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How to Overcome a Fear of Driving After a Car Accident

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When you encounter something horrific or traumatic, the human brain has a way of shunning that thing in the future. It’s an evolutionary trait that’s designed to self-protect. However, it can sometimes do a disservice. Take driving, for example. You might have spent the last 40 years of your life driving safely, but one accident can trick your brain into thinking it’s a scary and unsafe activity. 

What’s going on in your brain?

Before we dig into some of the practical steps you can take to get behind the wheel of a car again, it’s important to spend a moment discussing exactly what’s happening inside your brain.

While we obviously can’t diagnose anyone reading this article, and every situation is unique, we all have brains that are wired similarly. When it comes to a traumatic car accident, there’s a certain rewiring that happens as your body’s natural “fight or flight” response system kicks into gear. Although this response triggers a variety of physiological reactions, a psychological fear is ultimately what drives it: “Will I get into another car accident?”

“When you’re faced with a perceived threat, your brain thinks you’re in danger,” Healthline explains. “That’s because it already considers the situation to be life threatening. As a result, your body automatically reacts with the fight-flight-freeze response to keep you safe.”

In this case, your response is to flee (or avoid) the situation altogether. The only problem is that the longer you give into this decision to flee, the harder it becomes to short circuit the response and convince yourself to try again.

Make no bones about it, this will take work. You’re basically having to fight against your brain’s built-in defense system that now perceives driving as an extremely dangerous thing. The best thing you can do is hire a personal injury lawyer to handle the details of your claim so that you can spend 100 percent of your time and energy focusing on recovery.

Tips for overcoming your fear

Every situation is going to be unique, but there are certain helpful tactics and methods that you can use to overcome your fear of driving and eventually get behind the wheel again. 

Here are a few:

Start small

You don’t have to rush into a cross-country road trip right away. Begin with short drives. Maybe it’s just around the block or to your local grocery store. Choose routes that are familiar and comfortable. 

The key is to start in low-traffic conditions where the stakes feel manageable. It may be helpful to view each trip you complete as a building block. It’s going to take one brick at a time to rebuild your confidence.

Create a comfortable environment

Your vehicle should be a safe space. Before you start driving, adjust your seat and mirrors to ensure you have the best visibility and comfort. Consider having a trusted friend or family member accompany you. You want someone calming and reassuring who knows your situation and is going to be an encouragement to you.

Take it step by step

As your comfort with short drives increases, begin extending your routes. Incorporate slightly busier streets and eventually highways. With each step, assess your anxiety levels and only proceed when you feel ready. It’s perfectly okay to take this progression at your own pace. Remember, gradual exposure is key to overcoming your fear.

Use relaxation techniques

Before you start the engine, take a few minutes to practise deep breathing or any other relaxation technique that works for you. If you start to feel anxious while driving, having these techniques at your disposal can help you manage your stress in real time.

Consider professional help

Sometimes, the fear is too deep-seated to tackle alone. In such cases, seeking professional help can be a wise decision. Therapists, particularly those specialising in trauma and anxiety disorders, can provide valuable guidance. They might recommend treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or exposure therapy, which have been proven effective in treating phobias and anxiety.

Exposure therapy, for instance, involves the gradual and repeated exposure to the source of your fear in a controlled setting, helping you slowly desensitize to the anxiety. This method can be particularly beneficial if your fear of driving is severe. (It might not be necessary if your fear is manageable, however.)

Be patient with yourself

Recovery is not linear. There will be good days and bad days. Be kind to yourself and recognize that setbacks are part of the journey. With patience and persistence, you can overcome your fear. It won’t be an immediate process, but you can at least plant the seeds of healing today.

Julian Carter, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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