One of my anxiety ‘triggers’ is driving on freeways. I struggle both as a driver, and as a passenger. My panic begins before I even enter the freeway…
My breathing quickens, my head feels light and spacey, nausea sets in and I start to fidget.
Once on the freeway, it’s VERY hard to maintain my composure.
The lines on the road, the safety rails on the sides of the road and the other cars on the road, flash past me at excessive speed, making me feel like I am being pulled into a vortex.
Because of this feeling, I limit my driving on freeways. I don’t want to be a danger to myself or others on the road. Driving is a privilege and a huge responsibility.
On Saturday, we had a wedding at The Stones, Coldstream, VIC (in the Yarra Valley). Living west of Melbourne, we took the Eastern Freeway route. We never really venture this side of the city, so this freeway is not one I am comfortable with (I’ve only been on it about 3 times).
In order to ‘try’ to make this drive as stress-free as possible, I listed all the exits from the start of the freeway, to where we needed to exit. That way, I could track where we were and could count down the exits. It was only a 15 minute drive down the freeway, but when you’re anxious the entire time, 15 minutes feels a LOT longer.
Strategies – hit and miss
Sitting in the passenger seat of my car, I took out my list as we entered the freeway and tried to remember all the strategies I could apply to keep myself ‘calm’.
I tried the ‘positive talk’ saying aloud, ‘I can do this. It’s only a road. We’re driving straight on a road. It’s only 15 minutes’ – (it’s really hard talking aloud when you’re struggling to breath and you’re feeling nauseous).
It wasn’t working as well as I had planned so I decided to try to enjoy the scenery instead (with not much luck).
The only thing my brain wanted to do, was to get to our last exit, and fast!!!
Although I got very excited as we passed each exit, mentally checking off each one, my heart raced quicker and I tried desperately to slow my breathing down. Trying to control your breathing is SO much harder when you’re anxious.
About two exits before the last one on my list, my nausea was in full swing and I was finding it hard to swallow. Using my right hand, I applied pressure to my left wrist (just below where your hand joins your wrist) all while STILL holding my precious list in front of me!! (This acupressure focusses on locating your P6 pressure point, or inner gate. It’s said to relieve nausea caused by pregnancy, hangover, chemotherapy treatment or motion sickness).
I’m not sure if it’s just knowing it’s supposed to help me, or if it really does help me, but my brain finds comfort in this strategy. And it made the last part of this freeway drive more manageable.
Symptoms be gone
The crazy thing about my anxiety is that as soon as my trigger no longer exists, neither do my symptoms.
As we exited the freeway, and I took a huge, deep sigh of relief, my symptoms disappeared. My breathing went back to normal, my heart rate slowed, my head was clearer, I could swallow again, my nausea was no longer there, I could talk aloud easily and I had the biggest smile on my face.
And this is what annoys and frustrates me MOST about my anxiety. The simple, everyday tasks like driving 15 minutes down a freeway can become epic events!!! I know there was nothing to worry about. I know I was safe in the passenger seat. I know it was just my anxiety manifesting all these symptoms. I know all this. But anxiety is so good at making you doubt yourself.
The wedding was wonderful, the scenery was gorgeous and the drive back home, down that same freeway, was MUCH more manageable and pleasant. Building confidence makes a huge impact on turning a trigger back into an everyday task. Something you don’t think twice about.
As nerve-wracking and stressful as it was to drive down that freeway, I know that I can now add that to my ‘I made it’ list. I will be able to use this experience to build my confidence, and hopefully, the more I do it, the better my brain will be at filing it as an ‘everyday’ task, not a ‘trigger’.
(The Stones, Coldstream, VIC)