There is a common misconception that all young people are desperate to learn to drive. That as soon as someone turns 17, they’re going to be clawing to get behind the wheel and gain their independence. The freedom of the road awaits! But for a lot of people, learning to drive is a scary process. It might just be anxiety about having to sit yet another test – with GCSEs and A-levels, teenagers have to face so many exams. But there are also a lot of people with full-bodied driving phobias. You may have experienced a road traffic accident at some earlier time of life. Perhaps you’re worried about injuring yourself or someone else. You might have specific concerns relating to driving, whether it’s driving in bad weather, at night, getting lost, or being alone. Or you might just be very well aware of the dangers that driving can bring.
All of these issues are genuine concerns, and shouldn’t just be dismissed by friends and family. But if you want to learn to drive – for work, or simple convenience – you need to find a way to overcome your anxiety.
How to Overcome Driving Anxiety
What characterises driving anxiety
Like any other form of anxiety, driving anxiety can take many shapes. For some, it will be nothing more dramatic than simple avoidance. In others it can have a whole assortment of physical symptoms. These range from having a dry mouth and sweaty palms, to shortness of breath and palpitations.
It can be frightening, confusing and disorientating. And for some people, can lead to a full panic attack. Whatever your experience, driving anxiety is not something you should ignore.
What can you do to reduce driving anxiety?
Anxiety – in all its many forms – can be extremely difficult to handle. People don’t like talking about it. And if you’ve not experienced it, it can be difficult to understand. But there are things you can do to help reduce some of the triggers that can increase anxiety. And some techniques that you can use to remove some of the fear of driving.
You might enjoy your morning coffee or lunchtime can of coke, but caffeine is a broadly recognised anxiety trigger. Because it stimulates the release of adrenalin, which automatically increases your heart rate, caffeine can intensify any feelings of nervousness. So, any anxiety you might already be inclined to experience will be exacerbated. Avoiding caffeine can help you to stay calmer.
When you’re anxious, eating is often the last thing on your mind. Anxiety can suppress your appetite. But being hungry – even if your brain isn’t acknowledging it – can produce anxiety. Your brain and your stomach have a complicated relationship! So, whether you’re already feeling anxious before a driving lesson, or you’re finding that anxiety usually begins creeping in when you’re driving, making sure that you eat something before your lesson can really help.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that there is a correlation between stress and anxiety. By taking steps to channel stress – whether through exercise, meditation, or just chatting about it with friends – you can reduce your overall anxiety levels. Which can help take the strain away from driving.
Desensitisation is a common technique for handling phobias. It’s the process whereby you gently expose yourself to your fear by small degrees. With driving, it might be that you could move from looking at cars, to sitting in one, to turning the engine on, to driving. If you’re OK with that to start with, but find the act of driving is what triggers your anxiety, then you might start with shorter lessons and quieter locations, gradually increasing your driving time as your confidence grows. It’s a method that needs to work in baby steps and it requires time. Professional help should be sought for severe cases.
Virtual reality (VR) has all kinds of applications these days. It’s no longer simply something fun to play with. In the case of phobias, therapists are using VR to trigger stress scenarios, so patients can encounter and navigate them in a safe environment. The NHS is currently offering VR therapy for social anxiety disorders. But private therapists are using VR to tackle a whole range of phobias and anxieties. Including driving.
Talk to your driving instructor
Almost every learner driver experiences some kind of anxiety. Whether it relates to a particular aspect of driving – handling big roundabouts, for instance, can be stressful for even experienced drivers – or to the entire process. But it’s important to remember that your driving instructor is there to support you. If you’re finding lessons stressful, your instructor needs to know. Maybe they need to dial back, and help you to take things more slowly. Or maybe they need to find a few approach to teaching you particular manoeuvres. Either way, if you don’t talk to your instructor about your concerns, they can’t help you through them.
Learning to drive can be really stressful. And for some people, it’s simply not worth going through the anxiety that driving causes. After all, most people have other options available – walking, buses, taxis, trains. But if you really do want to learn to drive and you’re struggling with nerves or fear, the above techniques may be able to help you.
If you’re looking for a driving instructor in the West Midlands who can help you to drive at your own pace, get in touch with DGN Driving.