Panic Attacks at Traffic Lights

Question about having panic attacks while sitting at a red light.Q.I experienced my first panic attack yesterday while sitting at a red light. It frightened me ALOT! Now I'm afraid this will happen again and I am avoiding this situation. I just read a question and answer about the dissociation, and yes I do avoid highways because of the "trance-like state". I am relieved to finally see that I am not the only one to have this. For years, I could not really have a conversation in the car (while I was driving) because of this. I just "lived with it". How can I live with this? What should I do? Any help would GREATLY be appreciated.

A. It is really a matter of learning how and why the dissociation happens, and learning not to be frightened of the dissociative states. People who dissociate need to see when they are driving, or in other situations, that their gaze does not become 'fixed,' ie, by staring. Staring is one of the major ways we can dissociate. Staring at the traffic lights, a book, tv, computer, out the window etc. Florescent lights can also induce these states.

People are more vulnerable to dissociation when they skip meals, don't get enough sleep and are under stress.

It is important for you to see a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist (CBT). They can help you work with your thinking and can help you overcome your avoidance behavior. We are not sure which country you are from, but many Universities through their Dept. of Psychology run CBT clinics.

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APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2008, October 3). Panic Attacks at Traffic Lights, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 16 from

Last Updated: July 1, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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