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Panic while Driving and EMDR

Q:Could you please steer me in the direction of articles/information dealing with people who have experienced panic while driving on the highway (no pun intended) and subsequent avoidance behavior? Also, I am working with a certified EMDR therapist. Any info on that approach? Thank you so very much.

A: There are various reasons why people panic while driving. The most common are.

1. They are frightened of driving ie being in control of the car and/or the traffic
2. They are frightened of having an accident
3. They have had an accident and may have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
4. They have the ability to dissociate and can enter a trance state very easily.

Panic attacks while driving on the highway and subsequent avoidance behavior. Also information on EMDR for Anxiety treatment.Point 4 is the major reason people with Panic Disorder have problems driving. Most people with Panic Disorder have the ability to dissociate ie enter trance states. Driving, especially on the highway or freeway, means we are usually staring straight ahead at the road. Our gaze becomes fixed and without realising it we can go into a deep trance state very easily. People without an anxiety disorder can also go into a trance state while driving and this is known as 'highway hypnosis' eg they may get to their destination and not know how they got there. For people with panic disorder the trance state can be a lot deeper. It can also happen while waiting for a red traffic light to change. People can experience a range of symptoms: 'nothing seems real', 'they don't feel real', they seem to be looking through a white or gray mist, stationary objects appear to move up or down, back and forth etc, they may have an 'out of body experience' and of course they panic, If this happens to you, it is a matter of learning how you dissociate and by learning to stop it as you begin to dissociate.

Re EMDR. It isn't being used a lot in Australia and it is difficult to comment about it. We are seeing people through our organization who have used EMDR, but it hasn't been successful. This may not be indicative of EMDR, but of some of the therapists who are using it. From comments made by our clients it appears as if the therapists have not had a great deal of training in its use.

Clinical trials of EMDR for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder have just commenced here in South Australia at one of our Anxiety Disorder Clinics. The Clinicians involved in the trials are appropriately trained so it will be interesting to see the results.

As far as Panic Disorder is concerned we do agree with the international literature which demonstrates Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, with the emphasis on 'Cognitive' is the most successful therapy which gives long term results.

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APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2008, October 3). Panic while Driving and EMDR, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 22 from https://www.healthyplace.com/anxiety-panic/articles/panic-while-driving-and-emdr

Last Updated: July 1, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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