woman having a panic attack in car driver seat

Ways to cope with panic attacks while driving

Having a panic attack can be a terrifying experience. Add driving into the mix and it becomes downright dangerous. An anxiety disorder can potentially cause panic attacks, but it isn’t the only culprit. These brief periods of extreme fear are treatable and can be managed. Here’s how you can cope with panic attacks while driving. 

Panic Attack or Anxiety

Panic attacks and anxiety attacks are not the same, although they both belong to a broader category of anxiety disorders. Panic attacks usually manifest with physical symptoms that seem to occur for no apparent reason. 

They typically last for only a brief period of time, while anxiety may develop over time and plays on your emotions of fear. It isn’t always easy to know when you’re having a panic attack, but these are the symptoms:

  • Feeling as if you might faint or pass out
  • A sudden feeling of extreme fear or anxiety
  • Feeling like you might lose control
  • Pounding heart or rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Head, chest, or stomach pain
  • Tingling and dizziness
  • Sweating and chills
  • Feeling a loss of control
  • Feeling that you are going to die

Anxiety may cause some of the same feelings, but it lasts longer than a panic attack and doesn’t completely overwhelm you for short periods of time. Experiencing one panic attack can also cause you to worry about having another, causing more stress and impacting daily life. 

What triggers a panic attack while driving?

Sometimes, panic attacks can occur without any clear reason. However, if you have a family history of panic disorder, high levels of stress or significant life changes, a recent traumatic event such as an accident, you could be more likely to experience a panic attack while driving. 

Even after seeking justice through an attorney for serious car accident and injury claims, the trauma from an accident can begin to bring on panic attacks. Your brain remembers the fear or trauma, and will begin noticing certain triggers relating to the event. 

Sights, sounds, or smells that reminds you of an event can all be triggers. Driving through a tunnel, going over long bridges or large bodies of water, bees getting in your car, or any other experience that may cause driving anxiety or a phobia can trigger another attack.

Tips for Coping

Panic attacks can cause overwhelming physical symptoms and sensations, such as dizziness, or shortness of breath that cause you to become lightheaded. When this occurs, it is best to pull over in a safe area where you can get out of the car and try to relax. 

If you’re able to drive safely with subtle distractions, then listening to the music can help you take your focus off your stressful thoughts. People that have anxiety can benefit from listening to relaxing music or a humorous podcast as a healthy distraction. 

Another good coping mechanism is to suck on a sour candy, chew a piece of gum, or drink a tangy cool beverage when you start to feel panicked. If you start to feel dizzy or lightheaded and cannot pull over, turn on the ac and roll down the windows to help yourself cool down. 

Try to take slow, steady, deep breaths, focusing on breathing in and out. Remind yourself that the physical symptoms will go away in a few minutes and focus on something else. If you can safely push through the moment, this can help you to overcome the attacks.

Seeking Help

If your panic attacks begin to interfere with your life, talk to your doctor or see a therapist to help you find additional ways to cope. A mental health professional can also help you find a treatment that works best for you.