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Forums / Anxiety / Driving anxiety. Has anyone had any success with this?

Topic: Driving anxiety. Has anyone had any success with this?

7 posts, 0 answered
  1. DN129
    DN129 avatar
    23 posts
    20 November 2016

    The initial source of what I'll call my anxiety condition and still the main ailment is driving. It came very suddenly for me around 18 months ago. I was out, driving people around in my car and suddenly got a panic attack when 'stuck' in dense traffic at a set of lights. It didn't creep up from there, it was like a switch, before that no driving anxiety, after that can barely drive without getting panic attacks.

    Over the past 18 months I worked hard to get myself mobile, seemingly expanding my 'range' by a street at a time. Even roads I previously knew, unless I had taught myself I could drive on them with anxiety I got panic attacks. I particularly struggled with traffic lights initially, but seem ok with them now. I can't drive highways, the second I merge onto them I get a massive panic attack, feel like my whole body is going numb and dizzy and have to merge straight off.

    I spoke to a psychologist about this. They tried to help, but I never felt there was any progress. They kept saying without knowing a real 'cause' of the anxiety its hard the treat and didn't really give me any directions short of build up to it.

    I've been really frustrated of late. I feel about a month back I made real progress. I was driving more or less freely on all semi-metro and connecting roads without any real anxiety symptoms. But it really seems to be two steps forward, three steps back. Suddenly one day I felt "off", went for a drive, had a panic attack and I feel I've regressed drastically again.

    I seem to just be able to drive easily within a say, 10km radius of my home. Which is enough for the basics, but not enough for any real freedoms. I'm seriously considering taking anti-depressants to see if they have any effect as I just can't stand not being able to drive freely anymore.

    Has anyone been through this or has any input? It seems now the entire time I'm driving instead of just driving confidently, I'm 'scanning' the roads for the ability to pull over, like I'll have to do that any second. If I get to a road thats busy, backed up, full of traffic lights, or no space on the side of the road my body freaks out.

  2. blondguy
    Life Member
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    blondguy avatar
    9365 posts
    20 November 2016 in reply to DN129

    Hey DN129

    I do feel your pain on this one....My first atomic anxiety attack was at an intersection in 1983 when I was 23. It was awful. I even remember now what lane I was in and what the weather was like. I had the driving anxiety for a long time only because I was a jerk and never really committed to regular counselling visits. (thats just me DN)

    Whether its in traffic or in the supermarket your brain is letting you know that you are over sensitised right now....whether its work commitments or personal issues (or the way we have been brought up) the anxiety attacks are trying to let us know that we have way too much on our plate at the moment.

    1983...when I was 23....on the day of the acute anxiety attack in traffic at 4pm;

    • I had 4 straight black coffee's prior to the 'mega attack' (during the afternoon)
    • I was working in a high performance career
    • There was also big issues I had with my dad at the time
    • I was also a 'Type A' personality....seeking perfection always meaning we suffer big time if we trip or stumble

    My GP gave me some anti anxiety meds to keep in my wallet as a 'Plan B' so I knew I had a way out if I felt the adrenaline starting to trigger an anxiety attack. Just knowing the meds were there actually reduced the anticipatory fear I had of having another anxiety attack....even though I rarely had to use them.

    Your psychologist is right 'looking for a cause' but sometimes its right in front of us....I never knew I just needed regular counselling with someone that was dedicated to treating anxiety.

    I hope this has been of some help DN. The good news is that anxiety (traffic or otherwise) does lessen in severity over time......even quicker with super regular counselling :-)

    I felt like I was reading about myself in the '80's when I read your thread topic DN......seriously..exactly the same symptoms...(I was given a small dose of AD's years after which did dump approx 70% of my traffic anxiety...thats just me though DN) Do you have a good GP that you trust?

    you are not alone on this one (any questions just ask.... and great to have you on the forums too!)

    please be gentle to yourself

    Paul

    2 people found this helpful
  3. BballJ
    Community Champion
    • Outstanding members who have volunteered their time to support others here on the forums
    BballJ avatar
    2027 posts
    20 November 2016 in reply to DN129

    HI DN129,

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    You had a great response from Paul above which as always, it's amazing advice.

    I just wanted to add in that I have had driving anxiety, not the same as yours, a little different, mine was always I would panic if I didn't know a bathroom was coming up or if I knew where one way. I have no idea how it started but I got to a point where I literally had to map out ways where I knew there were bathrooms in case i needed it... I did research and found out this a real issue for people and its kind of a phobia but mine was attributed to my anxiety, and if I got caught in a traffic jam especially on a free way, my anxiety would spike big time as does yours, so I understand your feelings even though its different symptoms. Like Paul said above, the anxiety will lessen over time and you need to use each day to try and drive a little bit more to get used to it. Try and avoid high congestion areas for a while until it settles as well, if that means you're in the car a little longer, so be it but it's almost like you have to baby it and take it one small step at a time. Generally, there is always a cause for anxiety and it has taken me 10 years to work out what it is, so It isn't easy but don't get it sit there in the back of your mind either, maybe try another psych, as you may not of connected with the one you had. Finding a good psych is like finding a good friend, so keep looking and you may find that will help with it as well.

    As always, feel free to post back here and much as you would like, always try to respond :)

    My best for you,

    Jay

  4. DN129
    DN129 avatar
    23 posts
    21 November 2016 in reply to blondguy
    blondguy said:

    Hey DN129

    I do feel your pain on this one....My first atomic anxiety attack was at an intersection in 1983 when I was 23. It was awful. I even remember now what lane I was in and what the weather was like. I had the driving anxiety for a long time only because I was a jerk and never really committed to regular counselling visits. (thats just me DN)

    Thanks for the reply Paul.

    Its an interesting point you make about anxiety coming when we feel 'overstimulated'. I think thats a great way of putting it. As I genuinely feel when Ive had way too much stimulation that day that I'm always much closer to anxiety than if you had been relaxing. Especially 'audio visual' stimulation from most modern electronic devices.

    I've never taken any sort of meds for it. I was convinced I could beat it myself. I think half the problem is expecting the anxiety when you drive, "I'm going for a drive to beat the anxiety" quickly turns into having a panic attack. If you drive for a purpose its easier, but its all just a feedback loop. You fear driving because of anxiety, you get anxiety because you fear driving.

    I think for me at the base of it is a fear of losing control of the car and crashing, or being stranded due to a panic attack. I've never got a good answer to the question "Can you faint from a panic attack". Doctors tend to dance around it.

    I think its a fair idea to go hunt for a new psychologist. The one I saw I very much liked, but was more interested in discussing anxiety generally rather than addressing the specific phobia which was my main concern. I think at the base of it I'm just scared of losing control of the car due to the anxiety. That is whats causing the anxiety.

  5. DN129
    DN129 avatar
    23 posts
    21 November 2016 in reply to BballJ
    BballJ said:

    HI DN129,

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    You had a great response from Paul above which as always, it's amazing advice.

    I just wanted to add in that I have had driving anxiety, not the same as yours, a little different, mine was always I would panic if I didn't know a bathroom was coming up or if I knew where one way. I have no idea how it started but I got to a point where I literally had to map out ways where I knew there were bathrooms in case i needed it... I did research and found out this a real issue for people and its kind of a phobia but mine was attributed to my anxiety, and if I got caught in a traffic jam especially on a free way, my anxiety would spike big time as does yours, so I understand your feelings even though its different symptoms. Like Paul said above, the anxiety will lessen over time and you need to use each day to try and drive a little bit more to get used to it. Try and avoid high congestion areas for a while until it settles as well, if that means you're in the car a little longer, so be it but it's almost like you have to baby it and take it one small step at a time. Generally, there is always a cause for anxiety and it has taken me 10 years to work out what it is, so It isn't easy but don't get it sit there in the back of your mind either, maybe try another psych, as you may not of connected with the one you had. Finding a good psych is like finding a good friend, so keep looking and you may find that will help with it as well.

    As always, feel free to post back here and much as you would like, always try to respond :)

    My best for you,

    Jay

    Thanks for the reply Jay.

    I agree, despite being slight different origins they are very similar reasoning. There is very little worse than a panic attack while being trapped, be that a plane, an elevator, a car etc.

    I agree with the notion of babying it. People who don't understand anxity tend to recommend you just drive normally and you'll be fine, but I think if anything experiencing the anxiety creates those connections of associating this with anxiety which tends to hurt in the long run.

    The thing I'm struggling with is will it ever just go away, I seem to kind of make progress and then regress. But I don't feel any closer to being rid of it than I do the day it started.

  6. BballJ
    Community Champion
    • Outstanding members who have volunteered their time to support others here on the forums
    BballJ avatar
    2027 posts
    21 November 2016 in reply to DN129

    Hi DN129,

    Thanks for the reply back.

    I think overtime it does subside and that is all through managing it - you need to work on it and your pace however, if that means driving a little bit here and there, then so be it. I think the key is trying to take control of the anxiety and not letting it always control you. I have mild asthma and I cannot go into elevators without an asthma pump or else I have a mini panic attack as I always wonder if the elevator will get stuck, if i dont have an asthma pump, I will take the stairs or anything else to avoid it. This isn't the healthiest way to deal with it but its something I feel will be with me forever, I know it's small and isn't a situation that comes up much but I get what you're saying when you feel you will never get over it.

    Just need to really fully accept the fact you have this driving anxiety and keep trying to overcome it day by day. It's all at your pace as I said above.

    My best,

    Jay

  7. blondguy
    Life Member
    • Life membership is awarded by beyondblue for providing outstanding peer support to the online community over a period of 3+ years.
    • A member of beyondblue's blueVoices community
    blondguy avatar
    9365 posts
    23 November 2016 in reply to BballJ

    Hey DN

    Thanks for responding. Jay brought up a great point too about avoiding congested traffic areas (if thats at all possible of course). You wouldnt be weak be doing so.....you will be lowering your anxiety by doing so.

    Driving normally is similar to fighting anxiety.....it can compound it. People dont understand that it like being asked to run wearing crutches......it doesnt work.

    Anxiety is like wearing invisible crutches....we have to adjust to being temporarily reduced in our capabilities while we de-sensitise.

    About fainting as a result of having a serious anxiety attack. Im not a GP but have been involved with many people with varying degrees of anxiety. I have never known or heard of anyone passing out. The feelings make us like headed and dizzy but we are pumping that much blood and adrenaline around passing out would be extremely rare.

    It doesnt look graceful but carrying a paper bag in your car is also a great plan B if you find your breathing tightening up or becoming rapid. Breathing the carbon dioxide will reduce any 'over breathing' and dizziness caused by being over oxygenated. Even if you dont use the paper bag its always good to know you have a plan B available to you :-)

    we are here for you DN

    Best. Paul

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