Driving anxiety comes in different levels.
Some people may refuse to drive on busy streets, while others can develop severe phobias that prevent them from driving altogether. This is a topic that pops up frequently in my in-box, so I thought it would be a good idea to feature it here in the blog again.
The idea of having a panic attack is scary enough. The idea of having a panic attack while driving can be downright terrifying and it prevents a lot of people from living normal lives, feeling free to get behind the wheel of their car to come and go as they please. This is incredibly common for those of us living with anxiety, and if you live with this issue, please know that you aren’t alone. Your personal survival instincts become very strong during times of high anxiety. It is normal to want to keep yourself safe and avoid getting in a traffic accident due to panicking. In addition, high anxiety makes you question your sense of how “normal” you are, and whether you could just “lose yourself” or your sense of reality at any given moment, potentially making you a threat to others on the road.
Let me assure you that the likelihood of either of those things happening is VERY low. You are still yourself, even when you are panicking, and you are actually probably even MORE in control of your car because you are in such a state of hyper-awareness that your focus on what you are doing is very intense. But to those who need some more reassurance, I encourage you to talk to your doctor or another professional, and follow these tips, as well as the tips in this previous post about driving anxiety, along with my anxiety recovery steps to help ease your way back into driving.
Remember, millions of people overcome their phobias and you can too.
Start With Exposure Therapy
Exposure therapy is all about overcoming a phobia by facing it one day at a time. You can mentally prepare yourself by choosing a vehicle that you’re comfortable driving and taking short drives each day. While you’re on the road, try to focus on the comfort and freedom that driving offers. Before long, the liberating feeling will slowly replace the anxiety you are feeling behind the wheel. All it takes is a bit of daily progress from a starting point as easy as simply sitting in your driveway behind the wheel of your car, then gradually working up to backing out of your driveway, then driving only around your neighborhood, etc. The pace of your progression can be as slow or fast as you want. You run the show. This is how I conquered my fear of driving after being sidelined for a long time. Keep this up, and before you know it, you’ll be back out on the road.
Skip the Caffeine and Eat Better Food
Protein is my Xanax. Nothing helps calm my jitters and shakes like a nice meal packed with protein and a little bit of fat. This helps by satisfying your hunger and controlling blood sugar levels. It is important to lessen foods rich in simple sugars, like soft drinks and pastries as these can make your thoughts speed up and give you a sense of being on edge.
It is also common knowledge that caffeine triggers anxiety. Caffeine on an empty stomach is especially bad as it heightens the effects of the caffeine. Try to avoid caffeine in your life if you are living with anxiety. Be sure to eliminate it slowly if you are dependent, to avoid unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Avoiding coffee, soda, and junk food in your life, especially while driving and in the few hours before you drive, as well as avoiding alcoholic beverages the night before you drive since this affects your mood and blood sugar levels, will help make for a more relaxed driving experience. Don’t let your diet set you up to fail.
Practice Daily Meditation
There are plenty of relaxation methods to help you feel at ease before the onset of anxiety approaches. For most people, meditation is one of the most effective methods of unwinding. It also aids in building better focus and relaxation both in the short and long term, without having to spend any money or go anywhere.
You can search through video-sharing platforms like YouTube for tons of useful meditation videos. Make meditation a daily activity and let its benefits help your driving anxiety.
I will be honest. Coming up with a recovery plan for driving anxiety is very much a trial-and-error process. It involves plenty of experimentation to find out the method that works best for you. Nobody knows you as well as you know yourself so focus on your personal “operating system” and do things that feel right to you, even if it seems weird or different. It doesn’t matter how you get back on the road, as long as you get there one way or another. It requires a hefty amount of dedication, time and the willingness to accept setbacks, but never ever give up, even if it means sitting in your driveway “pretending” to drive, every day for a year. Any step forward is forward, even if its a millimeter.
Questions? I’m happy to help. Contact me here.