Winter is here, with all the potentially messy driving conditions that can come with it. The idea of driving in snow and winter storms doesn’t have to stress you out or cause anxiety. There are simple easy things you can do to help you feel calm, confident, and relaxed no matter what the road conditions are.
Anxiety can occur as a response to dangerous experiences, or in response to experiences that we imagine might be dangerous. For example, someone may feel anxious about driving if they’ve been in an accident or near-accident, or you may have never been in an accident and just hearing or thinking about it can cause anxiety.
This driving anxiety can build up over time. Small amounts of stress that are spread out over a period of time can have a cumulative effect and can eventually create anxiety.
Symptoms of driving anxiety are typically the same as most other forms of anxiety. People may experience irregular heart rates, sweating, confusion, dizziness, dry mouth, and shortness of breath. These are all part of the classic "fight or flight” response, a natural and automatic response experienced by everyone when faced with a real or perceived threat. Experiencing these symptoms, and even just the fear of experiencing them, can seriously impact a person's ability to function on a daily basis. Because these symptoms can be really scary, especially when driving, people may go out of their way to avoid the activities that trigger these kinds of intense feelings.
Where It Begins
All of our reactions to events are based on our previous experiences. Our subconscious mind creates a database of events and successful reactions as we go through our day to day lives, and we learn new behavior and reaction patterns as we learn and experience new things.
Your subconscious mind files all these events according to how intense they were, and attaches what the most effective response was to those events. When something happens in the present, your subconscious searches for a similar past experience and implements the same reaction. Sometimes the reaction is appropriate, and sometimes it is more than what is needed for the current situation.
These reactions of stress and anxiety can escalate over time because your subconscious is trying to keep you out of harm’s way by getting you to avoid situations that seem dangerous.
Where It Ends
First of all, don't add to the stress of winter driving. Plan ahead, follow the recommendations of the road crews and police, and give yourself more than enough time to get to where you’re going. Drive at a speed that’s safe for the conditions, signal before you turn, wear your seatbelt, leave plenty of room between you and other cars, check your blind spots, etc.
If anxiety about driving is keeping you from getting behind the wheel, here are a couple simple and powerful tools you can use to reduce your anxiety and boost your confidence.
Anchoring is a tool that allows you to recreate a feeling or a state of mind by using a simple gesture, like pressing your thumb and finger together or reciting a word or phrase. There are anchors all through our everyday life. Is there a song that reminds you of something and makes you cry or smile every time you hear it? Do you get all warm and fuzzy when you smell a certain food that you remember from your childhood? These are anchors. They’re outside things that cause us to re-experience previous emotional states.
You can create an anchor for yourself that gives you feelings of calm and confidence no matter where you are or what you’re doing. Start by remembering a time in your life when you felt safe and confident. The more vivid you can make the memory or thought, the better. Let yourself feel those positive feelings in your body, and then squeeze your thumb and finger together, allowing those good feelings to intensify. Release your fingers and repeat the process a few times, allowing those positive feelings to build up each time. This creates an association between the anchor and the feelings, so that you can bring back those positive feelings anytime you choose just by squeezing your thumb and finger.
Square Breathing, sometimes called pattern breathing, helps to reduce the feelings of anxiety by shifting your attention to something else. The rhythm of the pattern breathing makes it easy to keep your attention on the air moving, and away from those panicky thoughts.
The basic idea is simple. Your mind can only really focus on one thing at a time. So when you focus your attention on breathing deeply in a steady rhythm, your mind can’t maintain the anxiety, and it just fades away.
For square breathing, inhale deeply for a count of four, hold that breath for a count of four, exhale for a count of four, and wait another count of four before inhaling again. Repeat this pattern a minimum of four times. This technique can be used at any time before or during times of stress or anxiety, though it will be most effective when you use it regularly throughout the day. This will allow your mind to remain more relaxed more often, decreasing your overall stress and anxiety.
Driving in the winter doesn’t have to mean anxiety and stress. You can find yourself feeling confident and safe behind the wheel, no matter what the weather!∎
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