Panic Attacks While Operating a Vehicle

What to do when you get a panic attack while driving.

One of the most disabling fears caused from panic attacks is the sheer horror of operating a vehicle. In many areas, driving is a daily necessity, and your life can be severely restricted by limitations such as where, when, or how you can drive.

The fact that you panic while driving a powerful vehicle that weighs a ton or more may seem like a particularly difficult problem to solve. In other panic situations, the panic sufferer plays a relatively passive role–a passenger on a develop, a shopper in a store, a worshipper at church, person or persons getting a haircut–when they experience a panic attack. Their main task is to ride it out until it passes, or until they have left the scene. But motorists cannot remain altogether passive. They have to continue to operate the vehicle, at least for a while. People who experience panic attacks while driving, particularly on high-speed streets, fear is not merely losing control of themselves but also losing control of the vehicle.


People typically assume that they are “out of control” during panic attacks and therefore that they will be unable to drive safely during one. If you actually drive in a hazardous and erratic behaviour during a panic attack, this difficulty needs to be taken seriously and resolved. But keep in intellect that panic often fools you into believing things that simply aren’t true. Don’t take your fearful presumptions as the truth. Instead, use the materials in this chapter to examine your actual driving behavior and determine whether you can drive safely during a panic attack.

Let’s start by considering the nature of the fear you suffer. Simply calling it a driving phobia stimulates it sound like your dread avoids you from driving, even though you know how to drive and are licensed to do so. That happens to some people, but for the great majority, it’s more complicated than that. It’s much more common for people to impose limits on their driving in response to their anxieties. For instance, a lot of people who come to me for help with a driving phobia do drive but avoid freeways or other specific circumstances such as overpasses and bridges.

Part of avoiding expressway driving may involve the higher speeds on those roads. But what can be more upsetting is the fact there are only certain points at which one can exit the expressway. A road sign that says “Next Exit—12 Miles” might as well say “Next Panic Attack—1 Mile!” As soon as someone starts worrying “What if I have a panic attack when the exit is still 11 miles away?” the next thing they know, they’re having a full-blown attack.

The person or persons might be able to take an alternate route, a neighbourhood road with lots of intersections, and drive 30 miles without separating a sweat. What attains the difference? It’s not necessarily how far they drive, or how quickly. It’s the thought of being “trapped” along the road without an departure nearby. It’s the “ve thought about” having a panic attack with no way to get off the highway. The “ve thought about” being captured can also lead beings to avoid bridges, passageways, overpasses, left turn paths, red lights, shuttle ships, the centre for human rights or left lanes of multilane streets, roads under creation, or roads without a shoulder.

Panic Attacks Driving…

Panic and anxiety attacks while driving

One of the more common questions I am asked is how to cope with anxiety while driving. Ranging from fear of being caught in traffic to crossing waterway bridges, people have many different fears in this area. Often the anxiety stems from a fear of being trapped in the vehicle in gridlock traffic or losing control of the vehicle and causing a collision.

Needless to say, even though they may have been battling with a driving phobia for many years, almost all of the people I have consulted with have not had their fears of a mishap occur. Let’s look at the primary fear, that of having an accident due to the distractions of possible panic attacks while driving.

Being on the road alone sucks when you’re in a panic

Most people will work themselves into a state of high anxiety even before they have pulled out of their driveway with imagined scenes of causing ten car collisions on the highway because they “freaked out” and collided with another vehicle. If you have such concerns, the first important thing, to begin with, is a review of your driving history. Have you been a reckless driver in the past? Have you a history of bad driving? Most phobic drivers, in fact, have clean driving records and have never even been in a minor road incident. Anxious drivers are not a deadly hazard on the road; in fact, they can be a lot more vigilant than many ordinary drivers who after a long day in the office are virtually asleep at the wheel.

Stay Alert

As we discussed previously when looking at the biology of anxiety, by virtue of his or her condition, an anxious driver has a high level of sensory alertness. This level of alertness keeps the driver aware of any potential hazards and focused on the task of driving, not daydreaming, chatting, or rooting around in the glove compartment. This, of course, is not to suggest that anxious driving is the ideal way to commute (or being excessively worried about panic attacks driving), but I believe it is important to make this point because so many chastise themselves for being anxious in their cars.

If you are generally a good driver, then before you set out in your car take confidence in that and reaffirm that fact to yourself. Acknowledging and reaffirming that you are a capable driver will go some way toward alleviating this concern.

You Won’t Become Trapped

The second major concern of most phobic drivers is the fear of being trapped in the car in some manner. By this I mean, being caught in traffic, on busy three-laned motorways, on long bridges, or even stopping at red lights. When allowed to, the mind will run away with this fear and will imagine all kinds of deadly scenarios where you might feel cornered or trapped in your vehicle with no assistance available should you experience a major panic attack driving.

The important thing here is to curb these fears before they take root by offering yourself viable solutions to any of these scenarios and not letting your mind trick you into believing there is a trap ahead. Give it some thought. Is there really any situation, such as the ones described above, where you truly are trapped with no means of escape?

No, of course, there isn’t.

Eventually, traffic always moves; it does not remain gridlocked forever. There is a flow, and there is always an exit. This may mean having to figure the exit out for yourself, but never let these thoughts corner you into thinking that there is no escape. When you counteract these fears with logical solutions, you undermine the control that fear holds over you. You begin to see the bluff it is playing to keep you petrified of what could potentially happen out there in the traffic.

Your mind may rebel and come up with the worst possible scenario you may get “stuck in,” but again, is this really the terrifying trap you imagine it to be? Be careful not to let these thoughts trap your thinking. Every minute of the day, people’s cars break down in traffic. These drivers have no option but to put on the hazard lights and leave the vehicle. It’s not going anywhere. There you are, that is an exit, albeit an extreme one; however, by using my technique, it never needs to come to that. In fact, you are going to learn how driving can actually be an enjoyable experience once again.

Calm Panic Attacks While Out on The Road

To finish, I want to give you some affirmations you can use while out driving. These can be repeated silently or out loud and will help relax and center your mind, keeping you focused on driving well.

“I am a competent driver and always arrive at my destination safely.”

“I am calm, alert, and in full control while driving.”

I hope you have found something useful in this panic attacks driving page

Anxiety is a normal part of living. It’s the body’s way of telling us something isn’t right. It keeps us from harm’s way and prepares us to act quickly in the face of danger. However, for some people, anxiety is persistent, irrational and overwhelming. It may get in the way of day-to-day activities and even make them impossible. This may be a sign of an anxiety disorder. The term “anxiety disorders” describes a group of conditions including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder (SAD) and specific phobias.



About Michelle

Chef and helper of those in need. I was a panic attack sufferer for years. I love to cook and I love to help.

View all posts by Michelle →