When Driving {or Being a Passenger} Makes you Anxious

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

By Amanda Abbott

Do you remember the last time you ran out of coffee? Or got a call from the school saying your child was sick and needed to be picked up? Was your first thought to jump in the car and go to the store or the school?

Lots of people approach driving without a second thought. But there are others who feel anxious at the thought of getting in a car, let alone behind the wheel.

What is driving anxiety?

Driving anxiety, often classified as a phobia of driving, can be triggered by a car accident or another bad experience. It can look different for different people, but generally it’s a fear of making an error while driving. Or that another driving will make an error, causing an accident.

Some people are able to drive, but have high anxiety while behind the wheel. Other people’s fears stop them from driving, even if they are medically safe to do so.

Like lots of other types of anxiety or phobias, the longer someone puts off driving, the more difficult it becomes to return to it.

OTs and Driving Anxiety

I help people develop practical, useful anxiety management skills, like mindfulness, diaphragmatic breathing, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). These tools can help interrupt anxious thoughts.

Another type of treatment is Exposure Therapy, it is the process of gradually exposing clients to situations that cause distress. This type of treatment is done with a licensed driving instructor and OT working together to support anxiety management and enhance driving skills to improve confidence and comfort in a car.

Assessment & Treatment

During an assessment, I spend about 1.5 to 2 hours with a client, followed by 45 minutes in a car with a driving instructor.

After the assessment, I design a personalized treatment plan geared towards the specific needs and anxieties of a client. Here’s a sample of what treatment could look like:

  • 10 to 12 in-car sessions with me and a driving instructor
  • 2 to 4 meetings with the client to practice skills, like relaxation and mindfulness, and go over homework, between in-car sessions
  • More sessions could be recommended to help someone get driving

Do have special skills to help you support your clients and their driving?

Yes! I have:

  • Masters in Occupational Therapy
  • 6 years of experience conducting medical and anxiety driving assessments
  • Training in Prolonged Exposure Therapy
  • CBT Training and anxiety management courses
  • ADED Assessment and Treatment of Driving Anxiety workshop
  • Critical Roles and Skills in Driver Rehabilitation (course)

Amanda is committed to helping clients build the skills and gain the confidence they need to get back on the road. To make a referral please click here.