Those that experience anxiety, fear, or panic while driving often report an inability to breathe normally. They may have a feeling of being unable to take a deep breath, as if they're throat or chest were closing in. They may find themselves gasping and gulping for air or with fears of having a heart attack or lung disorder. Fears of losing control may present themselves stemming from the inability to control one's own breathing. All of these situations are common with the panic that ensues from a fear of driving and cause discomfort and more advanced symptoms, but none are physically dangerous. The goal in learning to breathe properly is not to prevent suffocation or any physical problem, which won't occur anyway, but to prevent the uncomfortable sensations that result from breathing in this manner. Fortunately, these breathing difficulties can be remedied using simple techniques.
The act of over breathing, or hyperventilating, results in the body taking in far too much carbon dioxide than is needed. Take a look at just some of the symptoms caused by hyperventilation and see if they look at all familiar:
Numbness or tingling in extremities
Difficulty in swallowing
Sensations of chocking
You may be surprised to know that all of the above sensations of anxiety experienced when driving can be attributed to how you breathe. Learning to breathe in a new way can reduce or eliminate a wide range of complaints associated with the fear of driving. Hyperventilation is not always as obvious as we are lead to believe by the television, where a person is gasping for air and having a paper bag over the mouth (to slow the rate of exhaled carbon dioxide). Hyperventilation is much more subtle and the person experiencing it is often unaware they are over breathing. Only a small change in the mix of oxygen to carbon dioxide can cause pronounced symptoms and additional anxiety. Holding the breath also results in the same list of symptoms.
One of the most widely taught methods of proper breathing is controlled, diaphragmatic breathing. It has been widely known that people with general anxiety, or those subjected to a phobia tend to breathe from their chest (thoracic) and not their stomach (diaphragmatic). It's easy to tell where you are breathing from, simply place one hand on your navel and the other on your chest, right over the breastbone. We're going to use your hands will tell you what muscles you are using to breathe. As you breathe, pay attention to which hand is rising and falling. If it's mostly the hand on your chest, you aren't breathing from your diaphragm and need to work on teaching your body to breathe properly. If it's only the hand on your belly moving, then you're breathing well. This check should be used again when you feel anxious to ensure you maintain your breathing pattern. If you are skeptical about the correct way to breathe, simply look at the way a baby or dog breathes. They breathe in a relaxed manner with their bellies moving up and down, their chest stays still.
If you need to correct your breathe, below is a basic exercise that should be done as often as possible to retrain yourself. With enough work you'll actually move your unconscious breathe from the upper lung to the lower lung. This experience greatly reduces anxiety and the physical symptoms of tension.
Again, place one hand on your navel, and the other on your chest, right over the breastbone.
Exhale completely. Drop your shoulders and relax your muscles, as you do so pay particular attention to the muscles of your face and upper body.
Pause for three seconds.
Inhale SLOWLY through your nose by pushing your stomach out, not your chest. Visualize yourself breathing in and out through your navel. Your chest hand should stay relatively stationary, while your lower hand rises and falls.
There is also a more advanced breathing technique that can help you in the midst of an anxiety or panic attack that actually plays a role in eliminating the fearful feelings. The Driving Fear program does an excellent job of teaching the strategy to assist those that suffer from a related to the fear of driving or specific driving situations such as highway driving or driving over bridges.
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