I'm not ashamed to tell you I have had anxiety while driving. And I know how this horrible fear of driving affects every area of your life. Here's a typical scenario:
I remember clearly an episode once when I was driving on the interstate around Atlanta, GA. It was around rush hour, and traffic was particularly bad. Other cars and trucks were weaving in and out of lanes, tailgating, and speeding. New lanes were added all the time and the general flow of traffic was about 80 mph.
I started to feel anxiety. My palms were sweating, my heart was racing, I was tense and on the verge of tears. I was clearly having an anxiety attack brought on by driving. Of course, anytime you have 3000 ton trucks coming at you at 80 mph you are perfectly entitled to feel a but nervous, but that is not the same thing as a full-blown driving anxiety attack.
There are many different definitions of anxiety and panic attacks floating around, some with slight variations. Most define anxiety and panic attacks as feelings of fear, dread or tension without there being a threat or clear justification as to why you are feeling these things. As a psychologist once explained it to me, “Anxiety is irrational fear”.
It is important to keep this in mind, and not jump to the conclusion that you are having anxiety every time you feel nervous or stressed, even when you are driving in heavy traffic. In certain traffic or driving situations, some fear and even anxiety may be justified.
But the physical and emotional symptoms of real anxiety while driving are always much more severe than just nervousness. There is always a physical and/or emotional reaction to the driving involved in the fear and tension experienced.
In most situations, just getting off the road for a while will help settle down. This works so well because it pulls you out of the cognitive "loop" of obsessive thinking that accompanies most anxiety attacks.
But it is important that you "get back on the horse," and drive again after the attack has faded. The last thing you want to do is build up the experience into a bigger deal than it actually is, and give the fear a "life of it's own."
There is a specific issue that I see in my coaching clients time and time again that creates (or at least aggravates) panic attacks like these. It is something I call, "not having permission to fail," and here's how it works:
In order to take the "energy" out of the panic attacks while driving, you need to have "permission to fail." It needs to be completely OK with you (and people around you) if you begin to feel uncomfortable and want to pull over or stop driving at any given moment. The reason is, when people are 'allowed" to fail at something, and they don't attach any significant meaning to it, they tend to fail MUCH LESS FREQUENTLY than people who feel this underlying pressure that they "have to get it right."
This means you must give yourself "permission" to stop, start, slow down, pull over, or anything else that you feel, WITHOUT putting any pressure on yourself. It has to be all good, no matter what you do. When you get the hang of this attitude, the "energy" of the panic and anxiety dissipates to a great extent, and then you can truly begin to make progress.
Stopping Obsessive Thoughts
Anxiety Panic Attacks