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Panic Attacks while Driving - How Can You Help Yourself Get Out of Danger?

written by: Nicky LaMarco • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 9/30/2010

Having a panic attack while driving is overwhelming. Driving can be stressful enough on its own, so when a panic attack occurs behind the wheel of a car it escalates the situation. There are many ways to decrease and even eliminate panic attacks while driving.

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    My Experience

    overcoming panic attacks while driving on highways I want to let you know that I do have agoraphobia with panic disorder. I have had countless panic attacks while driving, especially on the highways or somewhere I have never been before. There are things that can make it worse and that leads to potentially dangerous situations on the road. The symptoms can vary from person to person, so I will just explain what it feels like for me when I have a panic attack while driving.

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    Panic Attack While Driving

    I first feel it in my gut. It's that feeling one would get if startled by someone or something. I am just driving and then it hits me. Within seconds my vision narrows and sometimes gets blurry, my breathing becomes shallow, I start sweating profusely, my entire body begins to tremble, and my limbs get tingly. Sometimes the trembling and tingling can get so bad that it is difficult for me to use my foot for the gas and brake pedals. Overall, I feel as if I will die. My gut reaction is to drive faster to get to wherever I am going and visit a bathroom to calm myself down. However, that is not the safe thing to do.

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    Overcoming Panic Attacks While Driving on Highways - What to Do

    On any road you can usually find a space to pull over, where you can try and calm down. However, when driving on the highway this can be a little more difficult. If you are near a gas station or rest stop go to them. If you are not near anything pull over into the breakdown lane. If you are at a gas station or rest stop feel free to get out of the car and walk around or find someplace where you feel comfortable. However, if you are in the breakdown lane on the highway, stay in your vehicle and lock your doors.

    It's now time to ride out the panic attack. I cringe using the words "calm down" because it's not really something that comes immediately. What really must be done is to accept what is happening. Accept what you are feeling and every symptom you are having. You cannot control it. I wish I could tell you that you just have to snap your fingers three times and the panic attack will go away, but that is just not how they work. The panic attack will not kill you. The symptoms begin, get worse, get better, and then go away. I have some techniques that I use to help me that I will share with you.

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    Overcoming Panic Attacks While Driving on the Highway

    Use positive thinking or self-talk. Negative thinking only feeds the panic and makes it last longer. Talk positively to yourself. At first this can be difficult to do, but you must. It will get easier. Some examples of positive self-talk for panic attacks:

    • "I am going to be OK."
    • "I am a strong person."
    • "I have been through this before and I can get through a panic attack again."

    Find your personal mantra, statement, positive self-talk and use it when you have a panic attack. It can be anything you want, but it must be positive.

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    Use Breathing Techniques

    Use breathing techniques to overcome panic attacks while driving on highways. When breathing becomes shallow less oxygen reaches the brain. You need to get more oxygen to your brain and muscles. It can help you get through the symptoms.

    Deep breathing exercises can be very effective. Breathe in through your nose slowly until you cannot possibly breathe in anymore. Stop for one second. Then, breathe out slowly and steadily until you cannot possibly breathe out anymore. Make sure you are using your belly to breathe. Your belly (not your chest) should expand when breathing in. Do this 10 times.

    Keep using the positive affirmations and breathing exercises. Do not stop driving on highways because of the panic attacks. This is how agoraphobia can creep into your life. Do not allow panic to control your life. Keep going out there and it will get easier.

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    Resources

    "Driving Anxiety and Panic Attacks While Driving" from Overcomefearofdriving.org

    "How to Overcome Panic Attacks While Driving" from PanicAttackPedia

    "Relief on the Road - Tips for Driving Phobias, Anxiety & Panic Attacks from The Health Center

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