“For me, driving is a bit like going to the gym. I hate the build up to it, but once I’m actually there doing it, I feel much better”

Halle-frigging-lujah! Third time lucky…I’d finally done it. I’d passed my test. First time round I’d failed due to slight hesitation and yes, I’m still fuming about it. Second time, I went into a flap and tried to do a hill start in third gear, at least twice (great). By the time round 3 reared its ugly head and driving anxiety was at its peak, I was so ready to pass.

Learning to drive wasn’t really an enjoyable experience for me but I knew I would have to do it. My instructor was lovely and patient, but to me, anything that makes you have 5 nervous poos beforehand is just not something you can class as a good thing. Hearing the words ‘you’ve passed’ is music to most peoples ears and they’re buzzing to get on the road. I was quite the opposite but I must admit I was glad I got a car quickly after passing. If I’d have left it a while, I think I’d have been more nervous than ever. I’d definitely advise buying a car when all the driving advice is fresh!

I’ve been a driver now since 2017 and it makes me sad to think that I’m still not fully comfortable with it. I would absolutely love to be like most people and just be able to jump into a car, travel somewhere new and not have a care in the world. Instead, hundreds of anxious thoughts run through my tiny mind, making the journey more complicated and less enjoyable than your average ride.

An insight into the mind of a gal with driving anxiety:

Picture the scene:

Andy has gone on a bike ride and has been out a few hours. I get a call in which he tells me he has a puncture and needs rescuing. I ask where he is, he says “in the moors somewhere”. Right…I’d be bad enough if I knew the damn postcode but this literally means nothing to me. I was told to head towards Halifax (Yorkshire, UK) and whilst I’m sure Halifax isn’t the biggest place in the world, in my mind it felt like I’d just been asked to drive to Australia. I rang my Dad in absolute panic and he gave me a postcode of a random pub to go to, neither of us really knowing if this would lead me to the final destination. (Speaking of Final Destination, that film plot is like the irrational fears that go through my head when I think about driving!).

To cut the story short, I got there somehow and I can’t even explain how massively proud I was with myself! This is the first (and if I can help it, the only time) I will be driving anywhere blind (not literally…). Usually, if I’m going somewhere new and it’s a planned thing, I’ll get onto google maps a week in advance and check out the route. Again, most people just probably look at the directions in word or map form but not me. I have to click on google street view and follow it along as if I’m going on a virtual journey.

How crashing impacted my driving anxiety:

It’s frustrating to think that I have all this independence yet my anxiety stops me from using it.

I had a crash a year after passing my test and it was completely my fault. I’d made a stupid last minute decision at a roundabout and then someone crashed into the side of me. Having this experience has made my driving anxiety worse and following the street view route puts me at ease as I can plan which lane I need to be in in advance.

Don’t get me wrong, I still drive regularly, but it’s more because its a necessity, not because I enjoy the process. I’ve made out as if every time I get into the car I have a panic attack. I don’t, but I’m definitely guilty of taking the easy way out and being the passenger. For me, driving is a bit like going to the gym. I hate the build up to it, but once I’m actually there doing it, I feel much better. Unfortunately, the way to get over driving anxiety is to get behind the wheel. I know that and while I’ve taken big strides (in my eyes) to do that, I know I’m bad for panicking about it and taking the easy route instead. What I think people forget (and yet it’s at the forefront of my mind), is that it isn’t like an exam. I can’t just practice, practice, practice and if it goes wrong then its a case of ‘oh well’. If it goes wrong, I’m on a road and could seriously do harm to myself or others.

Tips for managing driving anxiety:

I may not be the best person to provide tips as I’m still not 100% confident at driving, but there’s a few things I’ve used or considered that have helped me along the way. I hope they help you too if you’re in a similar boat (or should I say car):

Fear tools app –

I’ve found this really useful, particularly when I can feel myself getting into a panic. There is a ‘breathe’ function which is basically a large circle that goes smaller, then larger again. The idea is to inhale through your nose when the circle goes small and exhale through your mouth when it expands. It’s really worked for me to calm my breathing down.

Passenger or no passenger?-

This is an odd one for me. I feel like sometimes, I prefer having Andy in the car with me because he’s better at directions and I can just follow what he says. However, sometimes, by having someone there with me I find that I talk more about how stressed I’m feeling which causes me to feel worse. If you aren’t confident, it probably is best to try going out with someone you trust, but this isn’t for everyone.

Consider external factors:

By this I mean two things. Firstly, that its definitely not time to try and conquer your driving fears when you have something else behind the scenes going on. When I was grieving for my Mum for example. That wouldn’t have been the best time to start trying to calm my driving anxiety down because I was already anxious and emotional. Secondly, consider factors that can heighten anxiety such as caffeine intake. Probably not best to knock back a few espressos before hitting the road!

P plates:

If you’re new on the road, there’s no shame in sticking a P plate on your car. I kept mine on for a year ha! Probably a bit extreme but I feel like other road users are more aware you may be nervous and they’re a bit more patient.

My first car ‘Doug’ flashing his P plates loud n proud
And finally .. Exposure:

Unfortunately, the only way to get better is to practice and this is a tip I need to actually act on myself. I’m starting to realise though that it’s fine to start small. If you’re just starting out driving, it might be that you just sit in the car for a few minutes with the engine running and don’t move. Sure, you’ve not driven anywhere that time; but you’ve got your body and mind used to knowing the feeling of being in the drivers seat. Next, you might just go a few yards down the road, then round the block and so on. Go at your own pace and do whats best for you. If you read my blog post about my medical condition, you’ll know I can’t go 5 minutes without having a wee, so that’s 100% my excuse for doing short journeys!

Do you have any tips for driving anxiety that might help me or others reading this? I’d love to hear (because this is quite frankly getting ridiculous now and Andy is 100% fed up of being my private taxi! Oops)

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  • Victoria says:

    Such a great post! I miss driving so much but there’s just no need for a car right now as I live in the city centre walk to work plus Gareth thinks I’m a terrible driver – (he’s not wrong, but I won’t admit this to him lol) I do suffer with anxiety and there’s some great tips here for when I do start driving again. xxxxx

  • Beth says:

    I passed almost a year ago and the driving anxiety is real. I would say I feel slightly calmer if I am the only person in the car, but that is mostly because I tend to only drive places that I know really well and have been to many times (including with my instructor as I still have his voice in my head advising me on what to do – not sure if that’s weird or not). Not sure if this is necessarily helpful advice, but I would say if someone is really close behind you, don’t let them bully you into driving faster than you feel comfortable to. Drive at your own pace and let them fuck up (or safely overtake you – but we all know what a lot of road users are like who think they own the roads πŸ™„). I also like to check on google maps what the traffic is like before I head out so I can see roughly how long it will take me to get to where I’m going and if there is any bad traffic, just in case it would be easier to take another route. Hope this helps πŸ€—

    • hannahshappyhour says:

      Aw I’m glad you can relate! I totally agree about going at your own pace. At first I remember being panicked about people being right up my backside but now I just find myself saying out loud “if you wanna go fast why not just bloody overtake!”. I’d happily let them ha!
      I can totally relate to driving to well known places as well. It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone and I find it really hard getting out of it when it comes to driving xxx

  • Amy Jackson says:

    This was a fab post and I really relate! I’ve been driving for 8 years now and still get pretty bad anxiety about it. I’m fine driving to places I know, but if I have no idea where I’m going or parking is difficult I get very anxious very quickly. I completely agree with you that exposure is the best thing – I always find once I’m actually in the car driving my anxiety isn’t half as bad as it was beforehand, and with some good background music I actually start to enjoy it! Having said that though I still haven’t braved the motorway after 8 years – mainly because I think I’ve built it up in my head too much! Xx