Five ways to combat driving anxiety
Recent data from DVSA shows a significant spike in driving test pass rates, meaning there will be many new drivers hitting the roads this spring. Being a new driver can be nerve-wracking when it comes to going it alone, but how can you become more confident with your driving skills?
To help, we’ve teamed up with qualified counsellor Hilary Sims from Life Balance Counselling to explore the causes of driving anxiety - and ways to overcome it.
What does driving anxiety feel like?
Driving anxiety could be worrying about getting into a car or being nervous about driving to a new and unfamiliar destination. Physically, you may experience sweaty hands whilst driving or thinking about driving, feel as though your heart is racing, and you may even become emotional.
Hilary explains that anxiety can “manifest itself as a panic attack, where you think you can't breathe and, in extreme cases, you can be convinced that you’re going to die. Anxiety will increase your heart rate and your breathing. It can also leave you feeling restless and tense.”
This strong feeling of anxiety can manifest in a similar way when driving a car: “You feel impending doom and feel that everything is going to go wrong, therefore, if you have driving anxiety, you can believe you are going to crash every time you get in the car. Anxiety also can affect your concentration levels, which can affect your ability to drive properly.”
“If you worry that you are going to crash every time you get in the car, you will worry about getting hurt, or hurting someone else. As we know, accidents do happen, but thankfully not every time someone gets in a car.”
Five ways to combat driving anxiety
Check traffic updates and plan your route
Whether it is nipping to the shop or going on a long-distance journey, if you suffer from driving anxiety, then consider planning your route thoroughly. Check traffic news updates for any potential road closures, ensure your phone or SatNav is charged, and let people know where you are going before you set off. You could even do practice runs of a driving route if you have an appointment coming up or need to visit a new place.
Take your time and take breaks if needed
Sticking to national speed limits, or even devising a route that avoids potential anxiety triggers such as dual carriageways and motorways, can also help reduce anxiety. If you feel pressure to drive faster, simply indicate and pull over when safe to do so, and allow anxious feelings to pass or calm down before setting off again. It can help to count to ten slowly out loud to centre yourself if you feel overwhelmed.
Do breathing exercises
When approaching a potentially troublesome situation, such as a busy junction or roundabout, do some easy breathing exercises to calm yourself down and remain in control. “Initially, when anxiety takes hold, take control of your breathing. Breathe in and out a number of times, whilst holding your breath for a few seconds at a time. This slows our breathing down which in turn slows down our heart race. Anxiety increases the heart rate and the first step to deal with anxiety is to slow the breathing and heart rate down.”
Consider why you feel anxious
Hilary suggests taking a moment to think about the possible causes as to why you feel anxious about driving: “Ask yourself, what is the evidence to support my worry and what is the evidence to contradict my worry? Can I see a bigger picture when looking at this worry? And a really good thing to ask yourself is, "what would I say to a friend if they were worried about the same thing?" This is a great way to get you to look at the worry from the outside in. When the worry has got hold and turned into anxiety, sometimes it is difficult to see that there is another opinion about this worry.”
Look after your general wellbeing
Getting enough sleep each night, cutting back on caffeine and alcohol, avoiding smoking and living a generally healthy lifestyle will go a long way to helping to reduce anxiety and improve your overall wellbeing. Lack of sleep and a poor diet can affect people mentally and physically, so it is important to practice good sleep hygiene and opt for a healthy diet and exercise routine. However, always seek professional advice if you feel that anxiety is impacting your day to day life.
Robert Harris, Director at Vehicle Contracts says: “For many motorists, driving becomes second nature and a necessity for everyday life when it comes to commuting and family life. But for some people, driving on the roads can stir up anxiety and cause distress. Even experienced drivers can be anxious about certain aspects of driving, such as approaching tricky roundabouts and junctions, driving in bad weather, and merging lanes. New and experienced motorists should prepare for their journeys accordingly, take their time and consider seeking professional advice for extra support if anxious thoughts are affecting their day to day life.”