Driving in Peace: How I Overcame Driving Anxiety

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I knew from my very first lesson that passing my driving test would be no easy feat. I’ve always had some form of performance anxiety – I couldn’t do certain things in front of people for fear that I was being watched, and possibly judged. I can’t cook a meal if someone is in the kitchen, I freeze up and tell them to go away because I don’t want to be interrogated about what I’m cooking and how I’m cooking it just for them to mock me, tell me I’m ‘doing it wrong’ and have them interfere. At work, I’m terrified of the first floor photocopier because I have no idea how to use it and it’s in the middle of an open plan office, so I avoid it at all costs so I don’t have to know what a hundred eyes burning into the back of my head feels like.

I knew learning to drive would be hard, but when I sat in the drivers seat for the first time it really hit me. I told myself it was normal, and after a few lessons I’d ease up and it’d be second nature to me. “It’s like riding a bike” Everyone would say. Great – I have performance anxiety over riding a bike, too. My first driving instructor was terrible; he often lost his temper and blamed me outright for making simple honest mistakes that a learner would. I felt like I wasn’t progressing at all and what little confidence I had at the beginning had all been lost. I gave it up for months, and that was hard because craving independence in a rural town meant everything relied on me passing my driving test.

After months of searching and finally plucking up the courage I was fortunate enough to find a driving instructor who had a great reputation among nervous drivers. He was very calm, patient, and reassuring even when I had made a mistake. I passed my driving test on the second attempt, after learning on and off for almost two years, which felt like a lifetime.

I thought passing my test would be the end of my performance anxiety, after all, I had nothing to prove any more, I had the license and a car without the L plates, but I still felt inferior. I still felt like I couldn’t drive, so I avoided giving lifts whenever possible; I’d run and hide whenever someone needed to be picked up, I’d rather not go out at all than be the designated driver or have to drive somewhere new, I went back to walking and just told people I “Didn’t want to rely on my car too much”. I felt like a total fraud.  If I couldn’t avoid it, I’d have a panic attack over it. If I made a mistake, I’d burst into floods of tears from embarrassment and prepare myself for the incoming ridicule.

Over the years however there were some situations that couldn’t be avoided. Sometimes I would have to give someone a lift, or drive to a new place. Just the idea would send my head in a spin and grip me with fear. I wished and wished for a change of plans that meant I didn’t have to drive. I wondered if spending all that time and money on driving lessons was worth it when I was so afraid to get behind the wheel.

I had to change; I refused to live the rest of my life in fear of my car. I actually offered my brother a lift, to the train station, which I’d never been to or driven to before. What the hell was I thinking? I checked the route on Google Maps, making sure to go down to street view and follow every roundabout, every turning, mentally preparing myself for the journey I was about to make. I confided in my brother that I was nervous, and he was very supportive, which also eased my anxiety about being perceived as incapable and useless and possibly being berated for it.

I got in the car, I didn’t panic, I didn’t mess anything up. Anxiety often has us worrying over nothing at all. I had a pleasant drive to the station with my brother, but I knew the real challenge would be driving home without him – who could I ask for directions if I got lost on the way home? I’m so awful at remembering directions, and when I get confused I start to panic and I didn’t want to be panicking alone in an unfamiliar place. But despite all my fears, I was on the final road to home. All by myself, all without incident. I turned my music up, and for the for the first time enjoyed cruising down a road in my car. In that moment, I felt so big yet so small all at once, and I was overcome with confidence at this great achievement, that today I had grown; today I had conquered.

 

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26 thoughts on “Driving in Peace: How I Overcame Driving Anxiety

  1. I got angry when you mentioned your first instructor. Before getting into details, I knew that he missed up. I learnt the hard way that a lot of incompetent people affect our confidence. Sometimes in a crucial way. Teachers, instructors, parents…may make us think that we have a problem. While we don’t. On the bright/funny side, once you mentioned your trip back home from the train station, I imagined that moment as a happy ending for a movie. You driving home, Good music on, One hand on the steer wheel, and the hand feeling the breeze out of the window. For me, I believe that practice can make us master any skill.
    All the best Zoe!

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  2. Anxiety is a mysterious beast. Since I was old enough to drive, that’s just what I did. And I really enjoy driving! It definitely makes you think when you read posts like this! Anxiety effects me in some everyday things but if it affected me when I was learning to drive or when I’m out driving that would bum me out because I drive to be with my thoughts. I’m glad you were finally able to enjoy the drive!! Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Your first instructor sounds horrific! He probably made your anxiety about making a mistake 100x worse! Well done to you for overcoming it though, it takes a lot of guts for anyone to drive somewhere on their own for the first time! And that’s coming from someone who LOVES driving x

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  4. Thank you for opening up about your experiences, and I’m so sorry you originally had an awful instructor. Congrats on passing your test, and keep driving and overcoming that anxiety and fear. Easier said than done, but once you feel comfortable doing it, it’s like a huge weight lifted off your shoulders. Keep going. 💜

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  5. I’ve been thinking about driving a lot lately but anxiety has always kept me from taking my test – I’m absolutely terrified. It’s incredibly reassuring to know that while you deal with anxiety over driving, you’ve been able to pass your test and, despite the anxiety, you’ve made trips that scare you, both of those are huge achievements and you should be so proud of yourself for it. It gives me hope that one day I’ll be able to do this as well. Thank you for sharing your experience!

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    1. The test is scary as hell, but don’t be discouraged if you don’t pass first time. I didn’t, because I think there was too much ‘fear of the unknown’. I know people who have had to take their test 5 or more times before they passed. Don’t give up!

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  6. I’ve always hated driving and even have passed just over 20 years ago nothing has changed I especially get anxious when I’m driving in an area I don’t know very well & will try not to venture out of my home city. I honestly believe a lot of this anxiousness I feel is down to the bad relationship I had with my instructor. Some years before he’d helped my Dad pass & had agreed a deal with him for weekly lessons for my brother & I. As my parents paid I always felt I had to go with him but we argued every lesson had no faith in me ever passing & I think his negativity affected my confidence so much so, that 20 years later I still feel I can’t drive. Great post certainly has resonated with a few. 😊

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  7. I never considered driver’s anxiety to be a legitimate thing, I’d convinced myself for years that I was just being stupid. I’ve been driving for three years and I’ve never driven on a motorway, gone to a drive thru (im not sure why im anxious about those – but thinking about it fills me with dread) and I generally don’t drive anywhere unless I know the place back to front. That generally limits me to my home town and my test route. I never learned to park either, so don’t get me started on that 😂😂

    Anyway, my moaning aside, this was such an informative and inspiring post. You’ve inspired me to try to be braver with my driving. Thank you!!

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    1. You sound a lot like me, and when everyone else is confident in a car it’s easy to feel like it’s just you being stupid. You’re not, just take your time, and build up your confidence at your own pace. You’ll get there. ☺️

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  8. You’re not the only one! I learnt to drive three years ago so I wasn’t a bright eyed bushy tailed 17-year-old and I was nervous. I also learnt to drive in a city I didn’t know which made me extra nervous.

    My first driving instructor sounds similar to yours. My second was a passionate Italian and he was brilliant. He really helped calm my nerves and build my confidence. I was so scared I’d hurt someone and roundabouts scared the bejesus out of me.

    I had to pass my test for work which added the pressure on but amazingly I passed my practical test first time. Believe me everyone was surprised.

    Now I’ve been driving for three years I do still get nervous but mainly when I’m driving somewhere new and I don’t know where I’ll park or if I will find it ok. My new car has a sat nav which helps and I also try to leave extra time for my journey so I don’t panic.

    Rachael | https://rachaelstray.com

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  9. Well done for conquering your fear, that takes a lot of strength! I can’t believe how unsupportive your first driving instructor was, sounds like he is in the wrong job. I used to be an anxious driver too and avoided taking the car – things changed when I moved to South Africa though as I had no other choice but drive to places. It was basically like being thrown into the deep end, especially as I was used to driving in much smaller cities and on the other side of the road but it definitely helped me conquer my fear. xx

    113thingstosay.com

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  10. Well done!! I’m still learning, and my anxiety is ludicrous. I don’t feel anxious but if something goes wrong I just totally blank and my reactions are too slow. I’ve been learning for nearly a year and should probably take my test soon but really don’t know how I’ll cope with it!

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    1. Take your test when you’re ready, your instructor will be able to tell too. Don’t lose hope if you don’t pass first time though – as much as you want to get it out of the way and probably don’t want to do it more than once, it’s the biggest relief when you finally pass and it’s all done. Good luck!

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    1. Practice, as often as you can. Go out for drives to the petrol station or the shops on your own to avoid pressure or distractions from a passenger, and go out when you know the roads will be quiet so if you make a mistake it’s not the end of the world. And give yourself extra time when you have to be somewhere so you’re not rushing because I find that just makes my anxiety worse. I hope it gets better for you ☺️

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  11. Oh my goodness I feel like I wrote this or something! I’ve never found someone who felt exactly the same way about driving as I do. Like all of those feelings are what I feel. I still have friends give me a ride every time we hang out because I get anxiety about them seeing me drive or the fear comes in that after going to one spot, we’re going to randomly decide to go to another spot that I’m not familiar with. I’ve had a moment as well where I had to overcome my fear.I had an appointment and my cousin took me the first time but I had to go again and he couldn’t take me. I had no one to take me so I went on my own and It was raining which was even worse because I didn’t know the roads. I got turned around a little but was so proud of myself when I got there and back. Glad to know i’m not alone ♥

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    1. I thought it was just me all this time! It’s so upsetting to put so much time into learning to drive and then I’m barely able to do it because of my anxiety. I’ve been driving for 3 years now, I’m nowhere near confident but I’m making baby steps. Good to hear you’re making progress too! We’ll get there 💪

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