of situation and doesn't take all that long. Usually it takes several sessions or a few months.  You can read more about it at

Best of luck.