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6 July, 2021

How to deal with driving anxiety and test day nerves

Driving a car on the freeway. Overtaking car.

Having driving anxiety is more common than you would expect. According to a survey carried out by Nissan 23% of drivers said they felt anxious about using motorways and 39% of drivers felt scared or uncertain behind the wheel in general. 

It’s horrible being struck with a bout of anxiety anytime you have to jump behind the wheel, but as a learning driver it could also get in the way of you passing your driving test. Let’s take a look into driving anxiety and some top tips and techniques for keeping it at bay.

What causes driving anxiety?

The most obvious answer to this would be the fear of crashing your car or having a driving accident, but there’s a few other things that can cause driving anxiety.

The fear of having a panic attack is actually one of the most common causes of driving anxiety according to Dr. Paul Greene. “Sometimes, people have a panic attack when driving and then have a significant fear of that happening again. This leads some people to stop driving altogether,” Greene said. 

Some other causes of driving anxiety can be from:

  • past experiences of car accidents
  • being lost
  • traveling through heavy traffic
  • watching a bad car accident on television
  • having someone you know experience an accident
  • a lack of trust in your driving skills

What are the symptoms of driving anxiety?

It’s likely that if you’re reading this you’ve had your fair share of run-ins with driving anxiety, so you know what it’s like. But if you’re not sure what you’re experiencing is driving anxiety, these are the most common symptoms:

  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness
  • panic and fear, which is often excessive, persistent, and unreasonable
  • strong desire to get away from the car
  • racing heartbeat
  • rapid breathing
  • sweaty palms
  • disorientation

How to overcome driving anxiety

Depending on the level of anxiety, some things will help and others may not. But a good portion of the time, driving anxiety is often reduced or overcome by building up more experience and spending more time on the road. This is something that will often be the case for learners or newly passed drivers.

However, for those learners that are suffering with driving anxiety and are nervous about their upcoming driving test, getting experience isn’t the easiest thing to do. We at RED have seen nerves get the better of students during their driving tests, so we’ve created a unique three-part course which is delivered by RED specialists to reduce driving anxiety and make sure that test day nerves don’t get in the way of passing your driving test.

Find out more about our Test Day Nerves course here.

For more experienced drivers that are suffering with driving anxiety we have some tips that could help rein in your nerves:

  • Avoid caffeine and empty stomachs – cutting down on your caffeine intake or removing it entirely can have a surprisingly positive effect on anxiety. Make sure you’ve eaten something before driving and also don’t drive if you’re sleep deprived.
  • Stress management – sustained or longer periods of high stress can lead to anxiety, so do your best to keep your stress levels down. Some standard techniques such as taking regular breaks at work, finding time for exercise, yoga and meditation can all be helpful in reducing stress and keeping anxiety at bay.
  • Therapeutic techniques – practices such as ‘desensitisation’ involve taking small steps to put yourself in situations that trigger anxiety in order to become familiar with the situation and to desensitise yourself to the triggers. In this case, an example might be simply sitting in a parked car with the engine running.
  • In-car focus – maintaining focus when you are behind the wheel is crucial to driving safely, but can also help to keep your other worries or concerns at bay. Keep your mobile phone safely out of sight and reduce your speed if you find that helps – the faster you drive, the more information you’ll need to process.
  • Consider lift sharing – sometimes the worries of having to get in your car every day can wear you down and lead to you having trouble sticking with it. If possible, try and share the load with a friend, colleague or group that are travelling to a similar area. You may find your days spent as a passenger can help with perspective.
  • Breathing – A really simple anxiety busting tip you can perform whilst driving is to practice our breathing technique. Simply breathe deeply in for 5 seconds, and out again for 5 seconds, repeat for up to 3 minutes or until the sensation subsides.
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