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ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Can you help me to think of some coping strategies for my anxiety specifically related to driving a car?

Asked by ANef_is_Enuf (23288 points ) May 24th, 2011

First off, I already have a therapist and a psychiatrist.

Now, I have major issues with driving. I have unintentionally obligated myself to be somewhere this week that is a 30 minute drive, and it will be evening and raining on the day that I have to go. I haven’t driven more than a couple of blocks in the last 6 months, and that was maybe 2 or 3 times. That also caused me enough anxiety to make me physically ill. So this drive is a significant leap from my comfort zone.

Can you help me think of things that will ease my mind and help me stay focused on driving, rather than panicking and wrecking my car?

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69 Answers

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Do you have any rockin music you like? That won’t distract you too much.

JilltheTooth's avatar

Can you take the time to do some easy practice runs of a longer duration than your “few blocks” comfort zone? During the day, in good weather, you can prove to yourself that it’s not frightening, and actually fairly comfortable…

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@JilltheTooth Excellent idea. Get comfortable in easier conditions. Driving at night and in the rain sucks. I don’t care for it either.

Blackberry's avatar

Wow, anxiety is serious stuff, huh? I had no idea it was this serious. Pills? Drugs? Music? Practice driving more like Jill the tooth said? Vespa?

Jude's avatar

Awhile back, I had a fear of driving on the highway. I actually hadn’t done it in 10 years. Now, I am driving to Toronto and back (it has a crazybusy highway – Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW)).

Baby steps. Do what @JilltheTooth said. Practice runs which are a tad bit longer than a few blocks. During the day. Increase it a little more each time.

Good luck!!!

flutherother's avatar

If the weather is really bad and you don’t feel comfortable with driving I would take a taxi. It is natural to feel anxious about driving especially in bad weather. If you want to get over your anxiety you should practise as has been said above until you feel more relaxed about it.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

Just breathe,Neffie.
Maybe go out on days where there is low traffic,Start small.
You can do it! :)

Seelix's avatar

I’ve seen episodes of the show “Obsessed” on A&E that deal with people who are afraid to drive outside a comfort zone. They take a gradual approach, where the driver gradually expands the safe zone, like others have said. If it’s possible, have someone in the car with you who you trust and who’s able to help you calm down if you get upset.

Are you okay in the car as a passenger? Maybe your driving partner could drive you out somewhere a little ways out of your safe zone, and you could drive home, or vice versa.

Take it easy, as others have said. And really, if you can’t practice expanding your safe zone in time for this appointment, take a taxi if you have to. Or maybe even drive as far as you feel comfortable, then park your car at a mall or grocery store or something and take a taxi the rest of the way. I know that the weather in your area has been a little intense lately – don’t put yourself in a position where you’re legitimately afraid.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

The other thing is don’t focus on the fear of wrecking the car. It’s just a piece of equipment. I’m assuming you wear your seatbelts and/or have an airbag.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

I have actually been trying to drive more this week, and I have been asking someone to ride with me that helps me to keep calm. I will keep doing that, definitely. I have been trying really hard to get over this, but I didn’t expect to be thrown into a situation where I had to take the plunge so suddenly. So to speak, that is.
@Adirondackwannabe I wish it were that simple. I do have airbags, and I do wear my seatbelt, though. That is true.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Another part of it is that the area I am driving to is notorious for having insane traffic. I didn’t even drive in that town before I quit driving altogether. It must sound ridiculous to most people, but all of the factors in this particular drive make it especially horrifying for me. Thanks for all of your suggestions, it helps a lot.

JilltheTooth's avatar

Damnit, Neff, if you didn’t live so far away I’d come over and drive you there myself. I hate to see you upset.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Neff, for what it’s worth, we have areas like that. Binghamton NY is frigging insane. Most of my family refuses to drive there. I can do it, but it’s tough during the day. I wouldn’t want to try at night in the rain.

Poser's avatar

Identifying the root cause of your anxiety, then focusing on easing your mind regarding that is one way to minimize it. If you were afraid of flying, I’d suggest talking to pilots, understanding more about how planes work, their safety records and the likelyhood of a mishap. For driving, a similar approach might be helpful.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@JilltheTooth thank you. <3 I desperately wish that I could just get a ride, but in this particular situation it would look very bad. I just don’t feel ready. I’m trying to mentally prepare myself, and luckily there are some great suggestions here.
@Adirondackwannabe it really does help to know that other people feel similar fears, even those who are not debilitated by them. Makes me feel a tiny bit more normal.

marinelife's avatar

Hire someone to drive you there and back. It isn’t worth it.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@marinelife hiring wouldn’t even be necessary. I have friends and family that know of my circumstances, and I could get a ride for free.
I simply can’t get a ride. The situation is just… not appropriate… for me to get a ride. I’d rather not say anything more than that, although I know it sounds odd. Hope you all understand.

Poser's avatar

I certainly don’t understand but would be lying if I said I’m not curious.

JLeslie's avatar

This is very common for people with anxiety. I personally know 3 people who are afraid to drive in varying degrees. It has been shown that Cognitive Behavioral therapy and exposure is very effective for the sort of thing. Psychologist who specialize in phobias and anxiety would be best for this usually. If your psyche professionals are more oriented towards psychoanalysis it might not help you on this issue.

Basically, exposure is step by step doing the thing you are fearful of in small doses and seeing nothing went wrong. Eventually, it becomes easier and easier to do, and the phobia begins to go away.

Give yourself extra time to get there, so you don’t have the pressure of being late, and even pull over if you need a moment to relax in the middle of the trip. Maybe have a halfway landmark, so you know once you pass it is only 10 minutes more. Bring music you like. You will feel really good afterwards I think. It’s like sky diving, once you face the fear and conquer it, you will be energized.

Almost everyone I know with severe anxiety are avoiders. They are avoiding talking to someone, or avoiding dealing with an unhappy life situation, and they fail to see avoiding raises their anxiety in the end. Obviously, I don’t know your specific situation, and I do believe the brain can get into a mode of anxiety, and I know it feels very out of control. I had a constant level of anxiety for almost 8 years, and another time in my life that was extremely accute after a break up, which was actually years before thos 8 years I mentioned. Anyway, I have not felt anxious for over 10 years now. You can get better :). Good luck.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@JLeslie very observant. I am actually diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder, so it is like a double-edged sword for me. It’s very easy for me to clam up and completely bail when I get overwhelmed.
Probably not very noble, but at least I’m honest about it.

Excellent advice, thank you.

marinelife's avatar

OK, take a Xanax or Bach’s rescue Remedy before you drive there.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@marinelife if I took a Xanax and drove I would probably end up in a ditch. lol. I’m a lightweight.

marinelife's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf Then go for Calms Forte or Bach’s Rescue Remedy. Both are great for anxiety, but are not powerful enough to cause sleepiness.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@marinelife are they safe to take with an SSRI? Do you happen to know? I will do some research. That sounds like a good idea.

JLeslie's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf I don’t think of it as being related to noble or not. You have to fake it til you make it in my opinion. Obviously easier said than done. You have to still do the things that cause you anxiety. In fact, I would say you are more afraid of the anxiety reaction than the actual thing. Fear of the fear. Whatever it is that got this rolling, a parent thay was horrible, crappy schoolfriends, an illness, whoever or whatever has you so wound up in knots, let it go, I know that is easier said than done, but fuck them, fuck that unfair situation! Anyway, I don’t know enough about your situation to really give advise to you, but what I will say is listen to people who are not generally anxious, how they think. It is how you frame things in your mind, you need to reframe. You may feel those people don’t understand, but be open to looking at life in a different way.

Have you taken Xanax before? It usually does not make people tired. You can take a half of .25. But, I prefer you don’t get in the habit of taking it, because it is fantastic for anxiety and you might like it too much. It is a horrible addiction, but for intense situations now and again it can be very useful.

Maybe practice going partway. Drive 20 minutes while it is sunny and day time partway there today. Maybe with a friend in the car. Refamiliarize yourself with the road.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf Another thought: Do you have a GPS or other navigational thing. It will take one other concern off the list of stuff you need to do while driving.

JLeslie's avatar

Oh, and when is this trip you have to make? Don’t obsess about it day and night for days. Get your mind on other things.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@JLeslie I have had prescriptions for Xanax before. Both in very low doses, and a time or two that were not exactly low doses. I am just one of those people that is hypersensitive to medication. I’ve been known to zonk out after taking two Advil. My current prescribing physician does not prescribe any benzodiazepines, so it would be difficult to get. I like the idea of driving part way. Maybe I should drive out there a couple of times with someone in the car, so that I get used to it. Rather than just driving around getting used to the car, I should drive to the specific destination with someone else. I think that would help tremendously.
I go on Friday.

@Adirondackwannabe I don’t. I wish that I did. That would make me feel a million times better.

JLeslie's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf That sounds good, the drive will be more automatic if you practice the specific route. Let us know how it goes. I know you can do it.

Buspar is another drug you can try if you are interested in antianxiety meds. Considered to not be addictive. But, I think it’s better if you try to handle it without medication.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf Definately get one. They make navigating a piece of cake.

JLeslie's avatar

I still can’t figure out my GPS. I just got a new phone that has GPS and I cannot figure that out either. My husband says I am the GPS.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@JLeslie Once you get your home address in it’s pretty easy. I’m a typical guy, I got one for christmas and left it in the box for a year. My g/f started using it and it really works.

john65pennington's avatar

First, leave your car radio/stereo off. The music will distract you. Second, before you leave, sit in the driver seat and mentally prepare yourself for the drive ahead. You are the “brains” of your vehicle, not the other way around. Tell yourself that you can and will do this. Tell yourself that you are going to drive defensively and that you control your vehicle….not the other way around.

Say a small prayer(it helps).

Tighten your seatbelt and go for it.

You will survive this.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@JLeslie buspar makes me sick. I took it a long time ago. I do take an SSRI that is for depression and anxiety. It does help, but it is still early in my treatment. I will keep you guys posted… expect a reply here on Friday or Saturday. :)

@john65pennington thank you very much. Very true.

marinelife's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf Yes, they are. Calms Forte is just herbal. Rescue Remedy are flower remedies.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Is there any chance you can do a practice run during the day? Can you take someone with you?
I’d be honored to send you some telepathy.

Brian1946's avatar

Another way to reduce your anxiety is to concentrate on your breathing.
Perhaps you’re already familiar with basic yogic breathing, where you expand your stomach when you inhale, and contract it when you exhale.

I agree that taking a practice drive to your planned destination with a passenger is a great idea.
I suggest that you check your breathing at each step of your practice trip, and whenever you do feel anxious.

”...it will be evening and raining on the day that I have to go.”

Does the vehicle that you’ll be driving have anti-lock brakes? If so, are you familiar with how to apply them in situations that require hard braking?

Also, is there a way that you can avoid unintentionally obligating yourself to undertake scary things in the future?

This kinda reminds me of last T’giving, when you had to go to 3(?) different dinners in one day. :-o

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf : I understand exactly where you’re coming from. I have generalized anxiety disorder. I had a phobia of parking lots, and they still occasionally give me anxiety to the degree I can’t enter them.

Here’s the strategy I use that helps. First, as @john65pennington mentioned, leave the radio off. I choose not to distract myself in that way. Next, I chose a specific lane in the parking lot or, in some cases, area where I always go to park. If I can’t park there, I don’t go shopping that day.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because it works. Perhaps it would help you if you could pick a lane of the highway to always drive in. If you have to drive on a four-lane highway or street, then stick to the outside lane maybe, until you absolutely have to be in another lane. This might give your mind the kind of reassurance I’m talking about.

You’ve been given some excellent suggestions about taking practice drives. If you have the time, then do it.

I’ve saved the best for last. In order to help me focus clearly on what I’m trying to do, I talk to myself about the specific step of the task I’m trying to accomplish. I’ve used this for driving when I was also stressed out about something and needed to focus on the task at hand, getting from point A to point B.

I would say things to myself like “My hands are on the steering wheel. I’m pressing my foot down slightly on the accelerator. I’m lifting my foot off the accelerator. I’m turning on the turn signal. I’m turning the car. I see the red light ahead. I’m slowing down and stopping the car. Now I’m starting to go again.”

The point is that I talk to myself out loud about every little thing I’m doing. It may sound crazy, but it works for me. I use it for all types of activities, and it gets me through them with as little anxiety as possible.

marinelife's avatar

Let us know how it goes.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@Brian1946 yes, I’m actually quite skilled at not committing to any sort of obligation. If I could make a living doing it, I’d be filthy stinkin’ rich. ;)

@hawaii_jake excellent advice.. and now that you mention it, I know that I have done those things to calm myself in the past. Particularly talking out loud about what I’m doing, and even encouraging myself out loud. I hadn’t really thought about it until you brought it up, but I think that will help a lot.

Thank you.

SpatzieLover's avatar

My husband has to have the radio off on high anxiety days. So, I agree with @john65pennington & @hawaii_jake.

@ANef_is_Enuf Do you already use a catastrophe scale on a regular basis? If so, it should be applied to every minute of driving. If not, it would truly help you get through this tough spot you’re in.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@SpatzieLover I don’t think so. I’ve never heard of it.

As for the radio, I play it by ear (no pun intended.) I will start driving with it off, and then I find that turning it on once I am driving for a bit, and keeping the volume low helps me to relax. But I keep it off until I have my “pace” set, I guess.

JLeslie's avatar

The catastrophic scale is a great idea.

SpatzieLover's avatar

I can’t find an example online right now…but you can find a visual at a book store of a catastrophe scale in a REBT therapy book under and “catastrophizing” chapter.

Basically, you have to keep putting your logic to work for you by asking yourself where each event is from 1 to 10 on the catastrophe scale:

An example of a one on the scale: You dropped a piece of chocolate on the floor…Do you eat it? (That’s what your mind’s dilemma is)

a five would be a family member has to fight an illness, but will survive it….or has been in a car accident but will pull through

an eight is a family member will die of a life threatening illness

a ten is an event of epic proportion (tsunami, earthquake, tornado) striking your town/block/home/family

It works best if you make the scale personal to you. That way you will be able to recall it, and employ it quickly every moment you need it.

This is a strategy used for therapy for most autistics. Our almost 6yr old son will be introduced to it in the next year. My husband was just introduced to it about two months ago, and his life is already changing for the better. The scale helps him realize what he can and can’t handle on top of what he’s already doing for the day.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Oh God, honey, I really wish that I could just pick you up and take you wherever you wanted to go!! Could you maybe start small and work your way up? Like maybe go for a 5 minute drive today, then a 10 minute drive tomorrow, then a 15 minute drive the next day, and so on, until you started to feel a little more in control? Would it help to have a friend go with you on some easy drives? Would listening to classical music help? Can you just send me a plane ticket? (((HUGS)))

SpatzieLover's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate That’s yet another strategy employed by our psychologist: Success!

@ANef_is_Enuf, @WillWorkForChocolate has a great idea. You start small…and drive 3 times successfully at your current “success rate”...maybe for you right now that’s just backing out of the driveway, driving around the block and coming home again. Once that’s done successfully three times you challenge yourself by doubling your success rate. So, if that was three minutes in the car, the next trip you strive for 6 minutes….and so on. You only double it once you’ve been successful.

JLeslie's avatar

The catastrophic scale will hopefully help you focus on the event, rather than the anxiety you are afraid will come with it. And, put it into persepective logically.

Kardamom's avatar

Because this drive is quite a long way, and you will be driving at night in the rain, I would strongly advise you (at this point in time) to beg or pay or bribe someone to drive you. Take a shuttle or a taxi or a bus if you can’t find anyone to take you, but I’m sure someone will take you. Who wouldn’t want to drive with you, my friend?

Then, either now, or after this particular trip, talk to your therapist about hypnotherapy. I have heard that hypnotherapy along with gradual exposure therapy can be very helpful in this type of situation.

JLeslie's avatar

@Kardamom Why? It is not that far. @ANef_is_Enuf seemed to want to figure a way to handle it. I think she can. She is a smart logical girl, who wants to overcome her anxiety. she was going to try and drive it during the day and practice. I have incredible confidence in her. Her attitude seems very good. I feel like you are suggesting she give up before she even tries.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@JLeslie aww, thank you. That was really sweet of you to say.

@Kardamom I wish that I could. It simply isn’t an option, and maybe it is good that it isn’t an option. Maybe I need a good shove out of my comfort zone. I hate it, and it feels way too fast, but sometimes that’s life, I guess.

Kardamom's avatar

@JLeslie You didn’t read the second part of my post.

I just think that driving in the rain and at night is a fairly dangerous situation for her and the other drivers, even if she wasn’t suffering from anxiety. Both of my parents have a little bit of problem with their eyes and they don’t drive at night, and never in the rain, simply because they know that they aren’t 100% able to drive safely.

I definitely think she should get help (of the type that I mentioned) but I think she should become a lot more comfortable with driving before she drives in inclement weather at night. Being smart and logical have nothing to do with rain and darkness. I completely agree that she should do what she can to get over her fears and anxiety, but that should be done in gradual stages, starting out when it is light out, there isn’t any rain, and she’s not on a highway. That’s all I’m saying.

JLeslie's avatar

@Kardamom I understand what you are saying, I see your point, but she has stated she has no choice so I think we should be supportive and answer her question. Not that it is not ok to offer other suggestions and opinions of course, but you did not give her an option if she has no option. She is going to work her way towards the day. A little practice. Hopefully it won’t be a raining. The weather report is wrong all of the time. I did not see she will be driving on a highway? I must have missed that. You sound too nervous about it to me. I would not want her on the road if she was a danger to herself and others, but I think she will be fine.

@ANef_is_Enuf Are you nervous about getting lost? Or, do you know the way already?

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

I don’t know the way, I don’t know the area, since I have always avoided driving there. I am nervous about traffic, weather, visibility, and getting lost. I am also afraid of a wreck. I’m not looking forward to the actual event, completely aside from the traveling to and from… but I have a lot of fears in general about driving there.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with this situation. Will you let me pray for you?

JLeslie's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf Well then, you can definitely lower your anxiety about getting lost by doing a trial run. The weather might be clear, there is no guarantee of rain so many days in advance. You will not crash I promise.

I know you said no one can go with you on the day, but can you call the person you are visiting if you do make a wrong turn even after practicing, or another friend, and they can help you find your way. You will not be stranded, I promise that too. You can call me if you want, I will give you my phone number on a PM if you want to.

Bring a map with you in the car if you do not have GPS. One thing I like about a map is you can see a larger portion of the city than moving up and down a GPS.

I am not afraid of getting lost, but these are all things I do. Print out a map or buy one ahead of time, study it, have it handy, give myself extra time when going to a new place. If you just worry about it, the things you are afraid are more likely to happen. Being prepared, feeling oriented, and having plan b’s will make you feel more in control.

I have found my friends who are afraid of getting lost tend to just follow directions, and don’t know where they are in relation to other things. I have no idea if this is true for you. When I drive somewhere I know kind of how far south of the highway it is, and some of the main crossroads, it doesn’t feel lost, when I am lost, because I sort of know where I am, and a general direction to drive.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate why would I stop you? Thank you, that’s nice of you to do.

@JLeslie I will do all of that. I’m going to see if someone will do a practice run with me today. Thank you so much for helping me with this. :)

I love Fluther. You’re all so wonderful.

JLeslie's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf You must let me know how it goes. I made myself a promise to make two calls, which are related to each other, I have been avoiding, because you have inspired me. I am planning to do it Friday. I will be thinking about you. I need to write down some questions and look up the phone numbers to get prepared.

Seelix's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf – Wishing you the best! Know that we’re all pulling for you here.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@JLeslie aww, that’s awesome! Makes both people stronger to lean on one another. :)

@Seelix thank you. You guys are the best, hands down.

Brian1946's avatar

Are you doing your drive today?

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

The other person canceled. I was just coming here to post that, actually.

I’m sure it will be rescheduled sooner or later, but I’m off the hook today. Thank you all so very much for your thoughtful responses, and support.

Brian1946's avatar

Have you yet had a chance to do a practice drive?

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Not to the location, no.
However.. I drove to two stores, which was a big deal. Going in public alone is something I also avoid doing. I also drove myself to my therapy appointment this week, which is two towns over. It isn’t on the highway, but, quite a bit further than I’m used to. I’ve been driving every day (except today.)

So I’m doing that, at least. My therapist fears that if I lunge forward too quickly that anything that I perceive as “negative” at this point might just reinforce my fears.

Brian1946's avatar

Congrats on all your driving!
Now that the trip has been cancelled, hopefully you’ll be able to do this at a more gradual pace.

I remember my mom never drove on a freeway (urban highway).

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

I would be very happy if I never had to drive on the freeway.

Kardamom's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf I’m glad you didn’t have to go on that particular trip today. I totally agree that you need to practice and lead up to bigger drives (especially drives at night or ones in bad weather or heavy traffic) Did you get a chance to ask your therapist about either gradual exposure immersion therapy or hypnosis yet? I think one or preferably both of those used together could really help. I had a friend in high school who had a lot of anxiety about driving (she had been in a serious car accident a few years before that) and she was able to get some help with these 2 types of therapies. Good luck to you : )

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

I bet you’re just tickled pink that you didn’t have to make that trip!! And I’m VERY proud and impressed that you drove yourself to therapy! Way to go, girl! High fives and hugs all around!

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

You’re quite welcome sweetie.

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