Lack of control is enough to make anyone spin their wheels.
Which is why it isn’t hard to understand why you or anyone else struggling with anxiety could take issue with sitting passenger side in someone else’s vehicle.
It’s unsettling. It’s tense. And for those of us sitting wayside to abrasive drivers it can be downright maddening.
But sitting as a passenger doesn’t have to make you tremble, fear the worst, and lose total control of your mental well being. You may not have direct control over the car’s throttle and brakes but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have any control.
In this post I’ll cover popular causes of this type of anxiety and more importantly how to ease anxiety from this type of phobia. Coping doesn’t have to be as hard as traversing a mountain as long as you’re willing to open up your perspective.
What’s Your Cause?
Your cause for anxiety and concern dialed down to the specifics is most likely going to vary from someone else’s but each and every cause is just as valid.
But there is one common thread among all different types of root causes for anxiety while sitting as a passenger in a car. That is, anxiety breeds anxious thoughts which further elevates anxiety.
In other words, thoughts and emotional states, anxiety included, are intertwined. They are the bread and butter of what you experience day to day within your mind.
Here is a comprehensive PDF covering the relationship between thoughts and emotions/feelings.
As an example, let’s say that the cause of your anxiety is the belief that by allowing someone else to drive you will get into a very bad car crash. As you are sitting as a passenger with this belief cemented in your mind you then go on to think about all of the scenarios that might occur as you are riding in the car.
And then you become even more anxious than you were. And then you think of further possibilities related to your surroundings that could precede a bad accident. The internal cycle goes round and round.
“How you react to thoughts about events around you is a major predictor of how you’ll feel.”
This kind of vicious cognitive cycle is exactly what keeps anxiety sufferers “off the ground” so to speak. It’s a tiring place to be and leaves one existing as raw nerves over time.
This state of being can’t possibly be something that anyone wants, right?
This is why you should entertain the idea of using effective coping techniques and methods that have been proven to work for all types of anxiety. Ignoring the issue and more importantly avoiding riding in cars as a passenger will most likely only make matters worse.
Because your anxieties don’t have to progressively get worse. You can learn to handle the fear and tension much, much better.
Threading the Needle – Coping Techniques to Consider
There are quite a few ways to tackle anxiety, riding in a car included, and it is very much an individualistic endeavor (you’ll see this mentioned a lot in this article). So you will need to be open to trying different techniques and treatments out while also truly giving each one a fair shot.
It’s also worth noting that you won’t find instant gratification here. Whichever path you take you’re going to have to put forth effort knowing that you might not get results right away. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that what I’m about to cover does not include potent drugs like Xanax.
Medications have their place in anxiety treatment (with the supervision of a doctor or psychiatrist) but they do not come without cost.
They can be very effective and offer a host of benefits to an anxiety sufferer but using medication in addition to therapy and psychological coping techniques is almost always going to be more effective than medication alone.
Most importantly, before I bring up some of the potential options for dealing with anxiety while riding in a car you should consider taking on a new perspective when it comes to your relationship with this type of anxiety.
That is, some of the anxiety you are experiencing is completely normal. Every time you sit in a car as a passenger you are taking on a new situation. And every time you face a total lack of control.
Yes, it’s still important to learn how to cope with this type of anxiety but you shouldn’t totally reject the entire idea of anxiety in this situation or feel as though you are vastly different than “normal” people.
Kung Fu Kick to the Head of Your Anxious Thoughts (…or CBT)
You can’t just stop all of your anxious and fearful thoughts on a whim, right?
You already know that an off button for your thoughts doesn’t quite exist and it’s a meaningless pursuit to try and seek it out. Well…that’s not technically true but an internal monologue composed of “STOP THINKING! STOP THINKING! STOP THINKING!” isn’t quite how it works.
I’ll discuss how you can quiet the mind with the next technique but for now it’s all about kicking your thoughts in the head aka cognitive behavioral therapy.
CBT is all about taking what is patently false (in this case you creating an imaginary future scenario) and making it a little more grounded or objective.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is proven to help with mental health issues ranging from schizophrenia to, you guessed it, anxiety. Looking for scientific proof of the matter? Have a look at this review of different meta-analyses of the efficacy of CBT.
Because you don’t know that you will get into a car crash when riding as a passenger and you don’t know that something bad in general will occur on the road. You see you, me, and anyone else cannot predict the future.
The future is unknown plain and simple.
Yes, you could get into a car crash the next time you drive in a car. It is a possibility among many. But you cannot say with 100% certainty what will occur in the future.
Have all of your anxiety and fear based thoughts been correct? The answer is probably no. So then why should you or anyone else live on the terms of a bad event outcome that hasn’t even occurred?
Instead of thinking, “We are going to get into a car crash!”, think, “I do not know what will happen when I am riding in this car.”.
The point is to step away from your intrusive reflexive thoughts and instead counter them with the absolute truth. The minute you entertain an anxious thought is the minute you escalate your anxiety.
And then your heightened anxiety causes more thoughts which cause more…
Now, as the name implies this is a type of therapy so it would be in your best interest to seek out a licensed therapist. You could buy a book that covers self help via CBT or use a CBT workbook online but a therapist in person will be able to tailor the treatment to you.
You are almost always going to get better results working with a professional because this is something they help their clients with all of the time.
CBT can be applied to many different types of anxieties. Remember, it’s empirically proven to help with anxiety disorders so that covers everything from generalized anxiety disorder to social anxiety disorder.
The takeaway here is that CBT will help train your mind to react in a more objective way in response to riding in a vehicle that you aren’t driving. A big reason why you are experiencing excess anxiety is because you are giving thoughts about bad things happening room to breathe.
Learn to stop them in their tracks and the vicious cognitive loop never has a chance to start. The end result? Less anxiety.
Be Mindful of the Worry
It wouldn’t be so far fetched to say the life is comprised of valleys and peaks, right?
So the same could then be said about what we as humans experience on the emotional spectrum throughout our lives. Almost everyone can agree that the sum of life isn’t entirely sunshine and roses.
It is the acceptance of the entire emotional spectrum, anxiety included, that allows you to live a balanced life. And this is the basis for a cognitive practice called mindfulness.
Just as with CBT it would be best if you pursue mindfulness with the help of a licensed professional but you can get started on your own and without spending a dime. Being mindful is actually quite simple but truly excelling at it can take quite a bit of practice which can cause frustration.
So what exactly is mindfulness? It is a way of viewing your present situation and all that encompasses it without any judgment.
Let’s say that you are sitting on a wooden bench on a warm summer day that is shaded by several trees. There are birds chirping and the scene is fairly calm and tame with few people walking about.
To be mindful in this situation would be to pay attention to all that you are hearing, feeling, and seeing.
You might notice the different shades of green caused by the sun, the texture caused by your pants compressing your skin against the bench, the warm embrace of the sun’s rays poking through the trees, and so on.
Interest piqued by mindfulness? Read this beginner’s guide to the practice and learn what you need to know to get started with this profound yet simple cognitive tool.
Mindfulness is being fully present and aware as well as fully embracing what is all around you. It is the exact opposite of going inward in a way that causes a person to get swept away by thoughts.
By practicing mindfulness you can find that you are able to stay absolutely present more easily – absolutely present meaning experiencing a more objective reality.
When any of us, anxiety sufferers and otherwise, project our thoughts onto the future we are creating a false present moment. “The driver could crash” or “Another car could potentially lose control and crash into us” are thoughts that lead you astray and are anything but the present moment.
These are thoughts that then lead you to experience inner turmoil as you are already aware.
CBT is usually the better technique for handing recurring irrational anxiety based thoughts in the moment but mindfulness can lead to an overall decrease in anxiety over time. This is backed by personal testimony as well as prestigious institutes such as Harvard.
But as with any kind of psychological intervention you need to practice as much as possible. At first it may seem as though nothing is happening and you definitely won’t see a miraculous turnaround in a few days, but with persistence tangible results are within reach.
There is much to be gained by living entirely in the here and now as opposed to the constantly living in our heads. A much greater level of contentment is just one such thing but really, who wouldn’t want to find a greater appreciation for every waking moment?
Ease Discomfort with Repetition
Feeling a little bit of anxiety or fear when presented with a new situation or environment is the epitome of normal. In fact, evolution has lead us humans to this type of innate response.
The real problem lies in allowing this healthy dose of fear and anxiety to create stagnation or become paralyzed. How can an issue be solved if it is never pursued in any way?
Each reader will lie on a different point of this spectrum of fear and anxiety (ranging from mild to severe) but many will allow these negative emotions to cause complete avoidance regardless of severity.
This to is relatively normal because the majority of people don’t enjoy or willingly embrace pain and negative emotions.
The solution? It’s a matter of breaking through the mental block of avoiding driving in a car as a passenger and doing so despite negative feelings.
Just as with the other two methods I mentioned in this article it is best to work on this with a therapist but the fact remains that things become more normal as we experience them more often.
Reading this article or any other can’t help you determine the true root cause of your paralyzing fear of riding in a car but sitting down with a professional can help you truly learn more about yourself and get to the bottom of things.
It’s very much worth the investment if you can afford it because one on one interaction can help you determine which approach best suits you as an individual. Yes, sooner or later you are going to have to get in the car and go for a ride but there are certainly things to consider when it comes to easing into the regularity of the experience.
Would it help to ride with someone you very much trust at first? Would a familiar route nearby help? How about less traffic, would that make you more comfortable?
Everybody is different and while regular exposure to this anxiety provoking situation will desensitize most people, one on one consultation is always better than none at all when you find someone that clicks with you.
Anxiety Doesn’t Have to Have the Throne
Look, anxiety is something that all of us experience in our lives and some of us have a more complicated relationship with the emotion than others. And truthfully, it may always be something that you struggle with to some degree.
But you can learn to have the upper hand with enough coping related effort and professional guidance. Even reading and then implementing some CBT workbooks as well as regularly practicing mindfulness is miles ahead of keeling over to the challenges of anxiety.
The point is that treating and coping with this particular anxiety of yours is always better than not doing anything. Always pursue different avenues. Anxiety is a very broad subject and not every possible way of dealing with it is covered here.