Moving on After a Car Accident – Dealing with Driving Anxiety

My driving anxiety sometimes presents itself in the most annoying of ways. I’ve developed such strong coping mechanisms that sometimes I’m not even aware that I’m using them until someone points it out.

Turns out I’ve been dealing with anxiety issues my whole life without even knowing it.

When I was a child, I was terrified of needles. I don’t remember when it started, but I would involuntarily hold my breath whenever I had to get one. My gran (I wrote about her last week) suffered from the same affliction – and would hold her breath until she passed out (as I did) when she got too anxious. As it was believed to be a family thing passed down, I think no one realized that I was holding my breath – and that’s why I was passing out. Or if they did, they never thought to train me not to hold my breath. It wasn’t until I was a teenager, and I passed out in an anxiety inducing situation, when someone actually watched me before I fainted, that I realized there was something I could do about it. I haven’t passed out from a needle since then. Simply because I became aware of the cause – and once you’re aware that you’re holding your breath, it’s easy enough to anticipate that you will, and concsiously breathe.

Now of course I know that I’m not the only one who’s ever done it (aside from Gran), and there are pages and pages of information about involuntary breath holding spells (BHS).

When I had the last car accident (I’d had several before), something broke inside me. I wasn’t able to look out of the window of the car. My body told me that I should hold my breath – and I realized that I shouldn’t, so I was able to manage BHS, but I still wasn’t able to ride in a vehicle comfortably. It took several months after the accident before I got behind the wheel on my own. I forced myself to do it. I didn’t bring Hubs with me because I was embarrassed by my own feelings and I knew that it was going to be very difficult. I managed to drive for about 15 minutes, and I collapsed into a snotty mess when I returned. It was a first step.

The insurance company paid for both driving therapy and a round of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help me deal with the issues. The driving therapist was essential. Several rounds of driving therapy allowed him to help me to recognize my triggers. The CBT trained me to recognize the way my body was reacting to the triggers and head off the anxiety.

I’m getting better. I think. I don’t feel as stressed although some situations still cause tension. I’m able to keep my heart rate down. I know that avoiding dealing with the anxiety isn’t always the best way to go – you should face it head on. And I do – when I’m driving – for the most part.

But if Hubs is driving and we’re in a situation that causes anxiety, I will withdraw as a way to cope. Hubs has noticed it. I must do it quite often if he’s noticed. When we’re on the highway (one of my triggers), I will pull out my phone and focus intently. I can drive on the highway without too much stress. Not being in control causes stress. As I’ve learned, the only thing I can control is my reaction.

Hubs put the new bike rack on the back of the car a few weeks back. As it’s attached to the hitch, the rack triggers the back-up sensor. Like Pavlov’s dog, even though I’ve only had the car a short time, I’ve been trained to worry that I’m going to hit something when that beeping starts. It grates me. I flinch as soon as I hear it and cannot relax until it’s off. I can turn it off – if I’m driving. If I’m not, I don’t have control. The only thing I can try to control is my reaction.

I’ve been lucky to have the help I needed to deal with it – but I think that approaching it in a pragmatic way has also helped. I acknowledge that the reasons my anxiety exist are valid. A car accident as difficult as the one I experienced would make anyone a little wary. I refuse to let it limit me. Dealing with anxiety is a daily battle. It will always be a part of me. But so too will the refusal to acquiesce.

Image Credit: (Edited) Naypong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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18 thoughts on “Moving on After a Car Accident – Dealing with Driving Anxiety

  1. This is fascinating! I won’t drive at night, hold my breath over bridges and in tunnels, freak out on the mountain turns and will drive in circles for an hour trying to avoid parking garages. I had no idea there was specific help for this anxiety! Thanks

  2. My heart goes out to you. I had a really bad accent when I was 21 (middle of the day, going to work on my day off!) and ended up on bed rest for weeks. I still have back pain nearly 6 years later. I still get anxiety when driving and someone is going really fast behind or seems distracted or gets to close.

  3. I so appreciate you sharing your true experiences and emotions after your accident. So many others out there may be feeling the same way and anxiety, especially after trauma, is something that can take hold of a person for so long. Thank you so much for sharing.

  4. I admire you for being so honest about your struggles and it’s so amazing to see you working everyday to overcome it. You sure seem to have come a long way; kudos to you for being so tenacious. 🙂

  5. While I wasn’t in a car accident, my last concussion left me a very uncomfortable driver and passenger. Maybe it’s because I’m so overwhelmed by everything happening on all around me or I’m afraid of getting into an accident and being injured further… Either way, driving with anxiety is not a comfortable feeling! Best of luck to you.

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