Panic attacks are scary events even while you’re sitting at home with people to help you and nothing to hurt you. But imagine an attack taking place in a public place where you can be taken advantage of and where no one knows how to help you. Or worse yet, imagine having one while driving a car, when the slightest mistake could lead to an accident where injuries could happen… or worse, someone could die. Panic attacks while driving are quite common and it’s important to know the warning signs, as well as what to do in the event of one, so that you can get to safety, for your sake as well as that of the others on the road.
Panic Attacks While Driving: Why do they occur?
If you’re not a very experienced driver, the road can be a very scary place and it’s no wonder why you’d be anxious. However, even the most experienced people can have a panic attack while driving even if they’ve never had one before. There are many things, so let’s look at some of the most common ones. Driving on a high bridge or cliff can be a trigger for those people who are especially afraid of heights, and traveling at high speeds, especially in an unfamiliar area, can make some people nervous. Because driving up a hill, or going over hilly terrain can be tough on a vehicle and has left people stranded, many people have a panic attack in this situation fearing that their car will break down. Being stuck in rush hour traffic, or behind an accident, and not able to move can make people feel trapped. You don’t have to have had a panic attack at another point in time. You may have or have had your first one while driving. You may only experience them while driving and not at any other point in time!
Panic Attacks While Driving: How Common Are They?
Worldwide, 6 million adults are diagnosed per year with a panic disorder, and many have panic attacks while driving because of how nerve wracking an activity it can be. It is twice as common in women as in men and the peak age of onset for a panic disorder is between 15 and 19 years old. This is right about the time that most people are learning to drive a vehicle, so you can imagine that many of these young people may be experiencing the joys and freedoms, as well as the fear of their first panic attack.
Symptoms of Panic Attacks While Driving
The symptoms of panic or anxiety attacks while driving are very similar if not the same as the symptoms you would experience if you were to have a panic or anxiety attack outside the vehicle, let’s say at your home or while shopping. Any of these symptoms can be the first to show up so be on the lookout for the beginning signs of each of these if you are feeling anxious or nervous and feel like you might have a panic attack. You may get numbness or tingling in the fingers or hands, and you may feel sweaty or have chills. Having a sense of impending doom or death is common as is feeling a loss of control over the situation or over life in general. You may have breathing difficulties or chest pains which may mimic a heart attack. In fact, 17 to 32 percent of all cases of chest pain reported in the emergency room are actually cases of a panic attack. You may also feel faint, weak, or dizzy.
What to Do if you have a Panic Attack While Driving?
If you feel any of the above symptoms coming on, try to slow your breathing and relax your body, but keep a firm grip on the steering wheel so you can feel that you are in control of the vehicle at all times. If you feel it start to subside when you relax yourself, then continue driving while you relax. If not, put on some relaxing music and focus on it. This should be something classical or something that you already know the words to so you can sing or hum along. Try relaxing to the music while you continue driving. If this still doesn’t work to stem the panic attack, then when it’s safe to do so, get to the side of the road or freeway. Once there, continue listening to the music and put your head back. Control your breathing and relax your arms. Let the panic subside slowly. If this still isn’t working, you’ll need to slowly get your car off the road. Put your four-ways on and get off the freeway or road and into a parking lot where you can shut off the car. Get out of the car and walk around. If there’s a store around, try walking around the store so that you are completely not focused on driving. Once the panic attack has passed, safely get your car home or call someone else who can help return the car.
It’s possible to safely relax yourself once you realize the symptoms, this will give you enough time to get to the side of the road or to your home without incident. Panic attacks while driving can be very scary, but don’t let them stop you from driving altogether.
Another article you may be interested in is: My Top 6 Strategies to Naturally Prevent Panic Attacks.