Anxiety While Driving

This morning I had my first panic attack in my car in almost six months. If you have been following the recent string of blog posts, you know that I am struggling with cycling mania and depression, and now social anxiety all at once. Today I got into my car today with the hope of getting some errands done. I knew getting into my car that my anxiety was high, and it didn’t help that I didn’t sleep last night because I have been really manic.

I thought it would be the perfect time to repost a blog I write a while back about driving anxiety. I will also post the poem I wrote later in the day. I will also write a post about what I did after my anxiety to include using my safety plan.

Here are some connected blog posts:

When Mania, Depression, & Creativity Collide

My Recent Mania – This Bipolar Life

Driving Anxiety: What It Is Like for The Bipolar Writer

Car anxiety or driving anxiety?

I know it sounds weird. Trust me it’s weird to say it let alone deal with it every time I get into my car. I am an excellent driver. No brag, and I love driving.

Well at least until about three years ago I loved driving. Now it’s a constant reminder that I am anxious behind the wheel. I live in fear of the worst case scenario, what could happen if I have a panic attack on the road. It’s one of the reasons I don’t leave my house much, and when I do I always take extra Ativan with me.

My anxiety & social anxiety is always an issue. When I leave my house I am 9/10 already dealing with anxiety. The worst is when the anxiety is intensified. I feel outside my body and very panicky.

I used to be able to drive anywhere and one of my places of solace was behind the wheel. I could be at total peace with the road in front of me driving for hours on end.ian-espinosa-233901-unsplash

But that changed, I am guessing about three years ago. I don’t know why I love driving. Traveling in my car was something I could do without question. Just being behind the wheel made me feel alive. I would drive for hours just because I could.

Give me some good music, the open road and I could drive for days.

Looking back I think it started after my last suicide attempt in 2010. I have chronicled the fact that after this suicide attempt I had really bad seizures and I was told I could no longer drive a car for at least a year.

It was close to three years before I even sat behind the wheel again. When I started driving again it was over time that I started leaving my house again. Then my social anxiety makes the decision to worsen after my psychiatrist decided to lower my Ativan dosage.

Then last year I signed up to drive for Uber. I got a car and everything, and then a few weeks in I had a panic attack with a customer in the car with me. It wasn’t a super bad one but it scared me. I never thought I could have a panic attack while driving.

Since then it has happened a few times to a point where I would have to pull my car over just to get back into control. Other times I would be down the road my house only to turn around again and have to go back.

I fear driving now because it is always possible that my anxiety could trigger a panic attack especially now when my anxiety being at high levels.

This time of the year is so tough to work through because I have so much going on. At the same time, my anxiety and depression are playing tug-of-war with my soul.

It’s just another thing I am noticing as I continue to write about my life. Driving used to be a place of solace in my life, but now it’s just another place I don’t feel safe with my anxiety.

What sucks about my driving anxiety is that I have so many plans for 2018. I am going to Vegas after I graduate, I am going to my brother’s wedding, and I might even decide to go and walk with my class for graduation. I have so much to do, and not being able to leave my house will be my biggest fear moving forward.

I am curious. Do any of my fellow bloggers deal with driving anxiety? What do you do to combat it?

Always Keep Fighting.

J.E. Skye

Photo Credit:

Patrick Tomasso

Ian Espinosa

91 Replies to “Anxiety While Driving”

  1. I get panic attacks all the time when I drive! At this point I can usually talk myself through them and get where I am going safely but I used to have to pull over and catch my breath or get out of the car for a minute or two. I even had to have someone come pick me up a few times when they were really bad. Thank you for writing about this! It is nice to know you are not alone….

    Liked by 3 people

  2. James, I read this and I FEEL you. I experienced my very first panic attack while driving back in March of 2017. I was coming back to College from visiting my mom in the hospital who just had a Heart Attack (2 hours away). I left I went shopping, I ate dinner, I started my journey back home and I just kept getting these little “buzzy jolts” it felt like running though me and I was like “i am okay, Ill keep driving. I did all I could, I ate, I have a water here next to me, I have the air on, I am fine” and kept going. I got about 30-45 minutes outside of my college town on I-75 highway 4 lanes wide at 10 pm dark as hell night time. My body just freaked out I thought I was dying right then an there with nobody knowing. I had NEVER felt this before in my life. I those jolts got worse and higher frequency, my body was numb, I couldn’t breathe, swallow or think. I was driving 80 MPH I had to hurry and pause everything and pull off. I have Bluetooth in my car I called my mom who couldn’t do anything and told her I was dying, that I had no control of my body and that I didn’t want to die where I was. She thought I was having a heart attack too and I told her I had nothing to do but sit there on the side of the road by myself at night. I was just outside of the second bigger city next to my college town (which is scary/sketchy) I didn’t want to go there. But these dark highways and me being alone at 22 years old on the side of the street in the middle of the country on a busy highway is freaky. Not only did I have this horrid situation, the atmosphere was scary too. She talked me down enough to where I could get it together and drive those 40 minutes to the nearest hospital to get checked out. I was scared of everything – Hated that moment, the time and place, I have horrible hospital anxiety, I have fears of everything! But this was the worst I ever been. I have always been wound tight and this finally hit me. I was on my last semester of college before graduating in a few months, my moms health went to shit – I could’ve lost her, my Fiance (BF at the time was States away from me), I didn’t have many friends, I had to work the next day, I had class, I had a dog waiting for me at home, I had no one there to help me through, I was moving to Texas to be with my BF after I graduated. I had no time with family, and was completely changing my life at the time – all this stuff just added up and took my body over. After that everything worried me, that even breathing I had to think about doing. The 6 months after that I took doctors visits to figure out what dose of medicine that can work for me, but once I started clearing things from my plate it got better SLOWLY. It took me about 9 months to get it down mostly, Once I knew the drive to Texas was over i could relax a little. But I had panic attacks in my sleep, My mom drove me 24 hours to Texas to move because I couldn’t bare to get behind the wheel again. I would get anxious in the car with someone else to a point I would have a panic attack and throw up. I didn’t ride or drive well in the car for MONTHS on end, no matter how long the ride was. I don’t know what happened but finally getting into a groove helped me realized what I needed to do to stay calm. I would ans still get panic attacks if I am driving somewhere more than 30 – 45 minutes or out of my comfort zone since I don’t know much about my where bouts here in TX since I have only been here 1 year and haven’t traveled around that much – I still wont drive anywhere that will take an hour or more, I make someone else do it. I think the best way I started to cope was clearing things off my plate and getting into routine because now my life is the same everyday, I have branched out more, Seen a lot more, gotten more comfortable with putting my anxiety in the hands of my fiance, DRAMAMINE helps me on every long car ride, Sleeping, Keeping occupied – phone, movie, reading, Keep your brain on the look out- senses. Thinking positively of the outcome. Don’t pay attention to time – it always freaks me out on how long it takes to get somewhere. Always have water!! and something in your mouth (gum or mints). Also give your self time to work with this! But I still get it so I understand. Try different medications as well – there are no problems with trying out what fits for you. Driving shouldn’t have to scare you like it does – it is kinda essential

    I believe I wrote my first blog about this experience which lead me to wanting to write (even though I am horrible at it) I like to give insight.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I feel was alone in this world. It’s crazy what you have been thought and I am glad you have focus enough to have a good plan. I always have water!!! Thank you again.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. No problem, I would say it never fully goes away but you can train it. And I hate being that typical spokes person that everyone tries to be. How others always think they know whats best for a situation for people with anxiety – well it never worked for me (senses, meditation, working out, yoga, etc etc). But I can say give it time and focus on clearing things off your plate – and keep in mind that you control the outcomes!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah. I do meditation and I work out. It helps, but my mania is making it different to sleep and it increases my anxiety.

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      3. I am working on that this week with my doctors. It’s been years since I have had a manic episode that lasted for a week, and I have cycled one to depression and back to mania.

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      4. Well I am sorry to hear that, but you are the pilot of your own life (I think I heard that on a cartoon – but its totally true). Good thing you are working to help yourself. Its not easy!

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I’ve been listening to this podcast recently which has had some good information, thoughts and ideas. Not all of it is for me (never is) but one that stood out to me might also be beneficial to you guys. They suggested putting together a “panic kit”. A small bag or container with rescue meds (like the trusty xanax for me), calming aromatherapy oil (like lavender or a panic blend), rescue remedy (homeopathic drops you put under your tongue) and anything else that helps you ground yourself. For me, one of the things that has helped me the most in a panic attack is filling out my panic worksheet. It’s a simple worksheet that has you write out answers to questions about your panic attack as it’s happening. It helps to pull my brain away from the cyclone of escalating chaos. So putting a few copies of that with a pen too.

        I get travel anxiety. Interestingly, I’ve never had a panic attack while driving – but I have had them a handful of times as a passenger. My coping mechanism is if it’s a trip, I have to drive. If I’m the passenger and feel like I don’t have the control to pull over if I have to at any given moment, I feel trapped.

        I haven’t made up my panic kit yet – but it is in my to-do list. I have 2 short trips coming up this fall (which is already causing me a low level hum of anxiety) that I want to prepare for in advance, and that will be one of the ways I do that.

        If anyone is curious, the podcast is https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/anxiety-slayer
        Both of the hosts have experience personally with anxiety and one of the two was actually housebound for a time with severe anxiety and panic attacks. So it’s not professionals talking about stuff they’ve studied (a major pet peeve of mine).

        And if anyone wants the panic worksheet, here is the “how to” https://www.anxietycoach.com/support-files/panicdiaryinstructions.pdf and here is the actual worksheet: https://www.anxietycoach.com/support-files/diary.pdf

        I highly recommend that website as well – reading through his stuff has helped me through some serious panic as well.

        AKF

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      6. That sounds like an amazing idea. I already have this in a way. I always My my Ativan, water, and my inhaler. It’s something I can’t leave my house without. Thank you for sharing the post cast I will check it out in the morning.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah. I know the American test can be difficult but I did so well. Driving is something I love. I hope I never get to a point where I can’t drive.

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  3. I feel so much better having an extra pair of eyes with me in the passenger seat. He helps direct me through situations I’m not sure of, comfort me when someone is being a jerk of a driver, and we have a good time joking and talking about our day.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Question (because I suffer from PTSD, insomnia, panic attacks, social anxiety, and major depressive disorder…Whew, that’s overwhelming to say sometimes.): Did someone sitting behind you make your anxiety worse? I was an Uber driver for a brief moment, until I had two men speaking a different language in my car with me. I totally freaked out. And this was before I was attacked from behind and sexually assaulted. I have recently tried to pinpoint if there was a trigger to the anxiety to see if I can help “self soothe” myself or find ways to avoid this happening again. I know its very difficult. I appreciate you sharing your journey. You are going to help change lives. Your life matters!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Also, I totally connect with you in that I could drive for hours and hours and listen to music. Its like my happy place. But here lately, I have scared the absolute $#!+ out of myself driving because my day dreams get me lost somewhere along the way.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It is crazy. I just try to think that God, has a reason for this. I think I found it. I had to hit rock bottom to figure out my calling in life. Its funny how it was always there too, I just never realized it until now.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I though after my suicide attempt in 2010 that God out me on this path so I can share my experiences and wisdom. I still do, and even though I suffer at times I learn to better myself.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Keep it up! We never know who is reading our stories. Also I always think no one is going to understand this. But I am surprised every single time! I just wrote a blog in 5 minutes that I’m going to publish tonight, since I’m “at work” lol! It just came to me . Thanks for sharing your journey!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I do find my anxiety is higher when I am driving some else. I did uber for a while and felt the same (thought having someone different and unknown.) your fears makes sense and I am sorry to hear you deal with this as well. But yes having unknown people in my car raises my anxiety. My last uber drive I drove a nice man 2 hours to the airport. It was an anxiety filled ride and I felt so out of it. I stopped driving after that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s hard not to focus on it when it happens, it usually catched me by surprise. Maybe I was still busy with it unconsciously, probably. Nowadays whenever I feel abit short of breath. I use a technique, breath in through your nose to a count of 4, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and try to breath out through your mouth to a count of 4, sometimes I do 4-7-8, depends on the situation.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I swear it is uncanny that when I turned on my computer and saw your post I had just got home from a trip with my mom; she had her first ever panic attack while driving. It was horrible for her. She is still rattled. I am doing everything I can to provide a calm environment, but I think the wind in the trees is doing a better job than I can do for her right now. She is still so upset and jumpy that I wonder if EFT sessions might help. I will show her some this evening after a little Reiki if she is up for it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. ps…i wish you the best, btw. I bet you will find a way to meet the anxiety…have you ever tried Tonglen? Check out Lion’s Roar meditation and let me know what you think. You can do it for others, but also for your own pain and anxiety. It seems counterintuitve to lean into the pain, but it worked for me.

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  7. I still have so much anxiety about driving. I always thought it was more due to my Aspergers, but since it seems to affect others with bipolar, maybe it is actually partly that. I’m not sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I, too, have experienced anxiety while driving. It is definitely far from a pleasant experience. I love the way you finish this blog, because of the important reminder: Always Keep Fighting!

    Remember that you are not alone in your struggles, my friend.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. YES!!! Oh my goodness so nice to know I’m not the only one. I discussed this on my blog and just felt silly as I was trying to explain. Like you I signed up for Uber not giving my anxiety a second thought. One night it was so bad that I couldn’t “pass” for being a “normal” Driver and I could sense the passengers becoming uneasy. It was so bad I started to ask one of the passengers to drive. Hell, I’m finding it hard to explain it now. But sometimes the anxiety will come out of nowhere while I’m driving and my mind is blank and scattered at the same time. There have been times it’s so bad I have to pull over and have my GPS system give me directions to my own house.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I dont know how to drive but once I had a panic attack in the middle of a presentation in my class. Thank God it never happened again. It Washington really bad. Usually , I panic before giving a presentation but after like 20 seconds into it I am fine as long as I don’t make long eye contact with people. I usually tend to just look at the teacher or some other point while thing presentations(I know , not the best thing to do but it works for me)

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  11. Not much too say, nor do I know how much of a difference it’ll make. You probably already know this, but ur way stronger than you think! Waaaaayyyyy and it’s shows thru ur writing! Keep going strong!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I have panic attacks and anxiety over driving myself. Probably made worse because I lost a friend in a car accident in high school (I wasn’t even there.) My family and friends have always been very understanding and will mostly do the driving which is a good and bad thing you know? I get myself to work and home with little things that make me feel better. Taylor Swift is always playing when I’m driving because she calms me down and I have some lucky charms and dolls I’ve collected over the years but in the end I just have to do it. Try to keep calm and throw myself a little mini-celebration every time I get where I’m going! Which at least makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something. Good luck to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I never thought that anyone else suffered with anxiety attacks while driving. I’m 18 and still have my learners due to the fact that I am so scared to drive. It’s not just driving, it’s getting in the car and leaving my comfort zone because all I can think about is everything bad that can happen, to me and those around me. I’m not even a very good driver, so having my parents constantly critique my driving gives me even more anxiety, but if they didn’t say something I probably would have crashed their cars by now to be honest. It’s crazy because I can’t get better at driving until I practice more but I’m way too scared to even just drive around the neighborhood anymore. The fact that you are speaking up, is very encouraging to me and makes me feel like I’m not alone, thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am glad you found some encouragement within the words of this blog post. I wish you luck and to find some peace so you can get your license. It really is a great thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I get the same thing. So I try a few different things. First I try to roll down the window or pump up the AC and have it blow in my face. If that doesn’t work then I do the 5-4-3-2-1 rule that my therapist taught me. I say out loud 5 things I see with an adjective: blue car, red traffic light, green grass, gray pole, white license plate. Then it’s 4 things you can touch with an adjective: cold steering wheel, soft blanket, metal can, rough plastic. then 3 things you can hear: honking horn, soft music, loud wind. 2 things you can smell: sweet roses, harsh air freshener. then 1 thing you can taste: minty mouth wash. It can really ground you and focus your mind so you’re not thinking about the panic attack, rather you focus on your surroundings.

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      1. Yeah I have written about it in one of my anxiety posts but I should do a stand alone post on this topic. Great idea!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s a good idea! I just posted something on the topic. I think it could really help many suffering individuals.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. I have anxiety disorder and I have horrible panic attacks when I drive. My anxiety prevents me from driving. I don’t even have a driver licence and never have had one. I’ve driven before but only a few times. I’m in my 30’s its very embarrassing at times to not have a car and even worst not really even know how to drive. Anxiety is no joke. I really want a car I want to be an excellent driver but its hard to deal with the fear, anxiety and panic attacks.
    I have a regular job I’m a college graduate, but I have really bad anxiety disorder that strongly effects every aspect of my life.Anxiety disorder does not discriminate at all. Driving is only one thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Oh my goodness. I didn’t even realise this was a thing. I struggle sometimes. I hate going fast. Which I find easy do avoid. I don’t drive faster than I feel comfortable. Going fast down hill though starts the panic breathing off that. I assume (self diagnosis) it triggers my PTSD after rough labour and triggers memories of being wheeled super fast through the hospital. Completely out of control. Although I don’t think about it, I guess the same feelings arise.

    I focus on the car in front. I slow down as much as I can then try maintain the same distance.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thanks for posting this and for checking out my blog. I hope you found something helpful there. It’s kind of strange, but every day when I’m driving, I envision having accidents. I choose not to entertain the thoughts and quickly dismiss them now, so it doesn’t lead to panic, but it is a daily occurrence. For a long time, they would frighten me, but I had to capture those thoughts and throw them away. The Bible talks about us taking thoughts captive and making them obey Jesus. I don’t claim to know about the physical causes of bi-polar challenges, but I do believe there are spiritual dimensions to it. I believe we live in a spiritual realm – simply put, God created us and loves us and his enemy, Satan, hates him so he does whatever he can to destroy us. Thus, my car accident issue…my grandparents were killed in a car crash when my father was a child. It was a horrifying story to me as a kid – my dad was little and has scars from the accident. He was separated from his sister and his whole life changed. Over my lifetime, my parents were in a bad crash, two of my kids were in a car hit by a drunk driver and I’ve been in at least a dozen accidents. It feels like a family curse. Maybe it is. After my most recent accident (lest you think me a bad driver, not one single accident was my fault), three years ago, I couldn’t get in the car without crying and it took a month before I could drive without panic. It was another couple of years before I felt confident driving again, but I still can get afraid and upset when someone else drives if I feel out of control. The more I trust God with that control, the less I fear. My point is this: the enemy robs us with repeated incidents and lies and fear so that we are kept small and ineffective in our lives. He hurts us because that hurts God, and while God is bigger and in control, he won’t take away people’s free choice or keep every bad thing from happening to us. He will, however, cause something good to come from every situation You used to like to drive – it was freedom to you – I totally get it! So it stands to reason that the enemy would try to steal that from you. Again, my understanding of the spiritual doesn’t mean I understand your physical challenges that cause bi-polar episodes. But there’s a guy in the Bible named Saul (I Samuel 9) who was a king in Israel. Reading about him and how he acted with David reminds me of the people I know who are bi-polar. Maybe they didn’t recognize it and label it then, but perhaps he was. I know you’re not alone! I’ll be praying for you as you deal with this and how it’s affecting your life! I do know that God loves you and has a plan for you!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I dont deal with this, but can imagine it is really tough to deal with. I wish you the best for all you have to do in the next couple of months, you can do this! I know you can! xoxo

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  19. I don’t necessarily have driving anxiety, but I do have anxiety and hate driving because of it. Anxiety can be a very difficult and overwhelming thing to deal with, and it seems to take over your life.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It sucks that you’ve had to deal with it for so long, and hopefully by now you know some healthy coping mechanisms that makes it easier to deal with.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I am working on those goals. It’s always a mixture of being Bipolar then having issues with anxiety and insomnia. I can hardly catch a break.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Well I know for a fact that it’s not going to be ways as I’ve been suffering through anxiety and depression for four years and still haven’t found ways to cope, but it definitely does start getting a lot easier to deal with. Here’s to hoping you achieve those goals soon though and you finally catch a break.

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      4. It’s a place where anxiety can grow suddenly. I don’t cope well with being exposed while feeling anxious. Even though you may be alone in a car, your still exposed to whats out there I guess. I don’t know. I can’t believe you started an Uber business feeling like that. That must have taken a lot of strength.

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  20. This is so relatable. Honestly, the best advice I can give you is what I done when it all got too bad.. I like, over planned the journey in case there was any obstacles that could appear (e.g.. made a list of different routes, shops etc.) I also made a playlist of songs that kept me calm and relaxed and I found that helped a great deal. I still took a passenger with me that could drive, actually for quite a while and still do sometimes.. just incase, as I was always panicking it would happen again. Stay strong👌💜

    Liked by 2 people

  21. I feel this so hard, man 😦 im 24 and have never learned to drive because i panic every time i think about it. But, with the help of my boyfriend, i am slowly learning how to drive. Driving only early mornings and sticking to side streets until i feel comfortable to go out onto main roads. It’s tough.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s tough. I have always been so comfortable behind the wheel. Driving anxiety is a newer phenomenon in my life. Keep at it. Driving really is the best.

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  22. I am terrified of driving. You know i just keep watching youtube videos and talking myself into it. I also have been taking small trips minutes away just to get comfortable again. It is very very hard..

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It can be. I have a very limited area where I go and max it out to 20 miles. I would like to be able to travel again by myself. That is my goal for the rest of 2018.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I cannot even go very far. I am lucky if I can drive 15 minutes at this point

        Liked by 1 person

  23. Ugh. It is so frustrating to have your first panic attack in a while. I had a similar situation recently when I had an attack after not remembering the last one I had. Stay strong.

    Liked by 1 person

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