Panic on the highway


Almost a year ago, I started to get panic attacks when I drove on highways.  I would get sweaty palms, my heart raced, my vision would start to blur and blackness would close in around me.  The first couple of times I pulled over and it would go away, so I would pull back onto the highway and experience the whole thing again.  I knew it was a panic attack.  I went to the doctor, who asked me “What are you afraid of?”  I couldn’t think of a thing.  I love to drive.  Don’t tell the green police, but I love just driving around town checking out neighborhoods.  I love road trips.  I do have some apprehension in snow and ice when other people are driving fast, but I can usually muddle my way through.  The only time I don’t love to drive is in my fiance’s car on long trips because he doesn’t allow eating or drinking coffee in his car.  Spoilsport.

My sister came up with a plausible explanation for these attacks.  She has been a physical therapist for over 30 years, but knows a lot about holistic medicine and I trust her judgment.  She said there have been many studies about people who sit in front of a computer all day.  Something happens physiologically so that when they are faced with some sort of different stimuli, the “fight or flight” response kicks in.  She thought this might be happening to me when I drive, and after a year of “treatment”, I believe her.  I have had only one attack in the last 6 months.  Here is what has helped me:

1.  I started working out regularly.  I joined a gym and hired a trainer.  My little adventure at the gym over the last year deserves its own separate post.

2.  For every 30 minutes that I sit at my computer, I try to take a break for 10.  I have downloaded an alarm app to my phone that helps me.  It’s not always possible, since I frequently have meetings that last more than an hour, but I do try.  During those 10 minutes I will do laundry, wash dishes, take a shower, or even a short walk.

3.  I get outside.  Something about being in nature wipes out the fuzziness in my head.

4.  I breathe deep.  Working out helps with that because it forces one to take deep cleansing breaths.  But beyond that, I consciously try deep breathing exercises when I remember to.  There’s an app for that, too, but I can manage this on my own.

5.  My doctor gave me a beta blocker, and whether it’s the placebo effect or if it really works, I take it an hour before I know I will be on the road.

My sympathy goes out to anyone who suffers from severe anxiety or panic disorder.  It can be embarrassing and debilitating, and I don’t mean to say it’s an easy thing to overcome.  For me, it was relatively easy, and my only reason for posting these tips is that they may help someone else.