Is Your Fear of Driving Just a Focus for Free Floating Anxiety?

driving anxiety, fear of driving

Now I understand why I suffered from a fear of driving for all those years! It’s partly due to my free floating anxiety.

My doctor said something recently that made my jaw drop. It was one of those things that’s so obvious it never occurs to you.

He had just given me an official diagnosis as having Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). GAD is also known as free floating anxiety disorder. It’s not like I never would have guessed I’m anxious until a doctor clued me in on the fact. I already know I’m anxious.

It what he said next that blew my mind. He was describing the symptoms of GAD and said, “It’s when someone is always worried”.

WOW. That hit me right between the eyes.

And it’s exactly right. While it’s true that I don’t stress (much) about driving anymore, I’m still a worrier. It’s almost like my anxiety is still looking for something to focus on. Because I tend to worry about everything.

And that got me thinking: is there a relationship between free floating anxiety and the fear of driving?

How Anxiety “Attaches” Itself to Things

More than 6 million people suffer from GAD in the U.S. alone, and it’s estimated that 8 to 9 percent of U.S. citizens will develop it at some point in their lives. It’s partly caused by brain chemistry and there may be a genetic factor to it as well. In other words, it’s possible to inherit problems with free floating anxiety.

Sigmund Freud pioneered the theory that phobias (like fear of driving) are formed when our minds “attach” a feeling of unspecified anxiety to a particular object. Future exposure to that object triggers the anxious feelings, even though the feelings may not actually have anything to do with the object.

Here’s an interesting quote from an article that further explains this concept:

“The mind, however, likes to attach things to one-another, and soon this ‘free floating anxiety’, as it is known, symbolically attaches itself to an object or situation, and in that split second, a phobia has been formed.

Now that this symbolic link has been formed, it will trigger the fear, whenever the object or situation is present, so, for example, when someone sees a spider, the link triggers the original fear to be felt once again.”

This theory seems to fit with my own personal experience. I’ve never had any terrible incident occur with driving. I’ve never been in a car crash, and neither of my parents had any problems with driving phobia. Yet for some reason, I developed an intense fear of driving that pretty much crippled my life until I figured out how to beat it.

Make Sure Your Fear of Driving Isn’t Just a Symptom of a Bigger Problem

There are different treatment options available for free floating anxiety. I’ve tried all of them. What’s been most effective for me has been a combination of psychotherapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

If you have fear of driving, it’s possible that it’s a symptom of free floating anxiety. Your fear may not really be about driving per se. It could be that some generalized anxiety has “attached” itself to driving as the focus of your fears. People who are suffering from GAD should seek treatment. You’ll find a lot of good info about treatment options at


The human mind can associate fear and danger with almost anything. Make sure that your fear of driving is not just a manifestation of free floating anxiety in order to get the proper kind of help.


Greg Weber


PS – I’d love to hear your thoughts about the connection between general anxiety and phobias. Please leave your comments below. Thanks!

1 comment… add one
  • Lisa Goodman Jan 25, 2017

    Like you, I have General Anxiety Disorder, and have had for many years, but it has only been given a name in recent times.
    Part of my GAD is a phobia of motorway driving, which until now I have been able to put good old avoidance behaviour into practise! However, I am soon moving 200 miles away from I’m my grown up children and grandchildren. I will be alone, so will have to overcome this phobia if I’m to see them frequently. I’ve googled all the exits on the M1, know the service stations etc, and check traffic on it at least ten times a day.
    My greatest wish is to be able to get into my car and drive.
    Once before I had help to overcome this, when my daughter was living in Oxford and I wanted to be able to visit her. I achieved it, and could drive anywhere, but it has returned with a vengeance 🙁

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