Driving can be stressful and can cause anxiety, especially when you take into consideration how many car accidents and bad drivers there are.
However, there is a point when the stress can be too much, and the fear of driving can lead to negative consequences.
For example, a new study from the Queensland University of Technology found that anxious drivers became distracted and unfocused. The anxious drivers had slower response times and inattention, which could lead to an accident.
This brings up the question: what is making the drivers anxious? Sometimes driving itself can make a person anxious, or outside circumstances can make a person anxious and then the person drives.
Amy Serin, a neuropsychologist in Peoria, Ariz., said that the harmful effects of anxiety while driving depend on the severity and type of anxiety. For example, if someone is having a panic attack or hyperventilating, this can obviously hinder driving abilities.
“I would encourage people experiencing that to go seek psychological help so they don’t have those episodes while they’re driving,” Serin said.
She said that even if a person has an anxious state of mind and is tense, this will probably affect their driving.
“If there’s a large amount of anxiety, that person might be more impulsive in their driving and also be quick to anger in their driving and also not make the best decisions,” Serin said. “Moderate levels of anxiety can help performance in situations like that, but if it gets to be severe, then it can be incapacitating.”
She said she has patients who come in with anxiety for many reasons.
“It’s not so common in my experience to have somebody who just feels anxiety while driving, but if there’s a phobia involved, a certain fear that’s exacerbated from driving, then you treat that the same way you would treat the fear or the anxious feelings during any kind of activity,” Serin said.
Phobias and anxiety can be treated by exposure with response prevention.
“You have the person expose themselves to what they experience the anxiety during and then you teach that person how to not experience the anxiety while they’re doing that thing,” Serin said.