How to learn to drive with an anxiety disorder?

In this blog we will explore the question “How to learn to drive with an anxiety disorder?”

We will also discuss how you can prepare for your class and how you can manage the anxiety that arises.

How to learn to drive with an anxiety disorder?

Here are a few things you can apply as you learn how to drive with an anxiety disorder:

  • Get help with choosing the right instructor
  • Find out what is expected of you during the lesson
  • Practice driving outside of lessons
  • Get in the right headspace

Driving with anxiety, while difficult, is not necessarily dangerous. Usually new drivers with anxiety can successfully complete the lessons, past the test, get their licence, and be safe drivers.

However, the concern arises when anxiety symptoms impact the individual’s ability to focus, concentrate, and be aware of themselves and their surroundings when they are driving. For example in the case of panic attacks.

If you believe that your anxiety is something that will get in the way of you being a safe driver, start with seeking out treatment for anxiety. Consider therapy and counselling to help you manage your symptoms as well as some pharmacological treatments.

Based on your treatment and your progress in treatment your physician and your therapist can sign you off and you can start the learning process.

Get help with choosing a driving instructor

The first thing you can focus on when starting the process of learning is something that has nothing to do with the car or the act of driving. 

The first thing you can do is to find an instructor with whom you can develop a healthy relationship with. This can be someone who understands your anxieties and is able to help you through the learning process.

You can take in the recommendations from friends and family who have had a good experience with you and have a chat with them before you sit on an instructure. You can do this because this is your learning experience and if you are not comfortable with them, you need not commit. 

Find out what to expect from your first driving lesson

Another thing you can do to make your learning process better is to first learn more about what is going to happen in the lesson- knowledge becomes power. 

Ask other people, read it up on the internet, and ask your instructor what will happen and what you can do to p[reapre. 

Driving lessons usually go this way:

  • Your driving instructor will arrive 
  • You’ll go out to the car and get in the passenger seat
  • Your instructor will drive to a quiet place nearby and park
  • For the first 5 minutes, you’ll probably just talk about what you’ll be doing
  • You’ll then swap seats and go through all the car’s controls
  • Next you will learn to start the car and make it move forwards (ADAA)

During this time at the lesson, it is okay to make as many mistakes as you can. Better make mistakes now than later. 

Remember that nervousness is not a sign of incapability but rather just a feeling that you are nervous because it is your first time and that is very normal. 

Take your time, ease into it, pull out a few coping skills like deep breathing and try again, remember your instructor is there to help you learn and not to assess you. 

Practise driving outside of lessons

The more you practise,  the more comfortable you’ll feel with driving. So put in the time to practice as much as you can with family. 

Take a parent, guardian, and another adult to help you practice in remote and safe locations. Try everything and make sure you learn more about the controls as you go. 

You can take this time to talk about your anxieties and ask them about their experiences as they learned driving themselves. 

Practice at different times of the day, in different weathers- all in the safe, open ground without other drivers present- so that it gives you more confidence.

How to prepare for driving lessons?

Here are a few things that you can do to prepare for a driving lesson:

  • Avoid coffee or any stimulants before the class. 
  • Make sure you have gotten good sleep the night before.
  • Book your lesson at a time where it is not too early nor when it is traffic hours. For example in the afternoon when school is let out. 
  • Do some relaxation techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing. 
  • Avoid taking any medications that make you drowsy.

During the driving lessons a few things you can do are:

  • If it is too overwhelming, ask your instructor to give you a break. 
  • Make sure that you and your instructor mutually agree how long your sessions will need to be
  • Remember that everyone is different and you might find some instructors and you do not click, so make sure you send effort to find an instructor that works for you.

How to manage anxiety when learning to drive. ?

If you experience anxiety symptoms when you are getting ready to learn how to drive or when you are in the learners seat here are a few things you can do to manage the anxiety:

Desensitise Yourself

Take small steps towards getting comfortable with the car. When you get into the car, notice how it feels to be in the car and the space around you.

In that moment take a few seconds to set goals for yourself that are realistic for a new learner like yourself. 

It does not mean that you start driving the next day but maybe, you can start with trying to think of coming close to a car without panicking. Next, you can try going close to a car without panicking, and gradually getting inside a car and so forth. 

This process is called systematic desensitisation and it is best done when you are supervised by a practitioner but you can also try it by yourself if you think you can manage on your own. 

Engage in Relaxation

As you engage in desensitisation, incorporate realtations into it. Use relaxation techniques such as:

  • Deep breathing
  • Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)
  • Guided imagery
  • Mindfulness meditations

When you feel anxious or panicked when you are in the car, engage in these activities to help you relax. 

Should you inform authorities about your anxiety disorder?

When it comes to reporting your anxiety disorder to the authorities, it depends on how your diagnosis affects your mental and physical abilities and your ability to drive safely. 

If your anxiety symotms are sever enough to imapct concentration, focus, cause agitation, behavioural disturbance, or suicidal thoughts, and also active panic attacks the authorities need to be infomed.

It is most probable that your doctor will advise you not to drive and in the case that you do not inform the authorities and your doctors have reason to believe that you are driving with possible danger to yourself and to others- they can inform the authorities without permission. 

Reporting to the authorities will not mean that your insurance rates will increase just because you have anxiety, the disabilities laws will protect you from that. 

However, you will have to inform your insurance company if your doctor believes that you are at risk or you have increased risks.

What is driving anxiety?

Driving anxiety refers to feelings of anxiety, fear, and discomfort related to driving a vehicle. 

This particular anxiety is understood as a phobia and can be diagnosed as a Specific Phobia disorder under the DSM-5 criteria. This anxiety is also referred to as amaxophobia, ochophobia, motorphobia, or amaxophobia.

This anxiety is observed with persistent fear of driving a vehicle across context and this particular fear is often intense and inappropriate compared to the actual level of threat.

Individuals with this fear or anxiety experiences a lot of distresses even with the thought of driving or the possible prospect of having to drive and go through extreme lengths to avoid driving. 

Some individuals also fear being a passenger in the car, others experience anxiety of having to be the one driving only, while others experience fear of having to drive in certain situations like across a bridge or under a tunnel etc. 

Driving anxiety can cause some limitations in an individual’s movement, they might have to depend on public transport, on other individuals, and might find their anxiety to be an obstacle that limits them in the face of emergencies- like getting to medical aid etc. 

However, this particular anxiety might not cause much distress if they have easy access to other forms of transport and supportive individuals in the family that can help them move around places. 

It is most probable that indi dvd ausl who seek out help for driving anxiety do so because their inability to overcome this fear is causing them much distress and limitations.

Another reason could be, it is affecting their occupation for example, an individual whose primary form of employment is driving- ambulance driver- or someone who needs to drive due to new life situations, for example, they need to drive their children to school since they became a single parent etc. 

Conclusion

In this blog we explored the question “How to learn to drive with an anxiety disorder?”

We also discussed how you can prepare for your class and how you can manage the anxiety that arises.

Can someone with anxiety learn to drive?

Driving with anxiety, while difficult, is not necessarily dangerous. Usually new drivers with anxiety can successfully complete the lessons, past the test, get their licence, and be safe drivers.

How do I overcome anxiety while driving?

Here are several tips to help you cope with anxiety while driving:

  • First of all, pull over at a safe location.
  • Engage in deep breathing 
  • Ask yourself what is causing this anxiety
  • Focus on what is around you 
  • Ground yourself by taking note of your five sense
  • Challenge your thoughts
  • Engage in relaxation techniques and try driving again. 

How do I regain confidence in driving?

Here are a few things you can do to regain confidence:

Practice, practice, practice. .Practice at different times of the day, in different weathers- all in the safe, open ground without other drivers present- so that it gives you more confidence.


Know your route and know your car. Go out on your own for short and safe distances and challenge yourself to drive in a new location that is safe.

References

Learning to drive with anxiety. Ingenie. Retrieved on 9th Feb 2022. https://blog.ingenie.com/young-drivers-guide/learning-to-drive-with-anxiety

Learning to drive with anxiety. AA. Retrieved on 9th Feb 2022. https://www.theaa.com/driving-school/driving-lessons/advice/learning-to-drive-with-anxiety

Lindberg.S. Understanding Your Fear of Driving. Healthline. Retrieved on 9th February 2022.https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/understanding-your-fear-of-driving

Overcoming the Fear of Driving. ADAA. Retrieved on 9th February 2022.https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/overcome-fear-driving

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