Are you too afraid to drive?

If you find yourself breaking into a sweat every time you have to get into your car, read on – and lose those driving jitters for good.

Driving is an everyday part of life for many of us, and getting your licence is  often celebrated as a gateway to freedom and mobility. For some, however, getting behind the wheel is no fun at all.

‘The anxiety could become so extreme that a person ends up not driving at all,’ says Durban psychologist Sizakele Khoza. ‘But, like most fears, driving anxiety can be worked on.’

Beginner’s nerves

Many drivers suffer from anxiety, says John Jonck from www.arrivealive.co.za. ‘This is normal – you have to adapt to being a driver. With practice, though, the anxiety should subside,’ he says.

Palesa Kgomo, 28, a call-centre agent in Midrand, used to think she just had beginner’s feats but, three years on, the problem hasn’t disappeared. ‘I get anxious every time I get into the car. Sometimes I even talk myself out of going to functions because I’m scared of driving there. I have my own car but I only drive when I absolutely have to.’

Breathe through it

It’s easy to find anxiety triggers on the road, from hooting in peak traffic to careless taxi drivers. The fear can become so overwhelming that it could lead to a full-blown panic attack.

‘I tell my clients to find a way of talking themselves down,’ says Khoza. ‘This can be done by repeating affirmations such as, “I am a capable and safe driver.’ Breathing exercises also help you focus, as does doing hand exercises. Clench the steering wheel for five seconds. This gives your mind something else to concentrate on.’ Switching off the radio also helps. ‘Make sure you have as few distractions as possible,’ she says. ‘Driving means you’re already exposed to a lot of stimuli, so cut out the extra noise.’

Know thine enemy

Khoza says it’s important to note what your personal triggers are. ‘If you’re scared of traffic, avoid it until you’ve built up the confidence to face it. if you want to cry every time you need to parallel park, either practise on a quiet road or resolve that you’ll avoid it entirely. If you usually panic about getting lost, leave an hour earlier so that if you do get lost, it doesn’t throw out your schedule. Don’t beat yourself up for your shortcomings; work around them until they stop being an issue.’

Help is at hand

Although the most people can learn to relax behind the wheel, for some the issues go deeper. ‘If you find yourself becoming a danger to the roads because of your fright, seeking professional help might be your only option – especially if you find that your anxiety about driving starts to seep into other areas of your life,’ Khoza says. ‘Seeing a psychologist might help you discover the real issues behind your fear.’

Text: Zama Nkosi