If you’ve been following me for some time, you know that one of the biggest things that I used to struggle with was experiencing anxiety and panic in cars (well, really all forms of transportation). And what it all really came down to was feeling as though I was trapped or not in control.
In cars, it was hardest for me when I was the passenger (which is why it was also hard for me to be a passenger on a bus, a train, an airplane, etc.). And when I was anxious, it was incredibly hard for me to share how I felt, and what I was experiencing. I felt embarrassed by it, and silly, and I thought that people would think that I was absolutely crazy if I shared with them what was going on inside of my head. So instead of sharing it, I’d try to suppress it and hope that it would go away, which never worked and ultimately only caused more anxiety and panic.
Here are some of the thoughts that I used to have:
- There’s no way out (especially when in traffic).
- What if I have to go to the bathroom?
- I’m going to pass out.
- What if I experience a really bad panic attack like I have before?
- I don’t feel good. Something bad is going to happen.
- If something bad does happen, there’s nobody to help me and I’m so far from home.
- What if I cause an accident?
So what ultimately made me feel as though I was trapped and not in control? This was a tough realization for me, because it was me. My thoughts would lead to my feelings, and I was ultimately responsible for how I responded to my thoughts. I’m a firm believer that your thoughts lead to your feelings, which means that you are capable of changing how you feel.
I had the ability not to react to the unhealthy, unproductive, and negative thoughts. I had the ability to challenge my thoughts. I had the ability to remind myself of my realities. I had the ability to share what I was struggling with. I had the ability to respond differently to anxiety.
And before I jump into some tips, I want to share with you one of the healthiest responses that I developed to anxiety. Repeating this sentence to myself saved me many times: I don’t need to look for a way out, I am safe right where I am.
It’s so true. We often convince ourselves that we’re in danger when we aren’t, or that we are going to lose control when we’ve had it all along. Try it out! I promise you that those words will help you.
So here are some things that helped me to overcome driving anxiety, and they will help you too!
1. Acknowledge how you feel. This is one of my go-to tips because it is so powerful. When you feel anxious or panicky, don’t try to ignore it, suppress it, or hide it. Acknowledge how you feel. It can help to say how you feel out loud, or by sharing it with someone. Acknowledging how you feel will allow you to process it and move beyond it. If you try to do the opposite, it will only create more anxiety and panic, because you’re reinforcing that there’s something wrong.
2. Don’t Engage! Oftentimes we engage with anxiety when we should just disengage. It’s important to acknowledge that it’s there but that’s it. Don’t fight it. Don’t try to convince it of anything. Don’t try to make it go away. Acknowledge it, and then move on with whatever you were doing. It can literally help to say, “I acknowledge that I’m anxious and I’m choosing to move beyond it.”
3. It’s okay to call someone or ask for support when you need it. Reaching out for support doesn’t mean that you’ve failed, or that you’re dependent, or that you aren’t capable. Needing support right now, in moments of anxiety and panic, doesn’t mean that you will always need it. So lean into it when you need it, allow those people to help you get to the place where you won’t need to lean in anymore. Asking for support will actually make you more capable!
4. Don’t avoid the things that make you feel uncomfortable. Avoiding things like bridges, traffic, or certain places that you’ve experienced anxiety of panic before will reinforce the fear and anxiety. Remember, reinforcing the fear and anxiety will make it harder to overcome. Take small steps to push past the things that make you feel uncomfortable.
5. Be realistic with your expectations. Don’t set out to do something that often causes you anxiety and panic and tell yourself that you won’t be anxious. It’s okay to be anxious! Start small, and don’t lose sight of all of those times that you have proven that you are capable.
6. You can always pull over, or get out, or take a break. Don’t allow your thoughts to convince you that you’re trapped. Sure, it might be a little embarrassing to pull over, or get out, or sit on the side of the road crying your eyes out (I’ve been there many times), but being embarrassed is a lot less painful than giving up and continuing to be stuck.
7. No beating yourself up! When you do pull over, or get out, or take a break, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, give yourself a kind message. You’re pushing yourself to do hard things and you’re doing a good job. Beating yourself up will only create more anxiety.
8. Keep yourself present. Do a mindfulness exercise, like a simple breathing practice. If you want to use my favorite one, check it out here. Listening to music, a podcast, or an audio book can also be helpful in keeping your mind present.
9. Positive self-talk will help to shift your mindset and get you away from those thoughts that cause and heighten anxiety and panic. Here are some of my favorites: I am safe. I have always successfully worked through every anxious and panicky moment. I am not in danger. This feeling will pass.
10. Don’t compare yourself to the “old” you that didn’t experience driving anxiety, or to people that don’t experience it at all. You will get to a place of peace, but that won’t come if you’re looking to your past or playing the comparison game.
Keep pushing forward, and keep taking those small steps. You are capable!