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Strategies for dealing with driving anxiety?

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So a friend invited my kids and I to join her family on a trip to her parents beach house. I've been there before, and it's a beautiful house in a beautiful coastal area that I've always enjoyed. It would be all good, but the down side is I'll have to drive the 6.5 hour trip myself this time, which I've never done before, and driving long distance gives me huge amounts of anxiety (and I've never done a trip that long). I get particularly freaked out about some major highways, including one i will have to take for part of the journey. We leave on Saturday and I am starting to dread the trip, to the point where I've got a constant loop in my head that something terrible is going to happen on the trip. I need to find some way (in addition to Klonopin) to short circuit the anxiety so that I can get through the whole thing. My friend's SIL will also be with us and has offered to do some of the driving if I need her to, but I barely know her, and will feel embarrassed if I have to rely on her more than a little. I'm wondering if anyone who's stressed out by driving (or anyone else) has any strategies for dealing with long trips? Or for turning off the loop in my head that says something bad is going to happen? I'd settle for an encouraging pat on the head. TIA.

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Yes, I would prefer not to drive.


My family lives about 4 hours from me. I hate the drive. So I always have 1 planned stop usually get something to drink or an ice cream (totally reward* yourself for driving). And then its 1/2 over. Only other stops are if a pee break is needed. 


Reward can be something non-food too if you prefer.


I always have to listen to happy cheerful 1980's pop when Im driving. What comes out of the stereo can affect one when driving. This drive is not the time to start Rob Zombie (unless he calms you down).


Good Luck,


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I had to give up driving a few years ago. I had panic attacks and hallucinations and was not able to pay attention to the road well at all. The streets are safer without me! So I definitely understand what you are going through.


I think the klonopin will be a big help first of all. And secondly, can you try some deep breathing? It can be discreet if you try to hide it a bit, and it may calm you to do some deep "belly breaths."


And also, can you practice driving on the highway some before the actual trip? That may help. Put on your favorite tunes and get your mind off of it?


Finally, I would rely on that SIL to do any and all of the driving if you have to. She would not have offered if she did not want to help you out. Drive during the parts you are most comfortable and then have her take over when you or if you start to get anxious. I would not feel bad about this. Like I said she would not have offered if she didn't mean it. And you can just use some excuse like, "Oh I'm getting a headache." Or "I'm getting pretty tired. I did not sleep well last night." Something like that you know?


I wish you lots of luck and I hope this helps some!

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I normally love to drive, especially distances...it has always felt like good time to clear my head and think and I've always loved to crank up my music and just be in my zone. However, since my panic attacks started a few weeks ago while I was driving, it's changed for me completely. The farthest I've driven since then is maybe 30 minutes or so, and it generally feels like about all I can handle. Any farther than that and I start to feel very uncomfortable and my music has started to feel more like a distraction than anything else. I did try the audio book thing, and I'm not sure if it's better or worse. The radio, which I typically don't care for, has been my best bet lately because it alternates between music and random talking. I prefer to just have someone else in the car I can talk to.

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Could you split it into two days? I really can't drive more than 4 or 5 hours straight; *sometimes* having a meal will allow me to drive another couple of hours, but we always operate on the assumption I will drive 4 hours. It took us 3 days to get to Salt Lake from San Jose, but it is a looong drive, and we had the dog, so our hotel choices were limited.


The good thing about a dog is that you have to stop every couple of hours to give her a chance to go to the bathroom, and have some water. That break can be really helpful.


Also, there were a couple of people in my CBT class that had driving phobias, and the CBT really helped them. I don't know if you have already done CBT, though.

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Try not to be embarrassed about something you have no control over.  Just tell your friend's SIL that you really aren't up to driving that day and ask if she can do the bulk of the driving.  You don't have to go into detail about it, just mention that you don't think you can do it on that day.  The interstate is a shitty place to have a panic attack.  I'd rather be slightly embarrassed than be in an auto accident.

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I'm presuming you can't get Totoro to give you a lift?




Can you pin down exactly where the alarms in your mind are going off?


The main problem with major highways tends to be that they are BORING.  

Generally they are the safest roads in the country, with the junctions tidied up and not to be bothered with until your well-signposted one comes due.

(You can use Google Streetview or Earth to see what any junctions look like in advance, and pick a reminder landmark or two.)


Me, I'd start really early, on just a coffee and a piece of toast, and treat myself to a proper cooked breakfast an hour or maybe two into the journey.  Makes me feel good and settled, anyway.


Music in car: driver's choice.

Any chance of a little distracton/attraction break on the way, if there's something that doesn't mean significant added mileage?

Something off-beat from Roadside America, perhaps.  http://www.roadsideamerica.com/

That would give you a "destination" around half way.


Just thoughts, Chris. 

Edited by Emettman
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These are good suggestions. Thank you all. We will be leaving at 5:00 am, and I'm hoping that fatigue will short circuit the anxiety. At least it should make the traffic on the first stressful stretch more tolerable. I'm working on getting some music together and will seriously consider passing off some of the driving if it gets to be too much. Keep your fingers crossed please that I don't flame out on I95 or the Bay Bridge Tunnel. If I manage those the rest of the trip should be easier.

Edited by Unstrung Harp
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