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Panic Attacks on the Highway: Seven Thanksgiving Driving Tips for Panic Attack Sufferers

by Dr. Blumberg on November 7, 2010

* If you are like many Americans you are preparing to visit your family during the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday.  According to AAA, last year 33.2 million Americans traveled by car to their Thanksgiving destination.  We are filled with feelings of excitement and anticipation, as we think of reuniting with family and friends during the holiday.  However, if you are like many of my panic attack patients, you are already starting to dread the possibility of being hit with a panic attack while “trapped” on the highway. If you rely on leaving the driving situation or distracting yourself (e.g. listening to music) to control a panic attacks these triggers may apply to you.

Four Holiday Highway Driving Panic Attack Triggers

1)      You see brake lights in front of you

2)      You see jersey barriers ahead blocking your exit

3)      You worry in advance of panic as you approach a bridge

4)      A sign on the Highway reads “Next Hospital 50 miles.”

Seven Travel Tips to Help You Prepare for a Panic Free Thanksgiving Driving Experience?

1)      Don’t even think of entering the highway driving situation, unless you are ready to feel your panic attack symptoms without fear.

2)      Ask yourself what is the worst fear you can imagine, if your panic attacks symptoms escalate.

3)      Invalidate your Catastrophic Thoughts “Fainting at the Wheel” or “Losing Control” in advance of approaching the on ramp onto the highway.

4)      Don’t use distraction methods like listening to music or calling someone on your cell phone to avoid the experience of the panic sensations while driving.

5)      Don’t rely on driving in the right hand lane of the highway, thinking you can always pull over or pull off the highway, if the panic attack symptoms increase.

6)      Ask yourself “Why would I need to pull over or pull off the highway? What is the worst that could happen? “

7)      Convince yourself the panic attack symptoms are harmless, natural, normal feelings of adrenaline.

Many panic attack sufferers try to rid their mind of any thoughts of a panic attack occurring while driving on the Highway to reunite with family.  When the dreaded Highway Driving day approaches, waves of dizziness, heart pounding, shortness of breath, weakness and rubbery legs can surge.  Without proper preparation, alarming false catastrophic thoughts can flood your mind. The vicious cycle of panic can spiral even before you approach the on ramp of the highway.

Common Panic Attack Catastrophic Thoughts about Feared Outcomes in the Highway Driving Situation

1)      Faint at the Wheel

2)      Lose Control of the Car

3)      Have to pull over and get stranded on the Highway

4)      Collapse at the Wheel

5)      Need an ambulance

Here what I tell my patients to help them destroy the False Catastrophic Thinking that can snowball in anticipation of a Highway Driving Trip to see family and friends for Thanksgiving.

Dr. Blumberg’s Advice to Prepare for a Panic Free Highway Driving Experience

“Is Panic disorder listed as a medical condition that requires legal restriction of an individual’s driving privileges?  No!  Why?  Because there is no evidence that indicates panic attacks increase the risk of losing control of the car.  My panic attack patients report encountering intense panic attacks that sometimes lead them to pull onto the median strip and stop the car.  I tell them executing that driving maneuver successfully is far more difficult than continuing to drive on the highway. I can’t count the thousands of patients, who reported having major panic attacks on the highway and continued to drive to the next exit, no matter how long it took.  Not one of my panic attack patients has reported an accident due to a panic attack. These patients report even parallel parking the car successfully in the height of a panic attack.  No matter how much time elapses while driving with intense panic attacks, as soon as a panic attack sufferer reaches a point of perceived safety and removes themselves from the driving situation, they think, “I just made it in the nick of time!”  I say, “Don’t you think if panic attacks increased the risk of an car accident, at least one of these thousands of panic attack sufferers would have encountered some difficulty.  All my panic attack patients drive safely while encountering a panic attack. Don’t let a panic attack stop you from rejoicing and visiting family and friends for Thanksgiving.”

*This educational information should be used in consultation with your doctor to confirm a diagnosis and to review available treatments for panic disorder.

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