Learn to Drive 2019

Anxiety and it's affect on driving

Written on 02/19/2019
WebConnect Ltd

What is Anxiety

Anxiety is what we feel when we are worried, tense or afraid – particularly about things that are about to happen, or which we think could happen in the future. Anxiety is a natural human response when we perceive that we are under threat. It can be experienced through our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.

Most people feel anxious at times. It's particularly common to experience some anxiety while coping with stressful events or changes, especially if they could have a big impact on your life. Being able to drive is a life changer! So it's totally understandable that most pupils suffer with some form of anxiety (nerves) whilst learning to drive, and this often peaks at the time of the driving test.

In fact, I would go as far to say, that it is the No.1 reason why the majority of pupil's fail their driving test. First understand your anxiety and how it affects you, then find a way to manage it! If you can control your anxiety, you will have a far greater chance of passing your driving test and staying safe on the roads.

In some cases, and depending on the individual, what started with "just nerves on the day", can escolate into something more serious. Anxiety can be experienced in lots of different ways. 

If your experiences meet certain criteria your doctor might diagnose you with a specific anxiety disorder.

Some commonly diagnosed anxiety disorders are:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) – this means having regular or uncontrollable worries about many different things in your everyday life. Because there are lots of possible symptoms of anxiety this can be quite a broad diagnosis, meaning that the problems you experience with GAD might be quite different from another person's experiences.
  • Social anxiety disorder – this diagnosis means you experience extreme fear or anxiety triggered by social situations (such as parties, workplaces, or any situation in which you have to talk to another person). It is also known as social phobia. (See our page on types of phobia for more information.)
  • Panic disorder – this means having regular or frequent panic attacks without a clear cause or trigger. Experiencing panic disorder can mean that you feel constantly afraid of having another panic attack, to the point that this fear itself can trigger your panic attacks. (See our page on panic attacks for more information.)
  • Phobias – a phobia is an extreme fear or anxiety triggered by a particular situation (such as social situations) or a particular object (such as spiders). (See our pages on phobias for more information.)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – this is a diagnosis you may be given if you develop anxiety problems after going through something you found traumatic. PTSD can cause flashbacks or nightmares which can feel like you’re re-living all the fear and anxiety you experienced during the actual event. (See our pages on PTSD for more information.)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – you may be given this diagnosis if your anxiety problems involve having repetitive thoughts, behaviours or urges. (See our pages on OCD for more information.)
  • Health anxiety – this means you experience obsessions and compulsions relating to illness, including researching symptoms or checking to see if you have them. It is related to OCD. (You can find out more about health anxiety on the Anxiety UK website.)
  • Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) – this means you experience obsessions and compulsions relating to your physical appearance. (See our pages on BDD for more information.)
  • Perinatal anxiety or perinatal OCD – some women develop anxiety problems during pregnancy or in the first year after giving birth. (See our pages on perinatal anxiety and perinatal OCD for more information.)

You might not have, or want, a diagnosis of a particular anxiety disorder – but it might still be useful to learn more about these different diagnoses to help you think about your own experiences of anxiety, and consider options for support.

What does anxiety feel like

Anxiety feels different for everyone. You might experience some of the things listed below, and you might also have other experiences or difficulties that aren't listed here.

Effects on your body

  • a churning feeling in your stomach
  • feeling light-headed or dizzy
  • pins and needles
  • feeling restless or unable to sit still
  • headaches, backache or other aches and pains
  • faster breathing
  • a fast, thumping or irregular heartbeat
  • sweating or hot flushes
  • problems sleeping
  • grinding your teeth, especially at night
  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • needing the toilet more or less often
  • changes in your sex drive
  • having panic attacks.

Effects on your mind

  • feeling tense, nervous or unable to relax
  • having a sense of dread, or fearing the worst
  • feeling like the world is speeding up or slowing down
  • feeling like other people can see you're anxious and are looking at you
  • feeling like you can't stop worrying, or that bad things will happen if you stop worrying
  • worrying about anxiety itself, for example worrying about when panic attacks might happen
  • wanting lots of reassurance from other people or worrying that people are angry or upset with you
  • worrying that you're losing touch with reality
  • rumination – thinking a lot about bad experiences, or thinking over a situation again and again
  • depersonalisation – feeling disconnected from your mind or body, or like you're watching someone else (this is a type of dissociation)​
  • derealisation – feeling disconnected from the world around you, or like the world isn't real (this is a type of dissociation)
  • worrying a lot about things that might happen in the future – you can read more about these sorts of worries on the Anxiety UK website.

How can I help myself

Living with anxiety can be very difficult, but there are steps you can take that might help. This page has some suggestions for you to consider:

(For tips on coping with panic attacks, see our section on what helps to manage panic attacks.)

Talk to someone you trust

Talking to someone you trust about what's making you anxious could be a relief. It may be that just having someone listen to you and show they care can help in itself. If you aren't able to open up to someone close to you, the Samaritans and Anxiety UK both run helplines that you can call to talk to someone.

Read Amy's blog about how sharing her experiences of anxiety with others online helps her.

Getting it off my chest seems to help relieve some of the pressure.

Try to manage your worries

It can be really hard to stop worrying when you have anxiety. You might have worries you can't control. Or you might feel like you need to keep worrying because it feels useful – or that bad things might happen if you stop.

It can be helpful to try different ways of addressing these worries. For example, you could:

  • Set aside a specific time to focus on your worries – so you can reassure yourself you haven't forgotten to think about them. Some people find it helps to set a timer.
  • Write down your worries and keep them in a particular place – for example, you could write them in a notebook, or on pieces of paper you put in an envelope or jar.

Read Damien's blog about how being creative helps him manage his anxiety.

[I try to] accept that this is how I feel at the moment, but it won’t last forever.

Look after your physical health

  • Try to get enough sleep. Sleep can give you the energy to cope with difficult feelings and experiences. (See our page on coping with sleep problems for more information.)
  • Think about your diet. Eating regularly and keeping your blood sugar stable can make a difference to your mood and energy levels. (See our page on food and moodfor more information.)
  • Try to do some physical activity. Exercise can be really helpful for your mental wellbeing. (See our pages on physical activity for more information.)

Read Stephen's blog about how running helps him feel better.

I find going for a walk great, even if I can’t go far. I walk around the garden and eat my lunch outside.

Try breathing exercises

Breathing exercises can help you cope and feel more in control. You can find some suggestions on our page on relaxation and on the NHS Choices website.

Breathe… always remember to breathe. Take time to inhale. It’s the simplest thing, but is forgotten in panic attacks.

Can mindfulness help with anxiety?
Mindfulness is a way of giving your full attention to the present moment. It can help with some anxiety disorders, but the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) – the organisation that produces guidelines on best-practice in healthcare – says it's not helpful for social anxiety. (Read more about social anxiety in our page on types of phobias).

Some people say they find mindfulness helpful for coping with other anxiety disorders, but others say it makes them feel worse – particularly if keeping a busy mind is an important way of coping for you. It's best to try it with a trained professional if possible, or to get advice from a doctor or therapist before trying it by yourself. (See our pages on mindfulness for more information.)

Now I look for natural ways to control the panic and anxiety, including meditation, exercise, breathing exercises, mindfulness and diet.

Keep a diary

It might help to make a note of what happens when you get anxious or have a panic attack. This could help you spot patterns in what triggers these experiences for you, or notice early signs that they are beginning to happen.

You could also make a note of what's going well. Living with anxiety can mean you think a lot about things that worry you or are hard to do. It's important to be kind to yourself and notice the good things too.

I keep a photo diary of all the things I’ve managed to do! Makes me think "I can do this". So when I go and sit in a café, or go for a walk, I take a pic to record that I’ve done it, and look back when I feel scared… it encourages me that maybe I can do something [again] if I’ve done it before.

Try peer support

Peer support brings together people who’ve had similar experiences to support each other. Many people find it helps them to share ideas about how to stay well, connect with others and feel less alone. You could:

(See our pages on peer support for more information about what it involves and how to find a peer support group to suit you. If you're new to online peer support you might find it helpful to read our information on how to stay safe online.)

Complementary and alternative therapies

Yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, massage, reflexology, herbal treatments, Bach flower remedies, and hypnotherapy are all types of complementary therapy that you could try, and see if they work for you. Some people find that one or more of these methods can help them to relax, or sleep better.

Many chemists and health shops stock different remedies and should be able to offer advice.

​Much of the content for this post came from: