Driving While Anxious: How to Learn Confidence Behind the Wheel

Updated on May 18, 2020

Five Tips for More Relaxed Driving

When I was learning how to drive, I would white knuckle the steering wheel. I constantly had racing thoughts about pedestrians, other cars, and all the what-ifs that come along with being a first-time driver. Though I am a confident and cautious driver these days, I remember how rough it was to learn to drive while suffering from anxiety. With these five tips in mind, I hope new drivers can feel a little better about getting behind the wheel.

Driving for the first time can be nerve-wracking. With self-care tools in mind, you can combat driving anxiety and become a confident driver.
Driving for the first time can be nerve-wracking. With self-care tools in mind, you can combat driving anxiety and become a confident driver. | Source

1. Remember to Breathe

Breathing exercises are a common coping strategy recommended for anxiety sufferers. Big “belly breaths” (called diaphragmatic breathing) has a soothing effect on your nervous system and can make you feel so much better when in a state of high anxiety. Diaphragmatic breathing can be a useful tool in your toolbox when learning to drive in uncomfortable situations.

Try utilizing diaphragmatic breathing after a stressful driving incident. Did someone follow you way too closely for the last few miles, making you feel nervous and unsafe? Did you get honked at by another driver for making a mistake? When your anxiety peaks in these heated moments, I know how uncomfortable it can be; they can make you almost want to give up on driving altogether. After an anxious situation, taking a deep belly breath will help you to regulate your brain and body and bring you back to a calm baseline.

Scientific Evidence About the Benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing for Anxiety

Don't take my word for it, check it out!

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27553981

2. Loosen Your Grip

We all know that your brain sends signals to your body, but did you know that the feedback can go the other way too? When you tense your muscles, your brain understands that you are in a stressful situation requiring more focus and adrenaline than usual. By keeping your hands tight on the wheel and white knuckling through every intersection, you are signaling back to your brain that you need to feel anxious right now. This creates an endless feedback loop of anxiety that doesn’t help when you’re learning to drive.

Try to mindfully relax your hands on the wheel occasionally when driving. Maybe every time you stop at an intersection, or after each successful turn. Don’t let go of the wheel, just make sure you aren’t holding on for dear life.

3. Take Frequent Breaks

When starting out, try not to drive for extended periods of time. It’s best to start with smaller driving sessions then building up in increments of 10 or 15 minutes. For example, you might drive for 10 minutes one day, then 20 or 30 the next. When you’re in a high-stress situation, your brain signals the release of chemicals that increase your heart rate and blood pressure. These fight-or-flight chemicals can put your body through a tremendous amount of effort in a short period of time.

Taking breaks while driving gives your body a break from the stress of learning this new and challenging skill. Until a driving student’s anxiety subsides from adequate practice and experience, it’s wise to take breaks to lower the physical toll of driving anxiety on the student.

4. Talk Through Everything

When I was learning to drive, I found it enormously helpful to talk through everything I was doing in advance. When I was with my instructor, this gave them plenty of heads up of what I planned to do next so if I made a mistake it wouldn’t be a wheel-yanking one.

Giving an instructor this opportunity to correct a mistake before it happens keeps everyone in the car safer and better informed. Talking aloud also helped my anxiety when I was alone in the car, as it reinforced my self-image that I knew what I was doing and how to do it. This builds confidence and lessens anxiety over time.

Hey, if you managed to nail this as a kid, you'll be driving with the best of them in no time!
Hey, if you managed to nail this as a kid, you'll be driving with the best of them in no time! | Source

5. Remember That Everyone is on the Same Team

Remember that as much as you don’t want to hit someone else’s car, they are just as keen on not hitting you with theirs. While it is safest to assume that other drivers are mistake-prone and inattentive, at the end of the day, you all share a common goal. Nobody wants to get hurt or damage one of their most expensive possessions.

As intimidating as sharing the road can be, remember that everyone is on the same team, everyone wants to get home safely. Not only that, but everyone was a new driver once and probably felt a lot of the same things you're feeling when on the road.

Did you suffer from driving anxiety when first learning to drive?

See results

You Are Not Alone

Driving anxiety is common in new drivers. A scientist working for Web MD conducted a study of 190 people with driving fears, and found that 63% got easily upset while in a car (Deane 2000). While driving fears are pervasive and can be harmful, they can be overcome with practice and good coping tools.

With a supportive instructor and enough determination, anyone can learn how to drive. Safe travels!

Sources

https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/news/20000726/freeway-fright-facing-fears-head-on#1

https://www.health.harvard.edu/lung-health-and-disease/learning-diaphragmatic-breathing

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27553981

Questions & Answers

    © 2020 Jaime Fitzgerald

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • jennkesler profile image

        Jenn Kesler 

        2 weeks ago from Michigan, USA

        Great article! I still talk through many things out loud when I'm driving even though I've had my license for 4 years.

      • profile image

        Alex 

        4 weeks ago

        How long did it take you to get your drivers license while dealing with driving anxiety?

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, axleaddict.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)