If you’ve not been driving much over the past few months, you might feel a little nervous about getting back on the road when lockdown restrictions ease.
Perhaps you’ve not been on the motorway for a while and you’re worried about restarting your commute to work, or maybe there’s a chaotic roundabout near your parents’ house that gives you nightmares. Either way, these feelings of anxiety are common, and you certainly aren’t alone.
In a recent survey from Nissan, 23% of drivers said they felt anxious about using motorways and 39% felt scared or uncertain behind the wheel in general.
Not only this, but since March 2020 when the UK first went into lockdown, Google searches for terms around driving nerves and anxiety have increased by a staggering 52%.
It’s not just being out of practice that triggers these feelings, either. Accidents, near-misses, embarrassing parking mishaps, weather, stress, parenthood and divorce can all contribute to driving anxiety and loss of confidence.
To raise awareness and help those who suffer from driving nerves or anxiety, we teamed up with Joanne Mallon, author of How to Overcome Fear of Driving: The Road to Driving Confidence, to find out how we can combat these feelings and become more confident behind the wheel.
Sweaty palms, a racing heartbeat, shaky muscles – and that’s before you’ve even turned the engine on.
While these are common symptoms, according to our expert, driving anxiety can appear in many forms. She said:
“Some people feel anxious just at the thought of getting into a car, whilst others feel fine driving in some situations but not in others. For example, it could be motorways, driving over bridges or driving at night. Everyone’s trigger points are different, but usually manifest via an increased heart rate and feelings of fear and panic.”
Mallon said there are four main factors that commonly lead to driving anxiety:
A parent who was a non-driver or an unconfident driver - This could have had an impact during childhood
Experience of any type of car crash - Even a minor prang could impact your confidence
A prolonged and high degree of stress - Typically during a major life change such as having a baby, bereavement, or divorce
Stopping driving for a long period of time – Situations such as lockdown could lead to symptoms of driving anxiety
If you’ve been feeling nervous about driving recently, you’re not alone.
“I think this may turn out to be quite common, since so many of us are having an enforced time of not driving as we stay at home, plus we are in a time of extreme high stress.”
So, what can you do to prevent these feelings? When getting back to driving, you should definitely take it easy at first.
Stay local - Make a few local journeys on routes you know well. We feel most at ease when we’re in familiar surroundings and have previous experience driving there.
Play your favourite music - Music is a great mood lifter and stress reliever, so make a playlist of songs you love that you can play and maybe sing along to in the car (singing will also help release endorphins).
Focus on the end goal - When you do tackle longer journeys, think about the end destination and why you're excited to go there, rather than focusing on the nerves.
Take care of yourself before you even get in the car - Whatever keeps you calm, do more of it, whether that's yoga, running, meditation or listening to music. Creating a calmer environment will help reduce stress, even if it’s not down to driving.
Mallon said: “If you get into the car as a calm person then you have a much greater chance of staying that way than you would if you were getting into the car already feeling stressed and anxious. Avoid caffeine before you drive as this can trigger anxiety in some people.”
While this varies from person to person, more often than not driving in unfamiliar surroundings can trigger nerves or feelings of anxiety. Thankfully, there are things you can do to help make your journey run smoothly.
Plan ahead by using Google Maps to check out the different routes you can take
Make a point of driving at less busy times - although one good thing about lockdown is that the roads in general are less busy now
On longer journeys, take regular breaks and stay well fuelled
Aromatherapy is another good way to stay calm. Try putting a cotton pad with drops of calming lavender oil in the car, or simply wear your favourite perfume when you're driving to give you a boost
Whether it’s an elderly relative worried about getting back on the road after shielding or to head to a vaccine appointment, or it’s a young family member who recently passed their test, if someone seems nervous or stressed in the car, how can you help? Should you encourage them to stay off the roads or help them face their fears?
Our expert reveals it’s best to have an honest conversation with them:
“Ask them what they need. Some people like having a passenger to chat to them for company and as a distraction, whereas others prefer their passengers to be silent so they can concentrate on driving. Don't complain about the music (or the singing!) if their driving playlist isn't your cup of tea. If they seem anxious, encourage them to take shorter, easier journeys.
“The trouble with giving in to fear is that you end up living a life controlled by fear, and it only gets more stressful. In very extreme cases of driving anxiety, hypnotherapy can be very helpful.”
If you are out on the road and the driver makes a mistake, or the vehicle behind is showing aggressive behaviour, this can also be a trigger for panic.
If this happens, try our tips to help them calm.
Encourage deep breathing – This can be a great way to help anxious drivers feel calmer, and it's a good idea to practice this before you get in the car.
Advise them to stop in a safe place – Direct them to pull over to the side of the road if they need to, especially if they feel shaky or short of breath.
Ask them if they’d like you to take over - If you are a confident driver and are on the insurance, perhaps you could take over.
Create positive energy - Repeating a positive mantra out loud can also help - my favourite is 'Calm and confident' - I say this a lot when I'm in busy traffic.
It could also be worth taking an advanced driving course when restrictions ease if you are unsure about how to correctly drive on the motorway or in built up areas. Not only could this decrease the cost of your car insurance, it will also build your confidence and get advice from a professional driving instructor.