Overcoming Anxiety is a series where Cat shares tips for balancing a desire to be social with various phobias/fears. If your life is severely impacted and/or limited by your own anxiety, please consult an actual mental health professional. She is not one.
At some point or another, all good little nerds need to leave the house and get themselves to a social event. For those of us with driving anxiety, this process can be emotionally draining. (Much of my time in a car is spent dreaming up oddly specific ways I could potentially meet my end. Time as a pre-med major coupled with annual readings of the Darwin awards could be part of the issue, but you’re probably over-thinking this.)
Of course you could just take a cab or find a buddy to drive you, but you’re bolder than that. You want to conquer your fears and also have a quick escape route if the shindig fizzles.
You’re in the right place, kid.
Step One: Study the Route
Several days before the barn raising, you should map out the path you want to take. Google Maps is a great tool for this. If you’re going to use a GPS device, have it plot out the route instead (the last thing you want is conflicting info). Get the directions onto paper, read them over several times, and get *super* familiar with all of the steps.
Step Two: The Pseudo Test Drive
If you’re lucky, you’ll have a sympathetic friend or significant other willing to play chauffeur while you take notes. I’ve had my very understanding boyfriend drive me as many as three times to and from a location so that I can properly study the route (yes, he’s a saint).
If your friends are jerks who won’t help you (just kidding / maybe they’re just busy / just keep telling yourself that), get on Google Maps and click through your route using the “Street View.”
Take notes – you’ll want to know where lanes end, which lane to be in for turns, whether lanes randomly turn to parking spots during certain hours, etc. Look for visual cues AND street names. When you’re doing this for real, “LEFT TURN AT PINK MEGACHURCH” may be easier than trying to read a poorly lit street sign at dusk.
Step Three: Scout the Parking
Figure out where you’ll most likely be parking. Now figure out two backup places in case your first choice is full/blocked/on fire (an alternate garage if the one you wanted to use is full, another street where there are lots of open spaces, etc).
Step Four: The Actual Test Drive
In ideal circumstances, you’ll be able to pull this off during a similar time of day to when you’ll actually be on the road. Hop in your car and make sure everything is set to make you comfortable. I feel my best in stressful driving situations when I’m singing along to musical theater alone in my car. (Makes me look a little batty, but that’s part of my appeal.) If you need silence, make sure you have silence. If you have a lucky Yoda Pez dispenser, make sure you have it with you. Take the time to get everything just as you like it and repeat those steps the day of the actual drive.
If it goes poorly, you need to try it again. Identify what specifically triggered your anxiety, review your notes, and repeat the drive until you feel comfortable. This is the most important step in exposure therapy and I can say from experience that it really does get better the more you force yourself to deal with it.
Step Five: Actually Drive to the Party
Have your notes. Your GPS. Your Pez dispenser. Extra parking money. Have all of your tools at the ready for making your drive as low stress as possible. You’re gonna be just fine.
(Featured Image by Veer/Vectorman)
She lives in the Bay Area and cites her diverse background as her biggest influence: her visual artist mom is half-Chinese, half-Greek, and from Hawai’i; her film-loving, world-music curating dad is from Montana; and she lived in both California and Montana while growing up. She loves at least a little bit about virtually everything (Pokémon Snap included) and aims to be a Jane of all trades. By day Cat is a multiple-hat-wearing media person.
She is also allergic to felines.