First of all, you probably already know that the anxiety you experience when driving is not that unique. Just like fear, anxiety is natural; the important factor is how you respond to the perception of threat or danger. Your sense of control or ability to cope with the situation is the key. Anxiety occurs when you cannot confirm whether a threat is false or real, thus your brain goes into alarm mode.
The act of driving simply revs up your sense of uncontrollability, and unpredictability - all due to your perception of an irrational threat from within you (hormones - cortisol, unconsciously affect behavior) to what is happening outside (but the physical effects originate in the brain). All of this super fast action quickly changes to uncertainty - therefore leaving you feeling weak, and mentally fatigued. The final solution (to this anxiety must begin with how the brain perceives threat) is to avoid what is stimulating the uncertainty or simply stop driving. This highway merge video is a prime example of overcoming driving anxiety.
Here is RoyDrive's conclusion on driving anxiety. There are basically a few triggers: Stress is caused by the outside world, by an impending exam, a recent bereavement, divorce or separation, something frightening in the news or having to care for someone with an incurable disease.
Other stressors that last longer (exhaustion) will activate a different pathway that allows cortisol to act more slowly, but with more presistence. In order to understand and overcome driving anxiety, it is necessary to understand its fundamentals: Our bodies make cholesterol from sugars in our foods. The cholesterol is then used to make a large number of different hormones for various tasks.
Some important hormones here include progesterone, cortisol, testosterone, aldosterone and oestradiol - all of which are the steroids. It all begins when the brain (your senses) send a signal to the hypothalamus to tell the pituitary gland to release a hormone that tells the adrenal gland to make and secrete cortisol. Since the hypothalamus affects behavior influenced by the outside world as interpreted by the brain, these signals - passed on by hormones (neurotransmitters) affect how our genes switch on and off, therefore influencing behavior such as long term driving anxiety.
Driving anxiety is a long term stressor when cortisol lingers in the body long after the fear has passed. The hippocampus can be damaged when excessive amount of cortisol and especially serotonin, is released too frequently, resulting in cell atrophy, death or brain damage. When anxiety reaches this stage, the hippocampus is no longer able to turn off the stress response. Now you can begin to see why overcoming anxiety can last for years. The brain cannot replace dead neurons, but shrinkage of the hippocampus due to excessive cortisol may be correctable.
This can have negative effects such as catching colds, breakouts, new infections or even headaches- all due to the immune system being suppressed by the over abundance of cortisol. It is interesting that the more revved up you become with driving stress, the more you compromise your immune system by having less lymphocytes - white blood cells.
Recently,a business neighbor asked me to assist her son (James) to overcome his highway anxiety. His driving was very solid and lawful, if not too aggressive when changing lanes on residential roads. James was a young man who never went on the highway during driver education, and his parents were too anxious to take him there. Two years later, I am tasked to take him on the highway
Emotions like anxiety cannot be expressed here in words alone. Suffice it to say that his anxiety was relieved simply by how I reacted to his driving by words and deeds, and the fact that I gained his complete trust. He was taught how to merge and exit correctly, how and when to change lanes and how to get ready for exits; and most importantly, how to turn around after getting lost.
Because of my success with James, I have gained a new friend and two more loving neighbors - his parents.
I was successful with James because his anxiety began recently and a solution was promptly reached. The devastating effects of excessive cortisol did not run its full course
Anxiety can begin to creep in when there is a sense that driving an automobile is beyond your control despite your desire to perfect it. There is a certain threshold of tolerance, but when that is reached, you encounter full blown anxiety.
Unfortunately, once this particular pathway is formed in the brain it becomes extremely difficult to correct the dopamine like effect. As a result, many people suffering from driving anxiety has been struggling with it for many years. The reason for this is because anxiety is basically fear. When we fear something, our rational thinking is blocked by the efforts necessary to respond to that fear. Thus, the cycle continues.
You may not be able to unwire neurotransmitter pathways after such an event, but there are solutions by way of decreasing or increasing the flow of specific neurotransmitters - drugs, including environment and exposure, that may help to suppress the feelings that you struggle with. Psychotherapy is a means of addressing driving anxiety - but always the solution will be in how you cope with the social issues.
Anxiety is even difficult to explain to a psychotherapist, because it is something that manifests through feelings. That is why like that beloved teddy bear, you have to let go off anything anchoring you. It is not the anxiety that you seek to control or get rid of but rather how you respond to stimulants such as driving.
Anxiety seems to be a part of the body's immune system, so we all have it in us. Its purpose is to prepare us for flight or fight. After the endocrine glands dumps all those hormones into our blood stream in response to the fear factor, and we really do not have to fight or run like mad, the results are what really determines what is a normal response or an unhealthy response. Someone with a healthy response (stress control) may have a lower level of cortisol in their blood, or at least the cascade of hormones that cortisol triggers do not last as long.
You can begin to free yourself of anxiety when you are no longer embarrassed that someone else knows about your problem. Tell your friends why you won't drive on the highway. They may not understand, but then it's not about them is it?
Free yourself from this feeling by finding ways to enjoy driving - go with a really perky and trusted friend or family member. When the feeling creeps up on you and you begin to feel weak, your knees begin to shake and you really must stop, asks that friend - do you feel that I am driving safely? That person next to you must know how much to push you on - too much and recovery for the next time becomes a barrier. This is when they become important.
Remember that anxiety is a stimulant. It revs you up! Instead of dreading it, seek to embrace it and the same energy that you expend with increased heart rate, sweating, fidgeting or crying, can propel you to unbelievable success.
Like mountain climbing, you need to be steady and sure on your way to the top. It takes more time to climb the mountain than to descend it. You do not want a sudden fall from the top - else you may not get back up. With driving anxiety what you are seeking is a controlled decent. Your failure comes when you are perched on the peak of that mountain, uncertain how to descend it.
You may not be able to make the right choice for yourself when anxiety revs up. So, you will need words of encouragement and the comfort and ease that person exhibits will push you through step by step. You will know you are shedding the anchor of anxiety when the duration for onset progressively increases, along with less stress reaction to the same situations, and you no longer plan ahead or invent detours to avoid what you already fear.
Now, smile and go out there and drive with RoyDrive!