If you’re already prone to anxiety, you may fear sitting in the passenger seat while someone else drives. This is driving anxiety as a passenger, and it’s extremely common. It can show up whether you’re in a car, an airplane, a bus — any moving vehicle where you’re not the driver.
What Causes Driving Anxiety as a Passenger?
The way I see it, there are two main causes of driving anxiety as a passenger. One is legitimate, and the other is an irrational manifestation of agoraphobia and driving. Below is a breakdown of the two types:
- Riding with unsafe drivers — This type of driving anxiety as a passenger is rational. Driving is, in fact, a potentially dangerous exercise. Riding with unsafe drivers who either lack good driving skills, and/or who take stupid, unnecessary risks is a legitimate fear which should be taken seriously. The fastest cure for this type of driving anxiety is to stop riding with unsafe drivers. You are not required to put your safety (or your children’s safety) at risk through the actions of someone who either lacks good driving skills, drives while intoxicated, doesn’t pay attention, or doesn’t have a decent reaction time. In this case, your anxiety as a passenger is caused by external forces that you should avoid.
- Irrational, agoraphobic anxiety — If you’re riding with safe, competent drivers who know what they’re doing, but you’re still overwhelmed with driving anxiety as a passenger, it’s likely you’re dealing with the irrational fears that accompany most types of anxiety. Your brain and body have become hardwired to overreact to certain anxiety triggers, such as driving. Part of what I and Driving Peace co-creator Andrew Cunningham do in the Driving Peace program is teach you how to start changing these hardwired fear responses by building new neural pathways that react differently to driving.
Driving or riding in a vehicle does entail certain risks, that’s true. But extreme driving anxiety as a passenger — even with safe, competent drivers — is an example of your fear being out of proportion to the actual danger.
Ways to Control Driving Anxiety as a Passenger
You’re not always going to be in the driver’s seat. Having to ride as a passenger sometimes while someone else drives is inevitable. As long as you’re riding with competent drivers, it’s up to you to learn to control your irrational anxiety about being a passenger. Here’s some things you can try:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) — Cognitive therapy is generally considered the most effective, long-lasting treatment for anxiety disorders. This is because it helps change the way you view your fearful situation, which, over time, changes the way you feel about and react to it. CBT is most effective when you work with a licensed therapist who specializes in cognitive therapy. Here’s a link where you can find a therapist in your area.
- Hypnotherapy — Hypnotherapy uses hypnosis to alleviate psychological problems. Hypnotherapy’s focus is calming the mind and body using relaxation, imagery, and the client’s own intuition to reprogram fear responses. Two options for you are to schedule a session with a certified hypnotherapist like Andrew (who does Skype sessions), or to use self-help hypnosis to address your issues. I recommend guided hypnosis sessions from Hypnosis Downloads. The have some great material available to overcome common fears and phobias.
- Exposure therapy — Often used in conjunction with CBT, exposure therapy reduces your driving anxiety as a passenger by gradually exposing you to riding as a passenger. The thinking behind exposure therapy is that the only way we can overcome our fears is to face them. This is not easy, but, with the help of a competent professional, we can gradually face and live through our fears, slowly taking away their power over us. Here’s some more information about exposure therapy for anxiety disorders and panic attacks.
Try some of these techniques on for size and see what works for you. Driving anxiety as a passenger is a very common fear, so there’s lots of effective treatment options available. It may not be easy, but it’s worthwhile because you deserve the freedom of riding as a passenger without undue fear. It’s time to go out and get it.