Panic Attacks While Driving
Dealing With Panic Attacks While Driving
Panic attacks while driving are no laughing matter. Panic attacks are no fun, in fact quite often can be terrifying, and about a third of the population has suffered, or will suffer from a panic attack at least once. A panic attack in itself is seldom life threatening, but if you suffer one while doing something which requires your full attention, like driving, you could find yourself in a very serious situation.
Two Triggers – Stress and A Traumatic Event - Panic attacks, including panic attacks while driving, can be triggered by any number of things, and different people respond differently to different triggers. There's no single cause of a panic attack, so if we are prone to them, it pays to try and determine what the root cause might be. Stress is a major cause. Reliving or thinking about a past traumatic event can be another trigger. Many years ago a school bus was going down an icy hill and slipped off the road, rolled down an embankment, and into a deep lake. A number of schoolchildren drowned. Today the road is much safer, but many of the local residents won't drive on it during the winter months, and some won't drive on it at all. Sliding off that section of the road and into the lake is no longer really possible, but convincing your brain of that might not be so easy. Fifty years later, sweaty palms, if not a full blown panic attack, still affect some.
If Driving Itself Is The Fear - A panic attack while driving can center on a fear of almost anything, or can center on driving a car itself. We may fear heavy traffic, a certain road, driving after dark, or driving in certain weather conditions, to the point we refuse to drive at all, or risk suffering a panic attack while driving under one of these conditions. If you have a fear of driving to the extent it is becoming a phobia, professional help may be needed. You don't need to spend the rest of your life taking the bus, simply because you fear getting behind the wheel. Once we can identify the source of the panic attack we are usually capable of dealing with it. Identifying the source can sometimes be a problem however.
Besides stress, including post traumatic stress disorders, stimulants such as coffee or chocolate can trigger a panic attack. A medical condition such as hypoglycemia is a known contributor, as is depression. Simply worrying about a health issue can trigger an attack. A major lifestyle change, even if positive, has been known to cause panic attacks in some people.
What can you do, if you find yourself on the verge of suffering a panic attack while driving? If it's your first experience you really don't know what to do. If you've had the experience before, you may have already taken advantage of some of the following tips. The first thing is, if you feel you are in danger of losing control, pull over. If you feel you're in a safe spot, get out of the car and walk around a bit. If not, stay in your car.
Breathing Is The Key - Take some slow deep breaths. Take a tip from those practicing yoga and focus on your breathing. Don't take rapid deep breaths, as you may hyperventilate. Try to slow things down. Remind yourself of your goal, which is to fight your fear, and get back on solid ground. Correct breathing goes a long way towards doing this. If you are still driving, don't think about the driving, just do it. Pay attention to the road, but think about your breathing. Once your breathing has helped getting things back to a semblance of normality, you can confront your fear and try to convince yourself that you are all right.
Of course it helps to have a passenger in the car, an adult or fairly mature young person that is. The passenger can either help you through conversation, or take over the wheel if necessary. One good piece of advice is to carry a cell phone. Even if you don't use it, it gives you some peace of mind knowing that it's there if you need it.
If there is anything at all good about a panic attack it may be that by successfully fighting it, you've learned something very positive about yourself. You can deal with fear.