Driving and Anxiety: The Joy in Small Choices


Anxiety takes over when I’m driving. Need to change lanes on a busy highway? I’d rather take the next exit and wait it out. Can’t find a parking spot? I’ll drive miles out of the way and walk. Unprotected left turn? You can bet I’ll turn right and find another way. Someone wants me to give them a ride? I’ll say yes, but know that I will spend hours making sure I know exactly how to get there. It is exhausting.
I had great friends and family who knew I struggled with this and offered to drive or give me rides (in exchange for great mix CDs of course) throughout high school and college. My best friend even offered to have me follow her the 3+ hours to our college town (Kirksville) when I first got a car. After a few years, I was able to drive without too much fear on two-lane highways and through the small neighborhoods of Kirksville.
But, once I started working in the real world, I had to start driving for my job more often. In the nonprofit sector, driving during the day is almost always required. There are donations to pick-up, donors to visit with, and networking events to attend. I’ve always worked in places I’m familiar with or had co-workers who liked to drive.


When I found out I’d be moving to Washington, one of my first thoughts was not “Where can I find the nearest waterfall?” but “How will I be able to drive around somewhere like Portland?”.
My first job in Vancouver was a short, 15-minute drive from our home and didn’t need much driving outside of work. This week I started a new position in Portland. I am in love with this new job.Yet, I am not in love with my new commute of 2 hours a day in heavy Portland traffic.
Seeing your Google Maps app filled with red is not great for a stress-free morning. I practiced my new route last Friday and my anxiety lifted. No traffic, I rarely had to change lanes, and I even had a designated parking spot! Fast forward to Monday morning. I sat in stand-still traffic on the highway, my anxiety rising as my estimated arrival inched closer to 9 am. How am I going to manage this twice a day, five days a week, for the foreseeable future?


My (usual) first instinct when I’m feeling anxious is to catastrophize: This will never get better. I’ll always feel anxious when I drive. With this situation, I tried to find some new tactics and re-align my way of thinking. Each weekday morning, I receive a Daily Shine text (highly recommend!). One of the texts this week discussed the joy of making “small choices” each day to affirm your free will. By reminding yourself that you have the power over choices throughout your day, you can find moments of joy and control
I decided to try this experiment with my commute and wrote down all the elements I can control. My podcasts, the temperature, the route, the app I use, my attitude, and when I leave. I then wrote down the things I could not control. The traffic, the weather, the length of my commute. It was comforting to see that I had more items I could control rather than couldn’t.
I put my experiment to work the rest of the week. I downloaded a different GPS app, found an audiobook I liked, left earlier to give myself more time, and kept an attitude that this was personal time for me to enjoy. I’ll be honest, it worked well the first two days! On Friday, with the addition of crazy Friday afternoon traffic, I got a bit more anxious and upset. I then added another tactic to my experiment: always have a snack!
How do you handle repeating scenarios that make you anxious?
Lots of Love,