It may seem obvious that anxious people will be even more anxious in a car full of loud music, a cell phone, and a crying baby or two. Yet we live in a world of noise and distraction. At some level most of us are “used to” too much stimulation.
People with anxiety issues tend to have hypersensitivity anxiety — a condition where they become over-stimulated easily. This can increase or trigger anxious reactions and symptoms and make it harder to control your anxiety.
To drive peacefully, modern drivers need to think consciously about decreasing environmental stimuli in ways our parents and grandparents never had to. Even though driving anxiety can feel overwhelming, there are some simple things you can do to help. One is to reduce or eliminate extra noises and other stimulation by simplifying the driving environment.
Way You Can Control Your Hypersensitivity Anxiety While Driving
Obviously, it’s crucial to be tuned in to external conditions when driving. By eliminating or reducing unnecessary stimuli, we free up our mental energy to focus on what we actually need to pay attention to — with fewer chances to be stimulated by other things.
Consider music. For many modern people, it’s second nature to turn on the radio or CD player as soon as we get in the car.
Some people find that music actually improves concentration. And studies have shown the beneficial relaxing effects of other kinds of music.
But music is very distracting to some people, and the radio can be even worse with its barrage of short, snappy ads and verbal content. Think about how music affects you, and plan ahead for it.
Unplanned interruptions are almost universally distracting. This is because they alert the brain to switch gears immediately and pay attention to the new stimulus.
Modern people are so plagued with interruptions in work and private life that an entire field of study has emerged to document it — called, appropriately, interruption science. Studies carried out by Microsoft Inc.’s research arm have found that the human brain is not wired to handle unplanned interruptions efficiently.
We all know the feeling of forgetting where we were when we’re interrupted unexpectedly. In fact, the science shows that it takes about 10-15 minutes to “remember” or get back to what one was doing when it was unexpectedly interrupted.
It’s not hard to see the implications for driving. If you suffer from hypersensitivity anxiety and get behind the wheel with a cell phone turned on, what happens to your concentration when you get a phone call or text message? A person could potentially hear a phone notification very often during a ten-minute drive to the grocery store.
These notifications interrupt peoples’ concentration and demand that they pay attention. A driver prone to anxiety might find it hard to tune them out to focus on the road.
So turn off your phone. Resist the voice inside that says you must be available to everyone at all times.
Next, think ahead about other potential interruptions. Crying children and jumpy animals are obvious ones. But what about others, not so obvious? What about the jolts of light you feel when driving on a sunny day through patches of sun and shade? To light-sensitive people, these are very distracting. Make sure you have sunglasses to cut some of the shade/sun contrast.
How about the unpleasant shock of realizing the gas tank is almost empty? Or the annoying distraction of squeaky windshield washers? Make sure your car is well serviced and fueled at all times, even if you have to ask someone else to do this for you.
Also, think about keeping the windows up to help control your anxiety. If it’s hot, use the air conditioner. Keeping the windows up also generally creates a quieter driving environment.
Resist the temptation to bring along a snack or beverage as a comfort item in the car. How distracting is a lap full of hot coffee?
The key here is to think about unplanned interruptions, because these are the ones that can trigger hypersensitivity anxiety.
Conversely, stopping at a park or rest area halfway to your destination might be a great way to break up your drive and restore some focus. This is not the kind of interruption that increases anxiety. That’s because you planned for it.
What are some other ways you can simplify the driving environment to control your hypersensitivity anxiety?