If you’ve been with me for any amount of time now, you probably already know that driving anxiety is something that I struggled with for years. And to be honest, for a long time it was something that I thought I’d never overcome. Spoiler alert, I overcame it 6 years ago and I drive with ease and a whole lot of peace now! So, I want to share what my experience with driving anxiety looked like for a few different reasons. But one of the biggest reasons why I want to share my experience with driving anxiety, is because I felt so alone while I was struggling. I was truly convinced that nobody else struggled with the things that I struggled with while in cars. And it wasn’t just in cars, it was really on any form of transportation. And actually, things like buses, trains, boats, and planes were even harder for me, for reasons I’ll share with you in this episode.
So I say that I struggled with driving anxiety, but the anxiety I experienced had very little to do with the act of actually driving. My fears were more centered around me feeling trapped and having a panic attack and not being able to handle it, losing control behind the wheel, being too far from “safety,” people witnessing me panic and thinking that I was crazy, and the fear of me pooping my pants… Yeah, that last one… Toilet anxiety was something that I also struggled with for years and made it incredibly hard for me to ride in cars or on any form of transportation.
And because of these fears, it was really hard for me to do everyday things like driving to work. Thinking back on it… One drive to work used to take so much mental effort and nearly all of my energy. And other things were just as hard for me. Things like driving to the store, and driving long distances (especially far from home), and going through drive-thrus, and driving in traffic, and driving in unfamiliar places, and driving on the highway, and taking road trips and going on trips, and driving in areas where a bathroom wasn’t readily available. Honestly, I could go on and on. And in these situations, I was constantly trying to map out exit strategies, and back up plans, and “safer” routes. Or I sometimes just avoided them altogether.
Oh, and I almost forgot one of the bigger things that was hard for me… Riding as a passenger. Yeah, that one was so rough, because one of the biggest things for me when I was struggling with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia was my constant need for things to feel in control. For me to be in control at all times. And any anxious thought, or slight twinge of anxiety, or sensation, or symptom, and especially panic, almost instantly convinced me that I had no control. And riding as the passenger made me feel like I had less control than being the driver, especially while on public transportation. Because on public transportation, it’s not as simple as saying… Hey, I’d like to get off now. Like, right now!
I can remember many times being on trains and planes, experiencing full blown panic, and thinking that there was no way I’d get through it. And yes, I obviously did, but at the time it was so uncomfortable and hard. I remember this one time Adam and I were on an airplane, and as soon as the plane door shut and the plane began backing up, I started to feel extremely anxious. I remember grabbing Adam’s hand and telling him that I was having a panic attack. And what did Adam say to me? “Well there’s not much we can do about it now.” And boy, was he right. That silly, sticky thought of the plane door shutting and me being trapped consumed me and filled me with so much fear. I remember thinking… I can’t even get up and move around. What the heck am I going to do? Yeah, I spiraled real quick. But, I did get through it without the worst case scenarios actually happening.
So in cars, I felt like at least if I felt anxious or panicky as the driver, I could pull over, or turn around, or drive faster to get to a safe place, and I wouldn’t have to look at the person next to me and tell them that I was freaking out. I could make up some excuse and just pull over, turn around, or get somewhere more quickly. And honestly, I just really didn’t want to be embarrassed. I can remember experiencing anxiety and panic so many times as a passenger, and I would think things like… Nope, this can’t happen right now. This person is going to think I am crazy, or an idiot. You can’t tell them what’s happening. And the saddest part was that oftentimes the people next to me were the people who loved me most… My mom, my brother, Adam, and friends. People who absolutely wouldn’t think that I was crazy or an idiot, and would do absolutely anything to support me. But as you know, when you’re feeling anxious, you don’t exactly see the logic and reality of your current situation.
So if I felt any sensation or symptom, I would essentially immediately jump to… Oh no, I’m going to have a panic attack and I’m not going to be able to handle it, especially while being “trapped” in this car (or on this train, or bus, or plane). Even though I had handled it every single time, as have you.
And one of the toughest parts of driving anxiety was the feeling of missing out on life, but also missing out on doing very normal, everyday things without being consumed by anxiety and fear. I remember sitting in traffic sometimes, or on trains and planes, thinking… I bet that person isn’t freaking out right now. Why can’t you just be calm like that person? And… I bet that person has never worried about pooping their pants in the car. What the heck is wrong with you? So often, I felt so envious of everyone around me. It felt like the whole world was at peace while I was just trying to drive from my house to work without having a full blown meltdown.
And there were so many things that I wanted to do but I often turned them down because I didn’t want to feel anxious or panic. And honestly, sometimes I was just so tired and drained from doing the things that I had to do every day (like drive to work), that I had no energy for anything extra. I passed on so many opportunities that I actually wanted to be a part of. Things like going out with friends, and going to concerts, and going on road trips, and going on hikes.
I also did lots of bailing on plans. I can remember many times, driving 15 or 20 minutes to go out with friends or to go on a date, and turning around and making up some excuse as to why I couldn’t make it. And I would feel so disappointed in myself. And the hardest part was that sometimes, the person on the receiving end expressed how bummed they were, which made things that much harder. The thing that I wanted to tell people back then but felt I couldn’t was… I don’t want to cancel! I want to be there! I just feel so scared right now, and I feel like I can’t handle how I’m feeling. And I’m disappointed, too. And inevitably, I’d drive home, crying, while beating myself up, and convincing myself that this was what the rest of my life would look like. And if I didn’t end up bailing, I would typically sit wherever I was, thinking about how anxious I was (or would become), while trying to figure out the quickest way out of the situation and back home.
So you know that part in the beginning of this episode where I mentioned that I overcame driving anxiety 6 years ago? Yeah, it still blows my mind that I can drive, ride in cars, ride on trains, and planes, and boats, and take trips, without experiencing anxiety or panic. Like, what? Who am I? To give you a little insight… Since recovering, I’ve taken 3 international trips and countless trips in the states. Just last fall, we took a family trip from Maine to Arizona, where we took a 6 hour flight, drove two hours to Sedona, and then drove from Sedona to the Grand Canyon and back to Sedona, and then of course took a flight back to Maine… All without anxiety joining me. And a few years ago, we took a trip to England, which included a long flight, train rides, and lots of drives. We even drove 5 hours from London to Cornwall, and then back to London, all while Amelia was under one-years-old.
But the bigger thing to me is, I do everyday things without anxiety and panic, and I don’t think twice about doing them. And I never turn anything down because of anxiety. I drive Amelia to daycare, and I drive to work, and I drive to hiking adventures, and I often choose to ride as the passenger, even on trains, and boats, and planes. I no longer convince myself that I’m in danger. I no longer convince myself that I’m far from safety. I no longer look for exit strategies. I no longer worry about whether or not bathrooms will be available. I no longer battle with my thoughts and feelings.
And you might be wondering, well, why did you struggle for so long and how the heck did you overcome it? And I’m going to share some insights with you now, but you can also sign up for my free class, where I teach you 3 Steps for Overcoming Driving (& General Transportation) Anxiety. And these 3 things helped me tremendously in overcoming driving anxiety and getting me to where I am today! But for now, let me just dive into a little insight on why I struggled for so long and some shifts I made that helped me.
One of the biggest reasons why I struggled for so long was because I thought that if I just kept driving, riding public transportation, and pushing myself, I’d overcome driving anxiety. Let me tell you… You can’t just drive every day and overcome driving anxiety. Trust me! I drove every day and I still struggled for years with anxiety and panic in cars. I drove to work, to school, to stores, on road trips, on highways, through drive-thrus, you name it! Although facing your fears is absolutely a huge part of overcoming them, there’s more to it than that! Let me explain a bit more of what I mean by all of this in the next one!
Another reason why I struggled for so long was because I was trying to tackle specific fears, symptoms, and thoughts, and I was so fixated on making these things go away. For example, I was so focused on… Figuring out how to not panic while driving or riding as a passenger, how to not panic while sitting in traffic, and how to overcome toilet anxiety, and how to not feel nauseous, and how to not feel dizzy and lightheaded, and how to make the thoughts about passing out stop, and how to make the thoughts about being too far from safety go away, and the list goes on! It’s almost like I was convinced that there was a specific solution for each of my fears, the symptoms, and thoughts. When in reality, there is no ONE solution, and I should have been focused on fixing my overall relationship with anxiety. Let me explain what I mean by this!
The anxiety, panic, fears, symptoms, and thoughts were never the problem, it was how I was responding to all of it that was the problem. When I was driving and facing my fears, I should have been a lot more focused on creating a healthy response to, and relationship with anxiety. It was about facing that hard stuff AND responding to anxiety and panic in a healthy way, whether I was driving, or riding as a passenger, or just sitting at home. And surprisingly, lots of healing from driving anxiety happens when you aren’t behind the wheel or riding as a passenger! It’s also about changing your self-talk, and practicing self-care, and changing unhealthy behaviors and working to create new ones and new habits. There’s so much to recovery besides facing your fears!
And before I end this episode, I really want you to hear me on this… You aren’t crazy, or weird, or broken, or in need of fixing. It’s your relationship with anxiety that needs some fixing, and you are capable of doing the work that will help you to experience lots more peace, joy, and freedom. And you won’t struggle with driving anxiety forever. I know that you may be convinced that you will right now, and this is another big reason why I want you to join me in my class. I want to show you that you don’t have to continue to struggle with driving anxiety, and it doesn’t have to continue to be so hard.
Alright, until next time, my friend. Keep taking healthy action!