By Tanya Glover
If you are like me (and so many others in the world) and have driving anxiety you know how horrible it can be to be behind the wheel of a car when these anxious feeling kick in. Knowing what your triggers are and having a plan to overcome panic associated with your anxieties is the key to staying safe and possibly overcoming your fears altogether.
Triggers for Driving Anxiety
For someone with driving associated anxiety there can be many triggers that kick you into high gear.
ØDriving in heavy traffic
ØDriving in inclement weather
ØDriving on interstates
ØDriving in an unfamiliar place
ØDriving at night
Maybe just one of these things trigger your driving anxiety or maybe they all do. Personally, each one of these triggers apply directly to me so if they do to you as well know that you are not alone in this!
Why Are These Triggers?
All triggers have a root. Unless you suffer for general anxiety disorder, there is some reason that specific conditions trigger your driving anxiety. Listed below are some common trigger roots.
ØFear of getting lost
ØFear of getting into an accident
ØFear of being driving at high speeds
ØFear of other drivers in general
These are all common roots to your driving anxieties. Again, you can have them all or just one or two but for me it is all of them! I have always had a fear of driving at high speeds and this is linked to the trigger of interstate driving. It was not until after I had my driver’s license for 10 years that I actually took control and learned to drive on interstate highways. I still cannot do it anxiety free but I can do it! Many people also fear getting into an accident which links to all of the triggers! Rain, heavy traffic, speed and darkness can all contribute to accidents. Fear of getting lost and fear of driving in unfamiliar places can also tie in with the heavy traffic trigger. In my mind, if I get lost then I have to find a spot to turn around and this may get me lost even further and put me back into traffic. If I am in an unfamiliar area when I miss a turn then the anxiety amplifies by 10X! Even though I have these anxieties I have learned not to let them cripple me as I do not want to lose the freedom that driving provides me with. You do not have to let it overcome you either. There are things you can do to ease your anxiety in all driving situations that make you fearful so read on to find your freedom!
Build an Anxiety First Aid Kit
If you know you may get into a driving situation that will bring on your anxiety bring with you an anxiety first aid kit. In fact, always keep this in your car as you never know when the need for it may arise. What should you include in your kit?
ØCell phone charger- Make sure you can easily contact someone if you need help on the road.
ØRelaxation CD- This can be soothing sounds, classical music or anything else that may be relaxing for you. Mediation tapes are great as well but make sure you keep your eyes on the road!
ØGPS- Having a navigation system can help you to find your way around easily and eliminate the fear of getting lost or missing a turn.
ØAnti-anxiety medication- If your doctor has prescribed an anti-anxiety medication make sure you keep some in your car at all times. This can help put a stop to your anxiety before it gets out of control.
ØA paper bag- While some medical professionals are now saying this is not the best idea to deal with hyperventilation, if you are old school and have used it in the past then throw a paper bag into that kit as well or ask your doctor about other methods you can use for hyperventilation.
ØA bottle of water- This is to keep you hydrated (getting overly anxious can dehydrate you quickly) as well as to have something with you to take medication if necessary.
If none of these items bring you anxiety relief then there are other options for overcoming it.
Self Help Programs
Self Help programs can teach you how to overcome your fear of driving and as well as tips to overcome your driving anxiety. A program that is directed specifically toward driving anxiety should include a CD and that can be very helpful to listen to when you anticipate any of your triggers being present. Do not use just any program however. Do your research first and then choose the right one for you.
Using Relaxation Techniques
Sometimes when our minds become over stimulated due to fear and anxiety it can be helpful to use relaxation techniques to bring your anxiety level down to a manageable range. Try counting, deep breathing exercises and self talk. Self talk is basically giving throwing a pep rally for yourself! Use positive language such as “I can do this” or “this will pass if I just keep my eyes on the prize”. You can also talk yourself through the details of what you are doing and where you are going. The trick to all relaxation techniques is to refocus your mind of something else other than your anxiety until it hopefully disappears.
If your anxiety has become too much for you to handle alone then it may be time to see a therapist. The most common type of therapy used for curing fears and anxieties of all kinds is cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT can help you retrain your thoughts and beliefs and get to the root of the issue. Once the cause of your anxiety if found the therapist can work with you to retrain and refocus your behaviors and negative thinking. Group therapy can also be wonderful for someone dealing with driving anxieties! Just sharing your feeling with others who are going through similar things can be highly cathartic and give you the courage to move forward to overcome your anxiety.
Rules for the Road
While this information can help put you on the road to success (Pun INTENDED) they may not be enough to totally cure your driving anxieties and you still may be subject to having driving anxiety to the point of going into full panic mode. If a panic attack occurs while you are driving you must take special care not to hurt yourself or others. If you have ever had a panic attack then you will know when one is about to hit. If you can get off the road before it happens then all the better! If you cannot then you must do whatever you can safely do to get the car in park.
ØPull over in the first safe place you can find.
ØTurn off the engine and practice your breathing.
ØGet out and walk around if it is a safe place to do so. If not then recline your seat and lay there will the attack washes over you and finally leaves.
ØTake your anti-anxiety meds if that is applicable to you.
ØCall someone if you need more help even if that means dialing 911.
Driving anxiety is no joke and if you suffer from it you are just one a great many who do so rest assured that you are not the odd man (or woman) out. Take this information and these tips into consideration if you are looking for ways out of the anxiety circle. If you need help do not be afraid to ask for it. By admitting the problem and searching for a way to fix it you are taking the first – and biggest steps on the road to recovery.
Christie Hunter is registered clinical counselor in British Columbia and co-founder of Theravive. She is a certified management accountant. She has a masters of arts in counseling psychology from Liberty University with specialty in marriage and family and a post-graduate specialty in trauma resolution. In 2007 she started Theravive with her husband in order to help make mental health care easily attainable and nonthreatening. She has a passion for gifted children and their education. You can reach Christie at 360-350-8627 or write her at christie - at - theravive.com.