How Can Therapy Help Nervous Student Drivers?

Across many countries, driving is a symbol of freedom and status. It is a skill coveted by many—male and female, young and old. Some even get their student licenses as soon as the law allows them. But more than the prestige, driving offers practicality. It helps you get to your destination faster, avoid traffic, and provide an alternative to public transport. Alongside these, there is also a myriad of benefits to being able to drive a car. 

While most people are excited to get behind the wheel, other student drivers feel nervous. Although this feeling is normal, it can sometimes develop into irrational fear. A driving phobia is characterized by extraordinary distress even at the mere prospect of driving. If you are a student driver, remember that initial fear is okay. It’s normal to feel nervous when driving since you become responsible for your safety, as well as others on the road. 

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However, keep in mind that there is always a way to overcome your fright. If your apprehension does not fade over time, don’t panic. Your driving instructors may not be able to help you with your phobia, but that’s alright. They are not experts in this field after all. In this case, you will need to approach a therapist. As licensed mental health professionals, they have the expertise to guide you through your fears. Through therapy, you can understand your doubts about driving. More importantly, your therapist will recommend a specific course of treatment that is tailor-fit to your needs. 

Read on to learn more about how therapy can help nervous student drivers.

Find The Root Cause Of Your Fear

You cannot fully grasp your fear without knowing its root cause. You also cannot cope with your worries if you don’t know the real reason. So, one of the first things you will do with your therapists is talk about your fears. Take the time to discuss your agitation with them. They may ask you to recall when the phobia started to bud and when it began to worsen. Your therapist will also likely ask you to list the people, objects, or places that trigger your fear.

Ask yourself why you are afraid to get on the driver’s seat. There are many reasons why a person feels nervous about driving. A few examples of these fears may include:

      • Previous Negative Experiences

Perhaps, you were involved in a previous automobile accident. The memories from that experience may leave you with trauma. However, negative encounters are not limited to road accidents. It may be traveling through a bad storm or getting lost along the way. You may also be a victim of road rage. Recall all negative memories that you associate with driving, and discuss them with your therapist.

      • Driving Alone

Another cause of fear may be dreading being alone in the car due to several factors. One may be because you are a terrible navigator. If so, the fear can intensify if you are asked to drive through an unfamiliar city. You may also be apprehensive about traversing long distances alone or feel trapped when you are alone in your car. 

      • Losing Control

Many individuals cite the fear of losing control as one of their apprehensions. Driving can be intimidating not just because you’re in charge of the wheel. There are fellow drivers, pedestrians, animals, and other road users around you. While you can have control of yourself, you cannot always control your surroundings. It can be more terrifying if you are on a busy street. Because there are many possible distractions around you, it can rattle your focus.

After identifying the root cause of your fear, ask yourself why you need to overcome it. Is it because you crave personal autonomy? Or perhaps, you want to be the designated driver when you’re out with friends? Maybe your parents are getting old, and you want to take control of the family car. Whatever your intention is, clearly define it. Then use it as motivation to overcome your fear. When you feel any discomposure, look back on the reason why you want to drive.

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Find Calming Techniques

Now that you’ve established what’s causing your fear, it’s time to find coping mechanisms. Your therapist can show you some techniques to quell your anxieties when it’s time to get behind the wheel. They may recommend many methods, including breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation, or even playing a certain playlist of calming music. It can also be a combination of different tactics. Try all of their suggestions, then stick to what works best for you.

But before deciding on a course of treatment, you and your therapist will usually discuss your goals. These include both short-term and long-term targets. When setting up your objectives, remember to make them realistic. Don’t put any unnecessary pressure on yourself. Instead, always be kind to yourself. Remember that therapy is not a one-time treatment that can make your phobia disappear overnight. As long as you’re taking the steps, you will get closer to your goal no matter how slowly.

Get On Track

Many psychiatrists attest to the positive effect of exposure therapy. This method encourages drivers to be more comfortable and confident with driving. The goal of this therapy is to confront your fears. Your exposure to driving will be gradual and involve the presence of your therapist or another mental health professional. Through exposure therapy, you will progressively adjust to the sensations of driving. Over time, you will become calmer and more in control of the steering wheel.

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The Bottom Line

As a student driver, feeling nervous about driving can hinder your progress. It can affect your scores when taking the exam for a license. If you fail to pass the test, it can also lower your self-esteem. But despite the setbacks, it is possible to overcome your fear and be a confident and responsible driver. 

Speaking with a mental health professional can help provide clarity on your emotions. Through therapy and focused effort, you will surely attain your driver’s license in time.

How Therapy Can Help Drivers With OCD 

Driving is both a privilege and a responsibility. It is a skill not everyone knows or learns. So, many people fear harming others because of their carelessness. Their thoughts of unintentionally harming an innocent bystander can consume them to the point of developing a disorder. 

This psychiatric disorder falls under a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder, also known as OCD. This specific OCD is called hit-and-run OCD. If you are constantly questioning yourself or driving with anxiety, it may be time to seek professional help. Acknowledging your problem is the first step to healing.

What Is OCD?

OCD is a psychiatric disorder that causes repetitive, unwanted thoughts. It can manifest by doing compulsive, repetitive actions to drive those intrusive thoughts away. Many people can suffer from distressing thoughts, but for people with OCD, it can get in the way of their everyday functions. 

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Drivers who suffer from hit-and-run OCD may specifically have distressing thoughts about running over a pedestrian. Their thoughts can manifest through

      • constantly checking their rearview mirror,
      • fearing to hit or run over a pedestrian unknowingly,
      • developing anxiety driving over speed bumps, and
      • avoiding driving altogether.

Hit-and-run OCD can dangerously impact a driver’s life, consuming them with these unwanted thoughts. Because of that, people suffering from hit-and-run OCD may try to avoid driving as often as possible and check the news obsessively over car accidents.

It may lead you to believe that you unknowingly hit a pedestrian or an animal. These thoughts may cloud your judgment and make you believe things that are not true. People with OCD have lower levels of serotonin and dopamine, which can likely cause them more anxiety since their neurobiology is wired differently than the average person.

What Can Cause Hit-And-Run OCD?

OCD can be caused by genetic predisposition and neurobiological factors. Many studies are researching the causes of OCD, but not much is known. However, family history is the most likely cause of the disorder. One out of every four patients with OCD has a family member also diagnosed with OCD.

What Are Common Misconceptions About OCD?

Because intrusive thoughts are harmful, many people may feel like these are their legitimate subconscious desires. But your intrusive thoughts do not define who you are. These thoughts are repetitive, unwanted, and redundant. 

OCD is not all about obsessive thoughts about hygiene and cleanliness, as mainstream media may portray. It is not caused by stress or childhood upbringing either because your neurobiology characterizes OCD.

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Many people may tell you to stop obsessing about running over pedestrians unintentionally or to calm down while driving. But OCD is not as simple as that. It is defined by unwanted thoughts that constantly cloud your judgment. Telling someone with OCD to stop having negative thoughts is insensitive, as these thoughts occur unwillingly.

How Common Is Hit-And-Run OCD? 

Hit-and-run OCD can affect anyone of any race. But Black Americans are less likely to receive treatment. In the US, people of color are least likely to be diagnosed with this disorder properly. While many will exhibit the same symptoms, people of color are least likely to receive adequate treatment.

OCD can occur at any age, from childhood to adulthood. But hit-and-run OCD is most diagnosed in adulthood because driving is a responsibility generally for older people.

How Can Therapy Help?

Speaking to a proper mental health professional can give you better access to the treatment you need. In many cases, this driving anxiety can be misdiagnosed as a panic disorder or another psychiatric disorder. Your therapist will guide you to an accurate diagnosis.

Refraining from your compulsions can be extremely difficult for people with OCD, as this was used previously to cope with their obsessive thoughts. It might give them momentary relief. But in the long term, it will not completely heal them from OCD. 

This problem may seem bigger than yourself, but it’s a hurdle that anyone can overcome once you receive proper treatment. Trying not to think about your intrusive thoughts will not help, but you have to face your fears yourself, too. Your therapist’s goal is to ease you off your anxiety and help you get back on the road again.

The world is filled with uncertainties, and the challenge in life is getting past your doubts and moving forward.

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There have been many studies, but medication alone is not enough to help clients with OCD. Many may suffer from anxiety and will be reasonably prescribed anti-anxiety medications alongside therapy. But no pill can erase OCD thoughts. This is why therapy is very prominent in these kinds of treatments. 

How Can You Address Or Prevent OCD?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT involves exposing yourself to your triggers and refraining from giving in to your compulsions. Your therapist may give you a script to repeat to yourself over and over again. They may also help you while driving by reading the script with you to practice resisting your compulsions.

Exposure Response Prevention or ERP method is believed to work best for hit-and-run OCD because it addresses your discomfort and uncertainty. This is something you must engage with to heal yourself from negative thoughts. 

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This specific type of CBT allows you to grasp and understand your feelings of uncertainty fully. Your therapist may vary your exposure depending on the severity of your symptoms. They may also ask you about your recent experiences with driving when you start having anxiety. 

Conclusion 

For your driving practice, it is best to seek help from a mental health professional. Your therapist will provide you with a treatment plan for you to heal from hit-and-run OCD. You don’t want to suffer constantly when driving your car. Driving is a life skill that many people learn. You don’t want your head to be clouded with intrusive thoughts and potentially harm anyone.

OCD can be terrifying, and it can negatively impact your work and social functions. In many ways, it can ruin your relations with others if you do not seek proper treatment. Like every psychiatric disorder, there is always a path toward healing. And you can start by acknowledging that you have a problem to address and receive therapy for.