We have taught a lot of anxious people over many years who range from the common nerves of getting into a car to learn to drive for the first time, to the highly emotional and those with terrifying prior experiences in car accidents and other triggers around cars, road use and control, or those with terrible supervising experiences and right through to the terrifying panic attacks about driving.

It is more ‘normal’ than most people realise to experience anxiety about driving or learning to drive.  Here are two seriously helpful tips we have found in teaching people with anxiety over the years:

  1. Plan ahead

If you are supervising a driver / learner with anxiety it can’t be stressed enough how important it is to plan your drive and discuss it before getting in the car, from a simple drive up your street or the first time to the shops and back.  Discuss the left and right turns, the types of traffic, and any specific road situations that might come up along the way, especially if there are lane changes or anything tricky to plan for. You could even get google maps out to track the drive prior to getting in the car.  In planning the drive, the anxious Learner/Driver can visualise the drive before attempting it, this helps to calm some of the nerves and build their anticipation skills, as the unknown causes some of the anxiety in the first place!

Given anxiety does rise with the overwhelming fear of the unknown, the more the supervisor can talk the anxious Learner through where they are going and how they are going to manage the various aspects of the drive, and keep the dialogue going along the way, the anxious Learner feels more focused on the detail and therefore what is in their control (their anticipation skills), rather than what is not.

  1. Create positive “anchors” for driving

Anxiety can be triggered by specific events, smells, emotions or the overwhelming feeling of a combination of these things, usually associated negatively and the body reels into ‘flight or fight’ mode.  These triggered may not always be related to driving, but cause the onset of anxiety anyway.

If we can “re-wire” some of these triggers by consciously creating new “sensory anchors”, this can help both subconsciously and consciously to create a happy and positive environment around being in the car and driving.

We suggest that every time you get in the car to drive, wear your favourite perfume or aftershave, maybe your favourite shirt or dress, go to the effort of making yourself feel good by what you wear and how you smell.  I have one student who has a lavender plant at the front of her house and pulls off a flower or stem each time she comes for a driving lesson.  By rubbing this on her wrists, it’s a smell unique to her learning to drive experiences, where we ensure we create a happy, safe and fulfilling experience for her each time, which is then associated with this smell she loves!

The sensory ‘anchor’ can be as simple as always positioning the air-conditioning vents onto your fingers or face when you are driving the car, to create a sense of fresh air when you are behind the wheel.  A combination of these types of anchors works very well too!

It is most important to create a sense of happiness, adventure and calmness around driving, get creative, do some planning, take your time, learn to re-wire your experiences each time you get in the car.

For more advice and support for learning to drive with anxiety please call Streetwise Driver Training on 0417 548 159 or email us at learn@streetwisedriving.com.au