Do you get anxiety while driving? For some people, getting behind the wheel of a car can feel overwhelming. They might even avoid driving at all costs, or only drive on side roads. This isn’t because they don’t like to drive but instead because they experience driving anxiety. Most people don’t realize that the cause of their nervousness could actually be a slight misalignment of their eyes, a condition known as Binocular Vision Dysfunction (BVD). Read on to learn more about driving anxiety symptoms and how they overlap with BVD symptoms.
What is Driving Anxiety?
Driving anxiety is when you experience anxiety or nervousness while driving. Typically, the feelings can be severe and overwhelming, even resulting in panic attacks. If you have driving anxiety, it can feel like it is controlling your life. You make excuses for why you can’t go out, take longer routes in order to avoid busy roads and highways, and worry about causing an accident every time you get behind the wheel.
People who experience driving-related anxiety while driving often report the following:
- Feeling unsafe when driving
- Worried about dying while driving
- Nervous every time they drive
- Nervous about losing control
- Concerned about hitting something or someone while driving
- Experiencing anxiety or nervousness when getting into the car
- Avoiding driving on the highway
- Only driving on side roads
- Excessive sweating
Driving anxiety can occur all day long, with many people reporting feeling a constant sense of doom if they know they have to drive later that day. For others, it can occur without warning. In severe cases, this can be experienced as a panic attack. You might have difficulty breathing and feel like you don’t have control over your actions. You might even feel like you are going to die.
Experiencing these symptoms while actually driving your car can be terrifying. Those with a driving phobia can benefit from talk therapy or exposure therapy with a mental health professional if they are experiencing panic attacks.
What Causes Driving Anxiety?
You might experience driving anxiety if you’ve recently been in an accident or if you worry about getting into a fatal accident. Some people have anxiety while driving due to generally being a nervous person. When this is the case, they can eliminate things that trigger anxiety and things in their life that are making their anxiety worse.
Treatment for Driving Anxiety
Treatment for driving anxiety often involves a combination of therapy, typically Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), to address negative thought patterns and gradually desensitize individuals to anxiety triggers related to driving. Exposure therapy, a part of CBT, helps build confidence by facing feared driving situations. Medications like anti-anxiety or antidepressants may be prescribed, particularly for severe cases, alongside therapy. Lifestyle changes, stress management, regular driving practice, and support from loved ones also play crucial roles in overcoming driving anxiety. A personalized approach is essential to address each individual’s unique anxiety triggers and help them regain their confidence on the road.
But what about those people who have tried everything to overcome driving anxiety and are still having debilitating fear when it comes to operating a vehicle? From driving with people they trust to trying to reduce stress in their lives by practicing yoga or taking up meditation — some people try to incorporate all of these changes into their lives and cannot find relief from their anxiety.
How Common is Driving Anxiety?
Driving anxiety, also known as vehophobia or a fear of driving, is relatively common. The severity of driving anxiety can vary widely from person to person, ranging from mild nervousness or discomfort while driving to a paralyzing fear that makes it impossible for some individuals to get behind the wheel.
The exact prevalence of driving anxiety is difficult to determine precisely, as many people may not seek treatment or even acknowledge their fear. However, several factors can contribute to driving anxiety, including:
Traumatic Events: A previous accident or traumatic experience while driving can lead to driving anxiety.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Individuals with generalized anxiety disorder may experience heightened anxiety in various situations, including driving.
Specific Phobias: Some people may have a specific phobia related to driving, such as a fear of highways, bridges, tunnels, or driving in heavy traffic.
Social Anxiety: For some individuals, driving anxiety may be related to concerns about being judged by other drivers or passengers.
Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as panic disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder, can contribute to driving anxiety.
Inexperienced Drivers: New or inexperienced drivers often experience anxiety while learning to drive, but this usually decreases with practice and confidence.
Treatment options for driving anxiety can include therapy, exposure therapy, medication, and relaxation techniques. If you or someone you know is experiencing driving anxiety that is interfering with daily life or causing significant distress, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional who can provide guidance and support.
Most people don’t know that there is another common reason this nervousness behind the wheel can occur: Binocular Vision Dysfunction.
Binocular Vision Dysfunction (also known as BVD) results in image misalignment. This condition is where the two eyes have difficulty working together as a team to create one clear image. The body attempts to correct this vision misalignment by overusing and severely straining the eye muscles.
In people with normal binocular vision, their eyes work in tandem, perfectly in sync at all times and sending one clear, focused picture to the brain. However, in people with Binocular Vision Dysfunction, the eyes do not work together and are not perfectly synchronized — this makes it difficult for them to see one clear image.
When the misalignment is severe, it causes double imagery or double vision. However, in most cases, the misalignment is very subtle, historically making it difficult to identify. Even when the misalignment is small and physically unnoticeable, the symptoms can be debilitating — especially while driving.
People with BVD often experience the following while driving:
How Would BVD Cause Driving Anxiety?
Common symptoms associated with BVD include dizziness, and difficulty with depth perception, balance, and equilibrium, making it difficult to process visual images and to see the road, signage, and nearby cars. Understandably, this can make someone experiencing BVD very nervous about driving their car. This persistent anxiety on the road makes it difficult for people to function on a day-to-day basis.
Causes of BVD
BVD can be caused due to one eye being physically higher than the other, which is usually a very subtle difference. It can also be caused by a nerve or eye muscle abnormality, which is something many people are born with. As people with these abnormalities get older, the eye muscles become even more strained from trying to constantly realign the image they are sending to the brain, which results in the uncomfortable symptoms of BVD.
Stroke, brain injury, inner ear abnormality/injury, or certain neurological disorders can also cause BVD.
While having anxiety while driving, along with dizziness, nausea, and motion sickness is commonly associated with BVD, other symptoms can include:
- Neck ache/head tilt
- Double vision
- Sensitivity to light/glare
- Reading difficulties
- Balance problems
- Fatigue with reading
- Shadowed/overlapping/blurred vision
- Feeling overwhelmed in crowds/large spaces
- Skipping lines/losing your place while reading
- Closing/covering an eye to make it easier to see
Essentially, the symptoms of BVD can significantly negatively impact a person’s quality of life that extends beyond driving.
But there’s good news — it’s never too late to receive treatment for BVD and overcome your fear of driving.
Treatment for Driving Anxiety
Specialized aligning lenses can treat BVD and therefore eliminate the uncomfortable symptoms associated with it, including driving anxiety. These micro-prism lenses realign the images to create one clear image, eliminating the need for the body’s struggle to do so.
To determine if your anxiety and other symptoms are a result of BVD, our compassionate doctors utilize both a standard eye examination and a comprehensive NeuroVisual Examination and use those results to prescribe specialized aligning lenses.
Our micro-prism lenses help patients to feel noticeably better immediately. In fact, the average patient will notice a 50% reduction in symptoms by the end of their first visit. Over the next several visits, the aligning lenses are fine-tuned and continue to improve and eliminate BVD symptoms.
If driving makes you feel anxious and scared and is accompanied by nausea, you might have BVD. A NeuroVisual Examination performed by one of our experienced doctors at Vision Specialists of Michigan can help. To schedule an appointment, call (248) 258-9000 and receive relief from your driving anxiety symptoms.