Treat your car as a sanctuary

I have a trick I use to deal with my anxiety that you might like to know about.

Image by Carlos Gotay
Image by Carlos Gotay

But first, some clarification. My brand of anxiety comes with the tagline: The Great Lurch Forward. My nervousness is very much tied to my being in a permanent state of forward flight. Not fright. Just the flight bit. I don’t really get frightened.

(I know I talk about my anxiety a lot. Especially lately. But it’s a theme for now. And I write about my current themes, as they emerge. Apologies to those of you who don’t get anxious.)

I tend to breathlessly lunge into the future with every cell during most moments of my days. I think those of you who tend to have your anxiety tied to fright (as opposed to flight) are more tied to the past. Just an idea (I’d love your thoughts). Either way, we both know peace is in the present. Right?

When I wake at 4am, instead of going back to sleep, my mind races to what I need to do that day. I just want to get up and started. When I meditate I think about breakfast. When I’m eating breakfast, I’m thinking of my first email for the day. I’m always prepared. But never present.

My gorgeous friend Poh said to me over dinner on the weekend that I’m “always fleeing”. “You are sitting here, at the ready, about to flee to something else, away, onwards,” she said. “You need to get heavy.” Blokes have said the same thing to me in regards to my apparent “unapproachability”. One guy put it to me that I always seem on my way to somewhere else. “It’s too intimidating to approach someone who might dart off on you,” he said. Which is just a terrible thing to make men feel.

I have, however, dedicated my life to finding ways to tame my anxiety. I’m trying to mend my ways. Truly. I’m trying to turn down the volume. That’s all I ask for: a watered down version of my current state of permanent panic. How do I do this?

Well. My anxiety is a habit now. At 39, it’s not longer linked to external stimuli, like public speaking. It definitely a habit at a cellular level. You can’t reverse a habit. Our brains don’t work that way. Instead we can build up a counter habit (being calm) until that overtakes the bad habit (the anxiety). This takes practice.

I have to practice placing me body in a de-excited state as often as possible so it gets used to a more present way of being. From there I introduce triggers that would normally see me lurch into the future, but instead I get heavy and present and cool with just sitting with the trigger. This is the premise of NLP and ACT therapies.

One practice and trigger combo: driving. I’ve been doing this for a while. I drive smoothly and slowly to tame my anxiety. Driving is a forward-lurching trigger, so it’s a great forum for practicing.

  • I turn on ABC Classical FM. This is a good backing track for driving.
  • I put two hands calmly on my steering wheel.
  • I smile. Because just smiling helps to calm anxiety.
  • And sometimes I even practice extending my heart out to the people I see waiting at the lights next to me. To not find them light-jumping irritants (a particularly tough element of my challenge!).

At the Conscious Club event I did the other night a Western Australia Government campaign to get people to slow their driving was screened. (PS. The video of my chat will be up on my blog once it’s edited.)


It’s a phenomenally amazing clip, even leaving aside it’s key message. It was clearly directed and written by a yogi. I like this line, in particular:

Treat your vehicle as a sanctuary. Shut your door on the world of speed.

I’m not sure if it’s just me, but it really struck a chord. It makes so much sense. Driving can be a pleasure. You can use it to practice presence. You can do things differently and buck the trigger.

A damn side more convincing than that dumb little finger wag campaign we had in NSW, hey?

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