Coping with anxiety when driving

Picture of signpost showing direction to Fear and Courage

Posted by We Are Marmalade on 05 May 2017

In support of Mental Health Awareness Week, which takes place 8-14 May this year, Marmalade have worked with young drivers and driving instructors to put together some advice to help young drivers cope with anxiety when driving - as learners, or new drivers.

Ensure your driving instructor is one that you’re comfortable with

Carl, a 24 year-old Marmalade customer, said: “I went through three driving instructors before I found one who I actually felt comfortable learning to drive with. Being comfortable made a huge difference in my confidence.”

Driving instructor Monika added: “I’ve found that some of my older students have put off learning to drive because they had a negative experience with an instructor when they were younger. Anxiety among young drivers is more common than most people think. If you’re struggling, let your instructor know; chances are they’ve worked with students in similar situations in the past and will have valuable advice on how to deal with it.”

If your anxiety is mild, don’t avoid driving 

Avoiding driving will only serve to confirm your fear and make it harder to overcome. Instead, find ways to deal with your anxiety. Chris, a driving instructor from Leeds, said: “It’s inevitable that you’ll encounter stressful situations while driving. It’s essential to have coping mechanisms that work for you, even if it is as simple as focusing on controlling your breathing.”

Think about past successes

And repeating a positive mantra before setting off to put you in a better frame of mind.

“I found a huge improvement in my driving and confidence when I told myself that things WOULD go right, instead of assuming that something bad would happen,” said Chloe.

Find a quiet place or time of day to practise manoeuvres and skills

In particular, the ones that you’re most anxious about, such as parallel parking or turning around in tight spaces. Recent research with our young drivers suggested roundabouts are one of the top causes of stress for young drivers.

Carl said: “The area that used to make me feel most anxious was coming up to big roundabouts where you have to focus on signs, lane positioning, clutch control and giving way.”

Chloe agreed: “My instructor recommended that I make mind maps for manoeuvres that I find particularly difficult. I found this extremely helpful; when I would approach a roundabout, instead of panicking, I was able to go through all of the steps in my head, slow down and stay calm.”

Driving instructor Chris added: “Mind-mapping is a powerful tool that helps people get out on paper what the problem is, allowing them to explore potential causes and triggers of anxiety.”

Take things slow

If driving long distances worries you, start with shorter drives and gradually build them up. If you aren’t confident about driving on the motorway, try driving short distances later at night when traffic is lighter.

“Setting small, achievable goals is the key. Even if it’s just getting the car moving, or driving around a roundabout, every time you get in the car you will be able to see yourself improving and eventually bigger things like taking your driving test won’t seem so overwhelming,” says Chris

Chloe said “Before my driving lessons, I drive my car up and down the drive, just to get used to the pedals and being in the driver’s seat. By the time my instructor arrives for my lesson, I feel much more comfortable in the car.”

Finally, if coping with your anxiety becomes overwhelming when you’re behind the wheel, find a safe place to stop and only carry on driving when you’re ready to.

You out the full story on Carl and Chloe's experiences here on how they gained more confidence in the driving seat, and read more advice from driving instructor, Chris Bensted here.