Managing driving anxiety

As some of you may know, I started recently driving again. I passed my driving test almost 8 years ago and haven’t really driven since, not even mentioning I learned how to drive on the other side of the road. So I thought it was about time to give it a go again and started taking refresher driving lessons. But thanks to lockdown, they got interrupted, so I had to really push myself to keep going on my own.



As much as I enjoy driving, I live in a busy city which I don’t know really well, and on top of it it’s full of roundabouts and parkways – so you can imagine the anxiety I faced when I had to go out. I knew that eventually, I had to go out on my own and this made me feel very anxious. I felt like my heart is going to jump out every time I thought about driving 50 miles on a motorway on my own. I knew I was more likely to do something wrong if I panic. So I started racking my brain thinking about how I could make this anxiety go, researching different techniques that I could do before or during driving. Eventually, I came up with my own little rituals that help me to get on the road.

  1. Hydration – make sure you have a bit of water before you leave. When you’re dehydrated, especially if you get a dry mouth when getting stressed, you will feel more anxious and you’re more likely to get headaches.

  2. Don’t drive on empty stomach – going for a drive hungry is again more likely to make you more stressed due to your blood glucose being low. You can use different Intuitive Eating techniques to check with your body if you’re hungry, as well as anticipate if it may happen at some point. Having even a small piece of bread or banana before you go can help you to keep your blood glucose levelled, even if you take it on the road with you.

  3. Breathe – before you start the car, close your eyes and imagine four candles. Take a deep breath in and imagine blowing them out, one by one. This little exercise can help you to stimulate your vagus nerve, which is involved in your fight-or-flight response. This will help you to lower your cortisol levels (stress hormone), as well as lower your heart rate and blood pressure, helping you to relieve anxiety.

  4. Make a playlist – this is something that I developed when I had to drive on my own for the first time. I tried to focus on something positive about driving and this movie scene with Nicole Kidman popped into my head. She was driving on one of the long American roads in a sunset, singing. So I made myself a playlist, trying to imagine how great it will be when I’m able to do this on my own. This is something called positive visualisation, and using as many details as you can, which also can be music, will help your brain to remember the feeling and visualise your goals. Listening to music whilst driving will also distract you from overthinking, whilst being able to fully focus on your drive.

  5. Listen to your navigation – literally the easiest way how to stop overthinking your journey. It will inform you about what’s to come early enough, so you can focus on your drive and starting to enjoy it, without thinking where’s the next turn. Also checking how your route looks like before you go makes will help you feel more prepared and informed, you can even plan where you would stop if you have a long journey ahead.

References

Case, L., Jackson, P., Kinkel, R. and Mills, P., 2018. Guided Imagery Improves Mood, Fatigue, and Quality of Life in Individuals With Multiple Sclerosis: An Exploratory Efficacy Trial of Healing Light Guided Imagery. Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine, 23, pp.2515690X1774874.

Duan, N., Gong, Z., Li, Y., Ma, X., Shi, Y., Wei, G., Yue, Z. and Zhang, H., 2017. The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 8(874).

Fernandes, M., Fuller, B., Horman, T., Leri, F., Tigert, M. and Zhou, Y., 2018. An exploration of the aversive properties of 2-deoxy-D-glucose in rats. Psychopharmacology, 235(10), pp.3055-3063.