Friday, November 27, 2015

Driving With Anxiety

Below is an article I wrote several years ago about driving while having panic symptoms. I'm sure you will find helpful techniques in the "Resources" section of Living With Intrusive Thoughts. 

For many people who suffer from anxiety or panic attacks, driving can be a harrowing task. This is especially true for long distance drives. Worry about having a panic attack while driving even stops some sufferers from ever getting behind the wheel. For those of us who have anxiety and wish to continue driving, there are a few things you can do to ensure your safety and that of others, not to mention your piece of mind.

In every case I've heard of and in my own experience, a person who suffers from frequent panic attacks can sense them coming well before they become debilitating. They should have a few minutes to decide the best course of action if one hits them while they are driving. If you feel a severe panic attack coming on while you are driving, the best thing to do is to slow down and pull over safely. Note that I said a severe anxiety attack. If you are having mild anxiety, you can use some grounding or soothing techniques to keep yourself safe and happy behind the wheel.

Unfortunately, it is not always that simple. If you are stuck in traffic or on a busy highway and you think the attack is going to be severe enough to affect your ability to drive, turn on your hazard lights. This is an indication to other drivers that there is a problem and you need to get off the road. Courteous drivers should then get out of your way to the best of their ability. Remember, panic attacks cannot last forever. No matter what, you have the time to wait out the symptoms and get back on the road.

Once you are pulled over, try to summon any breathing techniques or coping skills that you have in your arsenal. Try to maintain your composure to the best of your ability. Remember it will only take you a few moments to get off the road and park your car if that becomes necessary, so you are in no danger. You can deal with the panic attack itself without having to worry about your safety.

Some anxiety attacks are not severe enough to affect one’s ability to drive. Mild panic attacks may not cause an immediate risk, but can quickly elevate in a stressful driving situation. If you are having a mild panic attack, the best thing to do is to try to clear your head and think of all the possible good outcomes of your day. Try not to think negative things that may increase your anxiety. Keeping your music at a low volume or rolling down your window to get some fresh air may even help. Whatever you do, be sure to concentrate on your driving. This alone may be able to distract you enough to get you to your destination without incident.

Panic/anxiety attacks are different for everyone. Some people have difficulty breathing, others shake uncontrollably or feel nauseated, or any combination of these and countless other symptoms. Because of this, whatever works to keep your anxiety at bay while driving may not work for others. The important thing is to have a plan in place that makes you feel comfortable. That way, when you feel an anxiety attack coming on while you are driving, you know exactly what to do and you are comfortable doing it. Sometimes the satisfaction of getting through an anxiety attack unscathed is the best therapy you can get.

If you have any tips and tricks for dealing with anxiety when you're driving, please share them with us in the comments section!