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How do I stop panic attacks when driving?

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Whenever I am driving, I get very anxious, leading to panic attacks. I feel my heart racing, wanting to faint, and feeling dizzy, too. How do I control or stop these panic attacks? Thanks.

This question was submitted by 'Ify'

mark tyrrell

Mark says...

Hi and thank you for writing in. This must have been really awful for you. Anxiety when driving is a common situation within which people develop panic. I even helped a driving instructor once who had developed panic attacks while driving!

You don't say whether the panic attacks started after any incident whilst driving. If they did, it might be you have been suffering from a bit of posttraumatic stress disorder and could use the help of someone trained in the Rewind Technique, which is also used to treat phobias comfortably and quickly.

But if the panic attacks seemed to come from nowhere, then it might be due to the fact that panic attacks can also develop when stress levels become so high that they 'tip over' into panic. Imagine if you carried a bucket of water around all day. If the bucket was full to the brim, then any little trip could tip out all the water. But if you regularly empty the water (perhaps using it to water flowers), then you could still stumble a little here and there without it all spilling out or even dropping any.

People often assume they totally lose control during a panic attack and even say things like, "I'm terrified of totally losing it!" Yet the thinking brain is always still there during panic. And people can even have a terrible panic attack without anyone else noticing! Panic attacks are nowhere near as dangerous as they might seem to be. Although you may have already read it, check out '7 Steps to Stop a Panic Attack'.

People who develop panic attacks will often have stress levels that are too high generally, go into a situation (such as driving) in which stress levels are naturally higher than usual (everyone needs more stress hormone to stay alert when driving), and because they are so 'full up' with stress, it might flood over one day. Now, if that happens, the unconscious mind, trying to help, might conclude: "This must be a threatening situation, so in future I will make sure we panic to try and keep safe!" This isn't a thought so much as a feeling. So, whenever you panic in a situation (in which the fight or flight response really isn't needed), it's simply because your unconscious mind has wrongly tagged the situation as threatening.

But what the unconscious mind has mis-learned, it can also quickly unlearn again. How do you teach your unconscious mind to behave properly again? Fortunately, you can rehearse being in a car and feeling calm and focussed before you even get into your car. This can be done through the imagination and is one reason we have an imagination - and (although it often gets used to worry unnecessarily) what an amazing tool the imagination is! When therapists use it to help their clients, it's called 'hypnotherapy'.

You can overcome this. If you want, you can use the 'Overcome Fear of Driving' download and/or the 'Keep a Cool Head' download.

All best wishes,

Mark

watch icon Published by Mark Tyrrell - August 15th, 2014 in

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