It’s been around 4 years now since I passed my driving test. It really doesn’t feel that long ago! I didn’t have the easiest experience learning to drive with anxiety. Two instructors, 3 cars (not my fault, I promise), 3 tests and one slightly dented tree, but I finally passed my test in August of 2014.
One thing that I believe really contributed to my driving experience was my anxiety. For the sake of transparency and trying to help others, I thought I would document some things I struggled with. I’ve included my top 5 tips for learning to drive with anxiety below!
Find an instructor that you really get along with
On a super basic level, cars are pretty small spaces, so you probably don’t want to be sharing that with somebody who makes you uncomfortable or that you don’t like. I had two different instructors whilst learning to drive. The first was a family friend, and I really expected to gel with him as I already knew him well and he was aware of my anxiety. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong! I won’t go into detail in case it makes you more nervous, but let’s just say we were not a good match.
My second instructor was an absolute angel. He was so patient and understanding, but also had a good sense of humour, so if I did something wrong or made a mistake he made a joke out of it instead of shouting or being teacher-like with me. Our relationship definitely helped with my confidence as we started some of the harder manoeuvres as I wasn’t scared to try new things with him and I could tell him if I was particularly nervous about something.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself
Nobody drives like Lewis Hamilton in their first lesson, and you are expected to stall and hit curbs! So try and take the pressure off a little, remember this is something totally different to anything you will have done before, and try to relax. Driving is a skill that takes practice and experience.
Ignore other road users
I found that I worried a lot about what other road users would think of my driving. If I stalled, I was fine, but I felt really bad for the poor woman stuck behind me. I also felt like there was nowhere to hide when driving – if something went wrong or I had an accident, it was my fault and no-one else’s. That idea took me a while to come to terms with.
I also got anxious at the thought of anybody I knew seeing me out on a lesson. I don’t really know why, but I guess it added that pressure of trying not to do anything wrong in front of someone.
(Also ignore them because a lot of people drive like idiots. Don’t become one of them.)
Take time out if you need to
It wasn’t uncommon for me to pull over (safely of course) on driving lessons if I needed a moment. Sometimes it would just get too much and I would just need a minute to breathe and calm myself down. On other occasions, if I had just learnt something new or particularly complicated, I sort of needed a minute for it to sink in before I felt safe to continue. Again, my instructor was really understanding and never rushed me to carry on. At the end of the day, you have paid for his/her time, so you can take the lesson at your pace.
There is no rush
And that is something that I would advise anyone learning to drive, but especially someone who is already struggling with anxiety. Take it at your own pace. There is no rush to jump into a car the second you turn 17. If you don’t feel ready, then you don’t have to start learning immediately. I was almost 18 when I started learning to drive, but I didn’t pass until I was almost 20.
There is also no rush on the actual road. Speed wasn’t something that made me anxious, but I know a lot of learner drivers find it very intimidating, especially when they first go on a dual carriageway. Explain your worries to your instructor and try to remember that they wouldn’t take you on faster roads if they didn’t believe you were capable and ready to do it.
If you are thinking about learning to drive, or have started having lessons, I hope this helps to ease some of your worries!