Sunday, March 13, 2011

Panic on the Motorway © Megan Snider

"I start sweating and shaking and having panic attacks if I am not at home."
--Daniel Johns

Having panic attacks while driving along with depersonalization and derealization (that is feeling detached from one ’s self and feeling detached from one’s reality) is not uncommon. It is disturbing and causes many drivers to slow in their lanes, pull over for breathing room and face unrelenting attacks while feeling closed in and panicked on the roadway. There are a few things drivers can do to help minimize the panic. It may be overwhelming and cause you to pull over and out of your lane. That is okay. Despite your feelings of unreality, try to minimize the risk of having an accident. If you need to pull over, go ahead and do so and catch your breath. There are a few things you can do to help yourself:
1.   Take benzodiazipines (if prescribed to you) half an hour to an hour before driving. I have noticed taking them an hour before driving gives them sufficient time to settle your nerves and to get into the bloodstream.

2.   Pull over and get some breathing room. Take the trip in small increments.
3.   Focus your eyes on small spaces if you are able to do so. Focus on the speedometer instead of the wide open road which may make you more anxious. Carry some inspirational quotes with you and post them in your car and look at them. Be careful to avoid an accident while doing this.

4.   Listen to a song that really grabs your attention and sing loudly. Engage yourself while driving. Feel the experience.

5.   Recite religious texts to give you a sense of inner calm and control.
6.   Notice road signs, colors, patterns and attractions on the road. Immerse yourself in the billboards and distractions. Notice license plates and car models. Be careful to regulate your driving while doing so.

7  . Listen to talk radio. The inflammatory issues can get your mind working and thinking and distract you away from your panic attack. Just hearing another person’s voice may be soothing for you.
      Make a CD of breathing exercises and practice them while driving. Do not try meditation as this can be dangerous, but sometimes taking deeper breaths and focusing in on your breathing can help minimalize the feelings of a full-blown attack.

9.   Travel with someone if you can. Conversation and just the feeling of having someone else in the car with you may help you stay grounded.

10. Stick to familiar roads and routes in which you feel comfortable.

11. Remind yourself that you are “here” and you are on your way to “here”. Remind yourself of where you are going, who you are, what the date is, what the time is and where you are. Keep yourself in the present and keep yourself thinking logically.

12. Decrease your speed and pull into the slow lane if you need to. Remind yourself you have all the time you need to get where you’re going and there is no need to rush. Safety should come first.
      Sing out loud or pray loudly and immerse yourself in a spiritual connection while driving. Be sure to keep your eyes open as you do so and let your faith help you float through the panic and unreal feelings.

14. Take a small memento with you from home that can fit in your hand. Look at it from time to time and remind yourself where it came from, what it is, and what it means to you. This can help ground you.

15. Take a small scented item with you and take whiffs of it as you drive. Be sure not to make yourself dizzy or sick while doing this. The smell may help ground you. It may even be an unpleasant smell if you want it to be.

16. Wear a rubber band around your wrist and snap it every time you have a negative or fearful thought. Hopefully the pain will bring you back to reality.

17. Run the air conditioner or the heater. Be sure not to make yourself sleepy while doing this. The idea is to get the blood flowing in your body and to wake it up a little.

18. Stay away from caffeine or sugar before or during your trip. These substances could aggravate your symptoms.
Roll down the window and let some fresh air in. Enjoy the breeze and let the air revitalize you.

20. Focus on small tracts of land instead of wide open spaces if you can do so safely. Look at the scenery around you and become immersed in it.

21. Make up little stories about the houses and cars you see around you if you can do so without further frightening yourself.

22. Try to think of funny situations or jokes you have seen or heard recently.

23. Imagine a safe or fun activity you would like to engage in that makes you feel calm if you can do so while concentrating on driving.

24. Bring an ice cube with you and rub it across your skin to get a response from your body to remind you that you are here and in the present.

25. Try to do math problems or logic problems in your head to distract yourself from the feelings of unreality.

26. Engage in simple car games such as “I Spy” or other games to take your mind off the panicky feelings.

If anyone can think of any other tips or have tips to share that have worked, I urge them to share them in the comments section. Derealization, Depersonalization and panic attacks are a prominent and dangerous problem while driving. It is terrifying and makes driving unpleasant and traumatizing. It is important that people with Panic Disorder find effective ways to continue driving, traveling, and participating in social activities so they do not become Agoraphobic and housebound. This must be avoided at all costs!

© Megan Snider

1 comment:

  1. I had an accident on a dual carriageway a few years ago and was driven off the road onto the central reservation. I now find it hard to drive without having a panic attack on the motorway and some dual carriageways but am trying to face my fear. I get in my car on a Friday night and drive on the motorway to a shopping centre. I wait till about 7pm.. it's clearer then. Whilst driving I sweat, I feel as if I can't breath and I don't feel as if I'm me (if that makes sense). I am trying to continue though it's hard. I count. I count costantly from 100 back to 1, then 200 down to 1 then 300 if need be. I do find this helps. The journey there usually gives me a headache but one of relief too. The journey back however is a breeze. I just want my confidence back on the motorway.