If you follow me on Instagram, you may remember me sharing an insta story a month ago about my drive up the mountain. This is a drive I’m no stranger to, but this trip was different. This time I was driving solo AND pulling a boat. To some, this may seem like no big deal, but to me, it was very much so a big deal.
Days leading up to leaving, I could feel my anxiety beginning to simmer below the surface. As the day arrived for my long trek up the mountain, my thoughts started to go south. They sounded a little like this: What if I hit a car? What if a tire hits the gravel and I go over the side of the mountain? What if I take a turn too sharp? I was about to do some serious exposure therapy on myself.
So here’s a quick back story for you. Back in 2011, I was in a bad car accident in Sacramento that occurred on a very sharp turn. This accident became a trigger for me. A trigger that is ignited anytime I am on the winding road whether I am the driver or the passenger, so you put me on a road with curves and turns, and I become anxious, Annie. So up the mountain, we went (keep in mind this is the very first time I’ve pulled the boat. Go big or go home right?!?).
I made it to our destination with only one moment where my heart raced faster than a kid to the candy jar. I believe my symptoms were decreased because it was later in the evening, and it was a weekday so the roads were a ghost town. Coming home, now that was a whole different story.
Traffic was nuts on the way down the mountain. You factor in cars, tight winding roads, and a rapid river flowing fast down below; my anxiety was spiked. My heart was racing and I felt as if the truck walls were closing in on me. I was borderline tears a time or two, not because I was genuinely afraid, but because my symptoms were so intense. I remember thinking, “I want to pull over. I don’t want to feel this way anymore.” Followed by a quick, “You can’t pull over. You are on a mountain.” Not to mention if I pulled over, how in the heck would we get the truck and boat home? I kept reminding myself that my amygdala was tricking me and that if I pulled over, I would be reinforcing my amygdala’s belief that the drive was dangerous. You see, my amygdala remembered my car accident and was doing its job, protecting me. It was yelling, “Pull over and you will be safe. Pull over now!”
I knew pulling over was not an option, so I pushed through my anxiety. I rolled down the windows, put on a podcast, utilized grounding techniques, and belly breathed like a champ. I was mindful to not white knuckle the steering wheel and to relax as much as possible given I still needed to drive. For two hours, my amygdala was dumping adrenaline into my body. It was working overtime to get me out of “danger.”
When I finally pulled up alongside of my house, I was exhausted. The first words out of my mouth to my husband, who had been pulling a camper in front of me the whole way, was “I will not be driving that again for a while. It was horrible!” As he hugged me tight, he said, “Yes, you will because you reinforce it by avoiding it.” Mic drop. My husband just gave me my own advice.
You see, had I pulled over, I would have strengthened that trigger. It would have confirmed my amygdalas beliefs that driving is dangerous and must be avoided. Despite how uncomfortable I felt, I continued.
If you too struggle with increased anxiety, give these three techniques a try:
- Imagine you are a buoy and float through the waves.
- Ground yourself in your experience by using your 5 senses.
- Belly breathe.