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5 Ways to Overcome a Panic Attack While Driving

Dr. Junaid Rasool

1 min read

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Anxiety can strike in the most unusual places at the most inopportune times. What was previously a normal task or just another frequented location suddenly becomes a source of gripping panic and unease. Driving can be one such activity. The confusion and loss of rationale and self-control make a panic attack while driving highly dangerous.

So whether you suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or the driving variant of Agoraphobia, here are 5 psychiatrist-approved ways you can overcome a panic attack while driving:

1- Don’t Fight It:

Panic attacks usually peak at a few minutes after starting, then gradually taper off to return the body to normal rhythm. Closing your eyes and taking deep breaths only prolongs the attack by fueling the body’s fight-or-flight response.

Awareness and acceptance are the first step to overcoming anxiety. So, the next time you feel an oncoming panic attack while driving, pull over, let the attack run its course, and resume driving when you feel that you have regained your sense of control.

2- Breathe:

If the mere sight of a car or thoughts of driving induce a state of anxiety and panic, practice shallow breathing (inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth) before and while walking up to a car.

Another way to distract yourself is by focusing on your breathing to calm yourself and relax your body to help the hyperventilation subside.

3- Stretching and Bodily Ease:

Try small stretches to relieve body-wide muscular tension, relax your facial muscles, and slightly roll your head from side-to-side. You can also try squeezing the wheel tightly and relaxing your hands in multiple repetitions until the panic subsides.

4- Distract Yourself:

Instead of focusing on your symptoms and what’s going on inside your body, redirect your attention elsewhere. Visualize yourself in a serene scene, make a mental to-do list of the remaining tasks for the day, or even look ahead to the scenery or observe other cars as they pass by.

If you’re travelling with someone else, ask them to talk to you and engage you in positive conversation. However, if you’re driving alone, try repeating positive affirmations like ‘I am safe’, ‘this will pass’, and ‘nothing bad will happen’. You can also try singing along to your favorite songs to help distract yourself.

5- ACT:

In case of severe anxiety and panic attacks related to, or when driving, try practicing Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). This is a continuation of learning to accept your anxiety by combining mindfulness and exposure therapy.

So, instead of trying to control every single anxious thought, usually by countering them with positive ones, accept them, ground yourself in the moment, and let these thoughts float by.

The loss of control that usually accompanies a panic attack while driving can be dangerous to both you and those around you. So instead of repressing your anxiety, learn to accept it and practice steps for self-management during a panic episode.

Don’t hesitate to consult with a specialist if self-management is difficult, or if your anxiety prevents you from driving entirely. You can also book an appointment with a top Psychiatrist in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi through oladoc.com, or call our helpline at 042-3890-0939 for assistance to find the RIGHT Doctor for your anxiety management.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are intended to raise awareness about common health issues and should not be viewed as sound medical advice for your specific condition. You should always consult with a licensed medical practitioner prior to following any suggestions outlined in this article or adopting any treatment protocol based on the contents of this article.

Dr. Junaid Rasool - Author Dr. Junaid Rasool is an established Psychiatrist in Lahore with over 8 years of experience. In a country where mental health is a taboo and barely talked about, he has become a well-qualified psychiatrist and is currently a Consultant Psychiatrist at two hospitals in Pakistan, Al-Aleem Medical College and at Gulab Devi Teaching Hospital Lahore. He specialized in adolescent and adult psychiatry and also offers services for addiction.
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