Traffic phobia
July 20, 2006 2:04 PM   Subscribe

Embarrassing phobia. I need to drive myself 10 or so hours in a couple of weeks, and I am very afraid that I will find myself in a traditionally panicky situation.

I am afraid of finding myself in city interstate gridlock with no apparent escape. I do have a bit of an anxiety disorder and this is one of my two phobias...the other being flying. I am afraid I will panic, get claustrophibic, and have to abandon the car or something silly like that. Do you have any advice on dealing with that?

Followup if you want to
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is there any way you can sleep during the day and then do most of your drive at night?

What about planning on leaving so that you will not be in a city during rush hour?

What about if you tell yourself that if you start to panic you will take an exit and wait for the traffic to pass before it gets overwhelming?

Good luck. :)
posted by sugarfish at 2:12 PM on July 20, 2006

I'd say the best thing you can do is adjust your route accordingly - avoid areas with city gridlock. That might mean getting off the interstate for a while, but there is a lot of America out there beyond the interstate. Buy a good road atlas, order some quality maps of the major metropolitan areas you are going through, and plan your route (and possible alternatives) well.

Alternatively, you might want to add an overnight stay in there somewhere. 10 hours is a long time to be in a car, for anyone.
posted by MrZero at 2:13 PM on July 20, 2006

Although it won't fix you before this weekend, you might want to try psychiatric care. Also, maybe you can avoid cities? Otherwise, have detailed maps with your route planned and plotted and make sure your car has enough coolant.
posted by thirteenkiller at 2:16 PM on July 20, 2006

I've got a couple of habits that might be worth practicing yourself. They might give you some extra piece of mind and help you stay a little more in control of the situation.

When you stop, leave a bit of extra space between you and car in front of you. Make sure to leave enough space so that you could manuever around the car in front of you without having to back up first. I do this so that I can always pull around a vehicle if it becomes disabled, and also to make sure that I'm not pinned into a spot if someone were to approach my vehicle. In really sketchy places, I drive in center lane where possible so that when stopped at stop lights I have clear lanes to my left and a buffer between me and the sidewalk.
posted by tumble at 2:31 PM on July 20, 2006

I've had my share of panic attacks while driving, though mostly at night, for whatever reason. You definitely want to break up your car trip. Try to have a couple hours of break in the middle there, and definitely stop every hour or two for a few minutes, if only to walk around. Just take it slow, leave early.

Just plan ahead, and like MrZero said, maybe figure out alternative routes. Also, I think most true gridlock is confined to downtown areas? Depending on the city.
posted by cellphone at 2:31 PM on July 20, 2006

I dont know if you can afford it, but ive had a Tom Tom sat-nav in my car for around a year now and its a life saver when trying to avoid traffic, or quickly re-plan a route to avoid a hold up (just take a turning, any turning, and it'll guide you)
posted by lemonfridge at 2:31 PM on July 20, 2006

This isn't psych advice - just some practical ideas that I hope might help you.

Allow extra time so that you can jump off the road at rush hour times. Can you split the driving into two or more days?

Do you have a friend that you trust that you can ask to be "on call" while you are driving? Just say hey, I'm really freaked out by this drive, can I call you twenty times if I need to and ask you to remind me to stay calm?

If it were me, I would probably try to take my focus off of being in the car. Books on CD? Treat yourself to some new music you've been wanting to hear? Catch up on gossip via cell phone calls with your friends (if you have the spare minutes in your plan)?

Quantify - "what is the absolute worst that could happen if your worst case came true." I know that phobias are definitionally not necessarily based on rational fears - but try your best to think of it as rationally as you can, and then plan for every contingency that you can. Bring some snacks and water - you won't starve or dehydrate even in the worst traffic. If there is a lot of traffic, there is safety in numbers - you probably won't have to ditch the car on the side of the road, but you *could* if you really had to, so you're not trapped in an enclosed space.

On preview: tumble has the right idea about leaving extra space around your car.
posted by KAS at 2:36 PM on July 20, 2006

How about making sure you have the right things in your car to make it more safe-feeling? Food, a change of clothes, blankets, music, teddy bear, whatever. How about even a CD/tape of someone you trust/love speaking peacefully and calmly for a while? Or an interesting audiobook to put on in traffic? I tend to get too wrapped up in them to listen while driving, but having one ready to pop in in traffic might be enough to take your mind off the situation.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:56 PM on July 20, 2006

posted by ChasFile at 3:05 PM on July 20, 2006

Driving while on Xanax = probably not a good idea. I second the avoid-the-rush-hour tips; unless you're going to a time-specific event, it should be pretty easy to plan a route and driving times that will let you avoid traffic as much as possible.
posted by pdb at 3:21 PM on July 20, 2006

KAS' idea is great. When something is causing me anxiety, I imagine what the worst scenario is. I've been anxious in traffic before and have thought, okay so what if I need to get out of my car? I'd pull over and get out. People ask, you said you're sick. At some point, the anxiety would subside and you'd get back in. Also once I give myself permission to have an exit for a situation, I find I'm less anxious about it.

Another trick, maybe weird, but turn the a/c on full blast. While you're being annoyed that you're freezing, you can't be anxious about the traffic.
posted by jdl at 3:47 PM on July 20, 2006

Some absolutely excelent suggestions from my perspective--very practical and possible helpful. Re: Xanax or one of the other benzo--if you have a prescrition for them I would encourage you to remember that they say "use caution when driving" they do not say "do not drive". If used at an entry level dose I seriously doubt if they would significantly impair your driving--assuming you are not drinking, not excessively fatigued, and are not taking other drugs that might cause drowsiness or activate the benzo. Taking a small dose before leaving or if you start feeling excessively anxious is probably reasonably safe. I can assure you that there are probably millions of people on the road who are taking drugs that say "use caution when driving" and there are even more who are driving with 2-3 alcoholic drinks which is even more compromising--use your jusdement and if you take a benzodiazepine, you probable have a sense of how it affects you--have a good trip and hopefully some of the excellent advice will make you trip a bit smoother--
posted by rmhsinc at 4:28 PM on July 20, 2006

I experience similar claustrophobic/trapped feelings when crossing bridges -- especially congested bridges like the Bay Bridge or Golden Gate. One thing that helps is putting a hand on my tummy and oncentrating on my breathing, using my diaphragm and exhaling slightly longer than I inhale. Calms me down enough to make it bearable.
posted by DakotaPaul at 4:41 PM on July 20, 2006

Since it's summer, the most likely source of a 15 minute wait in interstate traffic is construction. Some states have highway department webpages where they post locations of planned construction. *If* preparedness helps with the panic, you could try looking up construction spots along your route so you can plan detours ahead of time.

Second the advice to plan the drive so you can stop often, and to leave a generous space cushion around your car. Maybe get a tape of a comedian, or something really light (P.G. Wodehouse comes to mind) that will not make you tense at all?
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:33 PM on July 20, 2006

If you're a AAA member, you can contact them to find out about construction zones and traffic jams along your anticipated route. If you're prone to worrying, it's probably worth joining AAA anyway (I recommend the Plus membership, which has a much better towing limit). AAA has saved the day for me when I have locked myself out of my car and when I needed a tow. Also, as others have suggested, bring plenty of food and water. You could even put an extra 2-gallon container of gasoline in your trunk, if you're worried about running out.

Not so much a tip about congestion as about staying calm on long drives on the interstate: I usually drive just above the speed limit. Since most people drive significantly faster, that means I don't have to pass very often. It's much less stressful to be passed by a car going a little faster than you are, than to have to pass other cars frequently. I may get to my destination half an hour later, but I'm much more relaxed than I would have been otherwise.

Books on tape (or on an iPod with a cassette or FM adapter) are also great.
posted by brianogilvie at 5:53 PM on July 20, 2006

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