Over the past several years, I have identified with having an anxiety disorder. So much so that it became my entire identity. Before I could make a decision or do anything, I would think about how it could affect my anxiety. It took over my life! The depression kicked in when I started dwelling on how much in life I was missing out on because my anxiety held me back. I developed many phobias, the main phobia being driving anxiety.
The driving anxiety began as a result of my first panic attack. I was driving home from work one evening and suddenly started hyperventilating. I began seeing black spots and felt like I was going to pass out. Luckily I was only 3 minutes from my apartment so I made it home safely. That was the longest 3 minutes of my life! People who have never experienced a panic attack are so quick to judge when anxiety sufferers are describing the feelings of a panic attack. I had never in my life felt symptoms so strong and I truly felt like I was going to die! It was terrifying and the memory of that event is forever engrained in my head.
For the longest time after that, I was afraid of having another attack while driving and have an accident. The thought of hurting myself or others due to something I had no control over was overwhelming. The several weeks that followed, I became house bound, calling in sick to work and making excuses to friends as to why I couldn’t go out. How pathetic am I to be in my mid 20s and afraid to drive? It was embarrassing!
Eventually the driving anxiety was so extreme, I finally broke down and decided to see a doctor. The diagnosis was generalized anxiety and panic disorder. Of course his first of action was prescribing me antidepressants, which was discouraging, but I was desperate. I needed to drive…I needed to get to work…I needed my life back. It took a few weeks for me to adjust to the meds. I’m not going to lie… it was rough, but eventually I was able to drive again. I started out talking on the phone with friends and family while driving. I found the distraction of a conversation comforting and it kept my mind off of the anxiety.
Over the years, the driving anxiety has been sporadic. I recovered completely from it for a year or so, only to find it return full force. There have been some things that have helped me along the way and maybe they can help you too…
- Start out slow. Give yourself a goal, whether it be driving down the street and back or just to a local convenient store. Increase the distance daily or weekly, whatever feels good to you. Even small victories are still victories!
- DON’T BE HARD ON YOURSELF! If you have to pull over to take a breath or gather yourself, pull over. Give yourself time to overcome this fear. It won’t happen overnight, so be patient with yourself.
- If you need someone to ride with you at first or talk to you on the phone while you drive, then do it. Don’t make a habit of it or this can turn into avoidance, which will not help you long-term. We will talk about avoidance in a later blog. Of course, be safe while on the phone using hands-free devices or Bluetooth.
- Music! Music can do wonders for your mind and your mood! Listen to music that relax you or put you in a happy place. Singing also releases endorphins in the brain that give you an immediate sense of pleasure. So sing along, at the top of your lungs… this is your time to shine!
- Meditation. There are so many apps and youtube videos for meditation these days, and it does help. Some can be too relaxing or meant to help you sleep, so choose the right one needed for driving.
In closing, I hope some of these help you on your road to overcoming driving anxiety. Please feel free to comment below on any future blogs you would like for me to share and subscribe to my page for weekly posts.