I have suffered panic attacks for many years, and usually when someone has panic attacks, it is not a generalized anxiety, but a very specific trigger that sets it off. For me, the trigger is driving on the freeway. I don’t even have to be the one driving; I can also be a passenger in a car in which someone else is driving. Freeways terrify me.
I’ve been suffering these attacks for about 30 years now, and I take prescription medication to keep them in check. This isn’t something I want to recommend, but in my case it is very helpful, and it’s been so long now that I’ve been on it, that I can’t imagine living a normal life without it.
The real irony of this is that nowadays I make my living as a delivery driver, and without driving on freeways (and taking my meds) I would be unemployed.
In spite of taking medication, however, there are still times when I will be driving along and I will feel a panic attack coming on. If I can, I will try to control “it” before “it” controls me. A few coping techniques I’ve learned are:
Take long, steady breaths in and out, and concentrate on keeping them smooth. Or if you’ve ever been to childbirth classes, and you know the kind of rapid breathing technique they encourage women to use when she’s having labor pains, I might try that.
I keep my eyes fixed only on the lane ahead of me which I must keep my car in and try to block everything else out. As long as I stay between the white lines and don’t get too close to the vehicle in front of me, chances are good I will be safe.
I try to forget about all those other cars whizzing around me because they will just make me more frightened. There’s only me, those lines, and that one other car ahead of me.
It makes you concentrate on something else. Or count backwards by 3’s. As long as it is going to make you think about it, it’s going to take your mind off of whatever is scaring you.
For my particular fear, if I feel it may be acting up, I keep myself close to the side of the road, so that if I absolutely have to, I can exit sooner than I planned and take an alternate route, or pull over to give myself a minute to calm down.
One thing I know is that I can’t just let my fear take over and slam on the brakes in the middle of the freeway. So if I can put myself in a position for an easy out if necessary, I’ll do that. But I’ll try not to use that exit unless I really can’t stand it anymore. I try to talk myself into taking it “just one exit at a time” – trying to make it to the next one, and so on.
It can be very frustrating and debilitating to suffer from panic attacks. I don’t know what made them start way back when. But I know I can’t lock myself in my house and hide from them if I want to enjoy life at all, so using some of the above techniques have proved to be helpful. The main thing they have in common is to concentrate on something else to take your mind off your fear.