Everyone feels nervous sometimes, and it is a natural survival instinct that helps people be aware of their surroundings. Anxiety, however, is a psychological condition that is characterized by persistent feelings of worry, tension, and nervousness. Women are twice as likely to experience anxiety as men, which can be linked to hormone fluctuations experienced during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. Anxiety episodes while driving can be extremely dangerous. It is important to understand what anxiety is, what causes it, and how to avoid anxiety episodes while driving.
Hormone fluctuations are the primary cause of anxiety episodes in menopausal women. During the menopause transition, a woman's estrogen levels rise and fall, and then stay consistently low. Women are more susceptible to experiencing anxiety during menopause because estrogen significantly affects the brain's regulation of mood and emotions.
Additional causes of menopausal anxiety are:
- Excessive stress
- Emotional trauma
- Insufficient exercise
- Poor diet
- Certain medications
Common symptoms of an anxiety episode include:
- Excessive sweating
- Increased heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle tension
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of dread and intense fear
Anxiety While Driving
A recent study conducted at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia analyzed the effects of anxiety and stress on driving. The results showed that anxiety and stress can be just as dangerous as using a cell phone while driving. The QUT Center for Accident Research & Road Safety conducted a driving test after setting up stressful scenarios that promoted anxiety.
The study found that highly anxious drivers had a considerably longer response time as tasks increased in difficulty - meaning high-anxious drivers maintain accuracy at the expense of response time. The study also concluded that some drivers had a slower response time than others, especially when met with road distractions, like pedestrians and billboards.
How to Avoid Anxiety Episodes
If you are experiencing a bad anxiety episode while driving, you should pull over until it subsides. That being said, these techniques can help prevent an anxiety episode while driving.
Ideally, you should reduce stress and anxiety before driving anywhere, but you can practice breathing exercises and listen to soothing music in the car. Try to focus on the task at hand, rather than all the things you have to do. Most car accidents happen because the driver is distracted. Giving yourself plenty of time to get to your destination can also make driving less stressful.
Getting regular exercise will help prevent anxiety episodes, improve mood, increase energy, and reduce stress. Exercising and relaxation techniques are keys to enhancing both physical and cognitive functions - and helps release the mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin and endorphins in the brain. After parking the car, walk for a while, as it is an excellent way to relax.
Taking herbal supplements with sedative properties can help manage anxiety. Hops, valerian, lemon balm, and passion flower all possess soothing characteristics and can be beneficial for treating other menopausal symptoms as well.
Anxiety affects around 40 million Americans on average. Hormone fluctuations are the leading cause of menopausal anxiety. Episodes while driving can be extremely dangerous. It is important to try and reduce stress before getting in the car, but trying breathing exercises, listening to soothing music, and focusing on the road are all helpful tips for avoiding anxiety episodes while driving.
- National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Anxiety Disorders. Retrieved September 24, 2014, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml
- Office on Women's Health. (2012). Anxiety disorders fact sheet. Retrieved September 24, 2014, from http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/anxiety-disorders.html
- Queensland University of Technology. (n.d). Anxiety is a killer distraction on our roads. Retrieved September 24, 2014, from http://www.news.qut.edu.au/cgi-bin/WebObjects/News.woa/wa/goNewsPage?newsEventID=32541