One of the more common questions I’m asked is how to cope with anxiety while driving. People have many different fears in this area, ranging from fear of being caught in traffic to crossing waterway bridges.
Often the anxiety stems from a fear of being trapped in the vehicle in gridlock traffic or losing control of the vehicle and causing a collision.
Needless to say, even though they may have been battling a driving phobia for many years, almost all of the people I’ve consulted with have not actually had any of these mishaps occur. Let’s look at the primary fear: having an accident due to the distractions of an anxiety attack while driving.
Most people work themselves into a state of high anxiety even before they’ve pulled out of their driveways. They imagine scenes of causing ten-car collisions on the highway because they “freaked out” and hit another vehicle. If you have such concerns, the first thing to do is review your driving history. Have you been a reckless driver in the past? Do you have a history of bad driving? Most phobic drivers actually have clean driving records and have never even been in a minor road incident. Anxious drivers are not a deadly hazard on the road; in fact, they can be a lot more vigilant than many ordinary drivers who, after a long day in the office, are virtually asleep at the wheel.
As we discussed previously when looking at the biology of anxiety, by virtue of their conditions anxious drivers have a high level of sensory alertness. This level of alertness keeps them aware of potential hazards and focused on the task of driving—not daydreaming, chatting, or rooting around in the glove compartment. This, of course, does not suggest that anxious driving is the ideal way to commute. But I believe it’s important to make this point because so many chastise themselves for being anxious in their cars. If you’re generally a good driver, before you set out in your car take confidence in that fact, and reaffirm it to yourself. Acknowledging and reaffirming that you’re a capable driver will go some way toward alleviating this concern.
The second major concern of most phobic drivers is the fear of being trapped in the car in some manner. By this, I mean being caught in traffic, on busy three-lane highways, on long bridges, or even stopped at red lights. When allowed to, your mind will run away with this fear and imagine all kinds of deadly scenarios where you feel cornered or trapped in your vehicle with no assistance available should you experience a major panic attack.
The important thing here is to curb these fears before they take root, by offering yourself viable solutions to any of these scenarios and not letting your mind trick you into believing there’s a trap ahead.
Give it some thought. Are there really any situations, such as the ones described above, where you’re truly trapped with no means of escape?
No, of course there aren’t.
Eventually, traffic always moves; it doesn’t remain gridlocked forever. There’s flow, and there’s always an exit. This may mean figuring out the exit for yourself, but never let these thoughts corner you into thinking that there’s no escape. When you counteract these fears with logical solutions, you undermine the control that fear holds over you. You begin to see the bluff it’s playing to keep you petrified of what could potentially happen out there in the traffic.
Your mind may rebel and come up with the worst possible scenario that you may get “stuck in”—but again, is this really the terrifying trap you imagined? Be careful not to let these thoughts trap your thinking.
Every minute of the day, people’s cars break down in traffic. These drivers have no option but to put on the hazard lights and leave the vehicle. It’s not going anywhere. There you are, and there’s an exit, albeit an extreme one; however, by using my technique, it never needs to come to that. In fact, you’re going to learn how driving can actually be an enjoyable experience once again.
Learn more about Panic Away here.