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#Selfcare Sunday Series | Getting Over my Anxiety for Driving

Disclaimer: This post purely writes of my own personal experience. It does not define anxiety and its entirety because everyone’s experience is just that: personal. Whilst I don’t think my content would be triggering for anyone, I still feel obliged to add a trigger warning in case you suffer (or have suffered) from a severe form of anxiety. Lastly, you all normally are anyway, but please be respectful in the comments box. Thanks!

Note: This post is lengthy. If interested, I hope you have a hot beverage accompanying you!

If there is one thing that I have really learnt in the past year, it is mindset. This time last year, I was a bit of a wreck (for reasons that actually have nothing to do with the main topic of this post). This time round, I’m in a really positive place actually and it’s been a very productive January despite everyone seemingly using the term ‘Dry January’.

Sometimes, it can take as much as waking up and feeling different about the world around you. In some cases, it could be feeling lethargic, a real lack of motivation and lack of direction. Other times you could wake up as a bright spark, suddenly seeing the world differently and wanting to change because you know inside that you deeply need the change. This is how I started feeling in the last quarter of 2019. It’s still manifesting in itself now which is probably why I see 2020 in such a positive light. Like I said, mindset.

I started driving more. You can say it was more down to circumstance forcing me to do so but I’m thankful for it because I’ve taken a giant leap for something that I later realised I had anxiety for. Anxiety can be characterised by a few different meanings and for me it was thinking or expecting something bad would happen before doing the task (i.e. driving).

I passed my driving test almost 5 years ago. But once I passed, I rarely drove (me and my mum car-share). Rarely then became never. This reluctancy to drive was partly because I don’t necessarily enjoy driving. I would box myself in this mindset and then if there was the odd time that I’d drive, I would set my mind into overdrive – just overthinking about driving even though deep down, I know how to drive. If anything, I needed to relax and let the driving come naturally but being this uptight caused me to either be overly cautious as a driver or just bit risqué by rushing.

It’s perhaps noteworthy to say that I passed my driving test first time round with 8 minors. Sounds good on paper right? To this day, I still don’t know how I achieved that because the journey of learning to drive was long. I took a LOT of lessons and changed instructors a few times although super thankful for the last instructor who ultimately propelled me to be the good driver that I am (sometimes). This point is important to note though because what sounds good on paper, might not be someone’s full story. That is exactly what mental health looks like hence why it’s necessary to check in with yourself and with people you truly care about.

My first instructor wasn’t very productive and didn’t challenge me enough. I felt like he only took me around the block and actually, now that I think back, he only took me around my local area and some country lanes – not the driving routes that I should be familiar with prior to a possible driving test. I went back to university that year so driving was put on a standstill and therefore less of a priority.

Once I graduated, I took up driving again but with a different instructor (and driving centre). Out of the 3 instructors I had, he was the worst when I look back. I remember on two occasions, I came home crying because he was so patronising and made me feel awful and uncomfortable as a driver. For example, naturally, you would stall as a learner-driver. A good tutor would work with you to fix those problems – not scold you unnecessarily. I remember in one lesson, I stalled a lot (sometimes mistakes comes in threes) and he got annoyed with the tone of ‘why are you still stalling?‘. On another occasion, I remember I asked a question about the flashing amber lights and what they meant. He told me what it was but when I had made a mistake later on in the lesson, he had a problem with the fact that I didn’t know what a pelican crossing was and therefore devalued me as a driver! This in turn made me feel horrible so I made the solid decision to change instructors because the relationship just wasn’t working and quite frankly, he didn’t deserve my money.

My last instructor was great. He always encouraged me and helped me work through the difficulties that I was experiencing even if it was as much as preventing the small, easy mistakes. I felt like he gave me challenges that were realistic and he was never patronising – just blunt, honesty that I really valued. On one occasion however – I for whatever reason, when instructed to turn right, did not look for any ongoing cars and therefore swerved blindly with an ongoing white van coming towards me. My instructor had to heavily brake before I fully turned. This whole experience probably traumatised me the most and after some self-analysis, is likely the reason for why driving gives me anxiety. Everything happened so quickly lending the car into a heavy jolt before stalling. It shook me. Everything changed.

During these lessons, I was already showing signs of being too cautious as a driver. “It’s like you’re waiting for something bad to happen“, said my third instructor. I didn’t quite realise I was that transparent but here we are. He was right.

I had started a new job last year early Spring. Due to taking up a new project that was happening every Friday and finishing late, I needed the car so that I could get home instead of walking 30 minutes. Circumstance forcing me to drive. Suddenly, I felt this surge of energy because I had a real reason to drive. A need for it so I started slowly by practicing a month before the project would take place.

At first, I was rusty but having my mum beside me helped to calm my mind. I changed gears a bit slow however I was aware of this. I was also cautious of whoever was behind me, causing me to try and rush but my mum would remind me to not focus on who’s behind me – rather what’s in front. As the weeks went on, I got better and eventually driving on my own was something to get used to in itself. I won’t lie – I had lots of nerves especially in my legs when getting back into driving. But over time, it got better and I got more comfortable.

I became more open about driving so much so as tweeting what I termed my ‘driving stories’. For every little success, I would celebrate it. If I noticed that I got a bit nervous, I turned the music up so that I could get into rhythm and even sing in the car (I don’t know why but this method helps me a lot as a distraction from my thoughts).

A few of my best friends know that I have actively avoided driving for as long as possible but in getting back into it slowly, they have been encouraging and patient with me without fully knowing what’s up. I did however tell one of them that I do have anxiety for driving, and it helped so much when she said that driving, especially on your own – is scary because she let me know that I wasn’t the only one finding it a bit terrifying. She reassured me that my anxiety wasn’t stupid so I stopped feeling guilt for feeling this way and continued to work through it.

Coming into the new year, I have actually stalled a lot in the past two weeks. Some nerves came back and I remember apologising to my friend sat beside me because stalling after you have long passed your test can still feel embarrassing. He laughed and said it was fine (he also knows of my lack of confidence in driving). As I said earlier in this post, mistakes sometimes comes in threes and I remember stalling 3 times in a row last week with him beside me. I was so embarrassed!

I’ve worked through the problem however and have identified that I had been lazy with my legs by not gassing the pedal enough hence the repetitive stalling. Sometimes results can seem annoyingly regressive and therefore discouraging (I felt so shit after that) but it was super important for me to learn from it. I had gone back to my former habit of boxing my thoughts and overthinking about driving in that moment therefore fearing the worst, doing the worst and rushing unnecessarily. The next time I drove after that, I took it slow and it came back to me on why I was stalling: the gas pedal, I needed to gas!

I’m still working on my driving now and I want to get great at it so I can go places. Literally. I have driven well before but my aim is to drive well every time. I have identified what driving is: reacting to what’s in front of you. Yes, driving is still daunting but I’m learning everyday to be better. Admittedly, some days I’m more comfortable with it than other days but I think I’ve come up with a few methods to combat how I might be on that day. Thanks for listening.

In summary of this post and with handling anxiety:

  • You’re never alone in what you feel. You’ll be surprised by how many people actually feel the same way as you do.
  • Sharing is caring. You can confide in a friend you fully trust. If this is too difficult, find a way to openly talk about it even if it’s just two sentences in a journal.
  • Don’t rush. Never rush.
  • Work through your problems slowly. Try and think clearly to identify and solve the problem.
  • One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is there is timing for everything. People can’t change overnight and taking the leap to change is in actual fact, a long journey. But once you find that motivation, you’ll know when it’s appropriate to face your fears.

This post was meant to go up last Sunday but since it was the weekend of Chinese New Year, I felt like it was too heavy a topic to put out. It’s difficult to write such a topic because you do end up drawing emotions that you may have moved on from. You can heal but emotions is such a strong thing to feel – it’s like that saying: you can forget what someone says but you’ll never forget how they made you feel. Take care of yourselves and put yourselves first – it is not selfish to do this.

Feel free to let me know of your experiences but please don’t feel like you need to!

SIDE NOTE: I’ve been experiencing some issues with my MacBook where the keyboard is not working as if it’s disconnected. I’m currently typing on an external keyboard (!!) but basically, don’t expect any posts in the upcoming week. Really sorry. I’m going to draft what I can before it goes into repair though.

Tune into NEW posts every Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays with me.

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  1. Driving is my biggest fear. There are three licence stages here in NZ and I passed the first theory stage no problem, I understand basic road rules etc. I just don’t have the confidence and preparedness to get out onto the road and start moving a vehicle. I feel like I don’t understand what each part does and is used for and even though I ask I feel like people think I’m dumb because I don’t know. I’m so cautious that I might do something wrong I’m scared to try at all. Driving doesn’t feel easy or enjoyable to me and it makes me feel disheartened that so many other people seem to be able to do it and I can’t.

    I’ve never said I don’t want to drive and learn but I need to be in a good space otherwise I’ll just keep putting it off. I also get nervous around people so despite me knowing I need lessons with a driving instructor I’m worried they’ll make me feel uneasy and shatter what low confidence I already have.

    • Hi Chanelle, thanks so much for leaving a comment 🙂
      Please do not feel stupid for not knowing anything! I was in the same position – knew nothing about cars, maybe just the very basics. even if you feel you don’t know this, your instructor will and should help you as much as possible! (If he doesn’t, then find another because no instructor should make you feel stupid.) I think it’s very important to find an instructor who you connect with – maybe it’s worth asking a driving centre if they have instructors that they can recommend for someone who has low confidence? Also – it might be worth getting an instructor upon friends/family recommendation. Whatever the case, I hope you do make the first step – good luck!

      • I feel like males have it easier in that respect, they’re generally interested in cars and have a basic knowledge of things work. The idea about looking into instructor friends have tried is a good one 🙂

  2. I was super excited to experience the freedom that comes with passing your driving test, so I bought a car within a month of passing mine. I ended up selling it after a year, having barely driven it due to crazy levels of anxiety. I consider myself a good driver, and I drove enough to get confident with controlling the vehicle and being able to talk whilst driving… but I absolutely couldn’t drive alone. Whenever I got into the car alone I would have a mini panic attack and once I set off my legs would shake and I would feel unsafe because of it. I think it’s mostly down to other road users in my area being very pushy and I feared getting things wrong or getting stuck on a narrow road etc, but I never got over it.
    Hats off to you for all your progress 🙂 x

    • Firstly, thank you so much for leaving a comment and sharing your experience! 🙂 It was really interesting to read and know that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. Leg-shaking is the worst when driving and there is no telling on when it will happen! My advice is probably to drive a little bit slower and listen to some of your favourite music to feel a little more settled. Pushy road users definitely do not help! But I’ve learnt to block them out – it’s not about them. My family used to always say to me that it’s not just about driving safe but also avoiding other drivers who are bad. I’ve got some events coming up which means driving to new places but I’m feeling a little less anxious than before.
      Good luck on your progress too – take your time with it all! 🙂 x

  3. I’ve had my license for about 5 years but, I do not drive! I always had anxiety about it & I think I was always waiting for something bad to happen, too… then, it did & I haven’t really wanted to get behind the wheel since. I always did the whole stalling thing, too. My heart races & I can’t even press the gas pedal, leaving me stuck in the middle of the road because my body feels paralyzed! You are not alone in this.

    GO YOU for continuing to try. ❤ You got this!

  4. Pingback: #Selfcare Sunday Series | Navigating Friendships and Deciphering Toxic Negativity | Hoi Yin Li

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