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Picture this: you’re buckling yourself into the driver’s seat of the car and next to you is a driving instructor. Over the course of the next thirty or so minutes, you’ll complete a series of manoeuvres to prove that you’re a good driver. If you do well, you’ll get your driver’s licence.
How does it make you feel to imagine this scenario? Are you feeling calm and confident, or do you feel nervous about your driving test?
It’s quite common to feel nervous about taking the driving test. Today, we’re going to talk about how to overcome driving test nerves.
Read on to learn more about overcoming your nerves on driving test day so that you can feel relaxed and confident, regardless of the outcome.
What causes anxiety and what is happening to our bodies and minds when we experience anxiety? We often try to explain our nerves by identifying a cause, but it can be helpful to understand what’s happening beneath the surface. Before we talk about relieving your driving test nerves, let’s take some time to better understand anxiety.
How Anxiety Impacts the Body
Anxiety can serve an important function that has stuck with us throughout the evolution of humankind. Anxiety is designed to heighten our awareness and prepare us to act quickly in an intense situation. As a result, we experience a variety of physical symptoms when we feel anxious and oftentimes, those physical symptoms are not as helpful as they’re supposed to be.
Anxiety can impact everything from our cognitive functioning to our nervous system to our digestive system. The mind can release stress hormones, the heart can start to beat rapidly, we can feel hot or short of breath, and we may go into fight or flight mode.
The reality is that your body is reacting as if you are unsafe. A key part of taming nerves, whether you feel them constantly or only in certain pressure-fueled situations, is remembering that we are, in fact, safe.
How Anxiety Impacts Our Perceptions
When something makes us feel anxious or nervous, it can impact the way that we perceive ourselves or the world around us. For example, you might have proven to be an excellent driver every time you’ve practised. However, your anxiety is telling you that you are not a good driver or that under pressure, you will make a mistake.
It isn’t just your self-esteem that can take a hit. As we mentioned earlier, your body may go into fight or flight mode when anxiety kicks into high gear. Fight or flight mode is the urge to fight the “danger” that is causing your anxiety or to run away from it.
Fight or flight mode puts us into a hypervigilant state. It can make us feel like others are “out to get us” (like your driving instructor) or that our surroundings present an imminent threat. Tapping into a sense of calm in moments of panic can help us to return to a less vigilant and more confident state.
The Feedback Loop of Anxiety and Thoughts
These physical and mental phenomena are not separate entities. They tend to operate in a feedback loop. You might start to feel physical symptoms, like an increased heart rate, which triggers anxious thoughts or you might start to think anxious thoughts which then trigger those physical symptoms.
Because this feedback loop is so powerful and overwhelming, it’s hard to get a handle on it in the moment. You might feel compelled to shut down or to power through, rather than giving yourself time to identify what’s happening and bring yourself back into a state of calm.
One way to stop the feedback loop in its tracks is to name the feelings in order to tame them. Think to yourself, for example:
- I am experiencing self-doubt because I’m afraid that I will fail my driving test
- I feel fearful because I am thinking of driving as a dangerous activity
- I am feeling suspicious that my driving instructor wants to fail me
Then, consciously connect those thoughts to the physical symptoms to remind yourself that you’re feeling is simply anxiety. The goal is to put your feelings into perspective and remember that while your mind and body are reacting with alarm, you are actually safe and in control.
Tips for Nerves on Driving Test Day
Now that you know more about what anxiety can do, let’s talk about some practical ways to combat the situational anxiety you’re experiencing in response to your upcoming driving test. Practising your driving skills is an important part of the preparation, but so is calming your nervous system and your thoughts. Read on for tips for nerves on driving test day.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
You may have friends that got their licence as soon as they were of age or without feeling any exam nerves. Does that mean that you should be harder on yourself about your own circumstances? Absolutely not.
It might seem like everyone got their licence before you did, but young drivers are an exception these days. Now, the average age to start driving in the UK is 26.
Averages aside, your journey is unique. Your timeline may differ from others’, but that doesn’t make theirs right and yours wrong or vice versa. Letting go of the comparison to others is an important part of releasing the nerves about your driving test and beyond.
Accept the Outcome
Later on in this article, we will talk about visualising success and how that can help to calm your nerves and improve your confidence. First, we want to talk about the importance of acceptance and how accepting any outcome can eliminate the pressure you are putting on yourself.
Students pass the driving test on the first go around about half of the time. In other words, it’s quite normal to need to take it more than once.
Not getting a passing grade may seem catastrophic to you now, but let’s put it into perspective. Failing your driving test does not mean that you’ll never get your licence or that you’re a bad driver. The only real consequences are that you’ll have to pay the fee and take the test again in the future before you’re on your merry way with licence in hand–and that isn’t so bad, is it?
Keep Your Driving Test Date a Secret
While it’s important to overcome your fear of being judged, removing the possibility of being or feeling judged can help you get through your driving test. Rather than letting all of your friends and family know that you have scheduled your driving test, consider keeping that information to yourself. Tell only a handful of people that you trust will support and encourage you regardless of the outcome.
Why is keeping your driving test a secret a good way to calm your nerves? When you share that information, you may worry that people will want to know how things went and express feelings that make you uncomfortable if it doesn’t go how you hoped. When you don’t let everyone know, you eliminate the pressure or fear of judgment that you might otherwise experience.
Trust Your Instructor
Think about the people who have helped you learn how to drive. Maybe it’s a parent or a sibling or a trusted friend. These people have encouraged your learning, boosted your confidence, and made driving a safe and pleasurable experience for you.
While your driving test instructor or moderator has a different relationship to you, remind yourself that you can trust them. They have experience with new drivers and it’s in their best interest to help you drive safely and without accident. While they won’t provide step-by-step instructions during the test, they will step in if something concerning happens during your test.
Take a Mock Test
Before you schedule your driving test, consider signing up for a mock test. Many counties will provide mock tests for permitted drivers so that they can experience a driving test without any pressure. If you can’t find any mock tests in your area, work with whomever has helped you learn how to drive to practice the following:
- parallel parking
- parking in a parking bay
- navigating using a GPS system
- navigating using street signs
- reversing your car safely
- merging into traffic
- demonstrating your knowledge of car safety features
- demonstrating your knowledge of driving rules and street signs
Because you’ve been driving with a licenced driver for several months now, you know how to do all of these things. Doing them in the form of a mock test will get you in the mindset that when it’s time for the real test, you won’t be surprised or caught off guard.
Don’t Skip Meals
On the day of your test, you might have that fluttery feeling in your stomach that can make it difficult to eat. Do your best to eat at least a few small meals leading up to your test. Foods like bread, crackers, bananas, or rice are a good solution when your stomach is turning but you need to eat something that will keep you full.
Why is eating important before your driving test? The last thing you need is an unnecessary or unexpected distraction. For that same reason, we suggest limiting your caffeine intake, using the restroom before your test, and turning your cellphone to silent (or turning it off).
It may also help to bring a bottle of water with you to your test. Sipping water can help you to stay grounded and avoid the parched feeling some people experience when nervous.
Know When to Stop Practising
Believe it or not, there is such a thing as practising too much. In the months and weeks leading up to your driving test, it’s useful to continue with your driving practice and work on difficult skills like parking and merging. However, there is a point at which it’s best to take a break and trust that you are well-prepared.
The day before your driving test, try to take it easy. If your driving test is scheduled in the afternoon, consider clearing the morning of any driving or other responsibilities, unless a mild distraction is helpful. If you feel tempted to get more practice in the day of, remind yourself that you have done enough to take the test, and last-minute practice may serve to create more distress, rather than increase your preparation.
We have all experienced the stress of arriving late to an appointment or shift or class. When you’re running late, you have to rush, which can increase your feeling of distraction and stir up that physical anxiety response.
Arriving early will allow you to take your time and remove an unnecessary stressor. Try to show up to your driving test centre 15-20 minutes before your test will begin. That way, you can find the check-in desk, fill out any paperwork, use the restroom, and take a few moments to relax before the test begins.
Perform Breathing Exercises
As we mentioned before, a common symptom of nervousness or anxiety is shortness of breath. While this sensation can feel distressing, there is a silver lining: slowing your breathing and getting it under control can send signals to the brain that all is well, you are safe, and there’s no reason to go into a state of panic.
Breathing exercises are a key way to get your breathing under control. Use them throughout the day of your test as needed and again when you arrive at the testing centre. You can perform simple breathing exercises, like taking a long in-breath through the nose and exhaling slowly through the mouth, when you are behind the wheel.
An easy trick to remember is that when your breathing becomes shallow in the chest, you can deepen it in the abdomen. Focus on directing your breath down into the stomach and notice how your stomach expands on the in-breath and deflates on the out-breath.
When you’re trying to learn how to calm driving test nerves, remember that these nerves are coming from within. You are a capable and knowledgable driver, but your thoughts are telling you otherwise.
Each time you think about your driving test or notice the date on the calendar, consciously choose to think, “I am going to do well. I am a great driver and I have prepared for this.” You may not believe these thoughts at first, but continuing to think this way will have an impact on how you feel.
How to Overcome Driving Test Nerves Using Hypnosis
All of the tips we’ve mentioned above are great tools to have on hand for your driving test. However, sometimes we need to do deeper work to overcome our anxiety and fear and move through the world with more self-confidence. That’s where hypnosis can come in handy.
Let’s take a closer look at how self-guided hypnosis sessions can help you to calm your nerves and take your driving test without fear.
Exploring Negative Associations Safely
Some life events have a tendency to make people feel stressed out, which can lead us to believe that there’s nothing more to it than that. The truth is that we all have different memories and experiences that inform our reactions today. This is true of big things, like love and death, but also of situational things like taking a driving test.
Hypnosis can allow you to safely explore where this fear or self-doubt is coming from. By entering into a relaxed state, your subconscious mind is free to release what it tries to keep buried in order to protect you. Then, you can start to unpack why you, a unique individual, experience stress in response to something like a driving test.
Why is this useful? It’s a bit like the process of naming your feelings to tame them. When you understand what in your past has impacted your thinking today, you can begin to differentiate between the past and the present.
Eliminating Self Doubt
One of the most damaging things we carry around with us is self-doubt. That’s why so many hypnosis specialists put an emphasis on believing in yourself or increasing your confidence.
Self-doubt isn’t something that we innately experience or possess. Self-doubt is something that we learn to take on over time, whether it’s from the way we’ve been treated or the way we’ve perceived undesirable outcomes. Anything that we learn can be unlearned, and hypnosis can accelerate this unlearning process.
Hypnosis isn’t just a relaxed state. It’s a highly focused state. When you are both relaxed and focused, your subconscious mind can absorb positive messaging in a way that it is often closed off to.
In short, hypnosis can help you to replace thoughts like, “I’m a terrible driver who will fail this test,” with confident thoughts like, “I am a good driver who is prepared for this test.”
Remember when you were asked at the beginning of this article to picture your driving test? You imagined getting into the car with the instructor and doing the steps needed to complete the test. Because you still feel nervous about your driving test, you may have pictured this going badly or felt so much stress that you couldn’t bring yourself to picture it at all.
The way we play scenes out in our minds before doing something we’re nervous about can have a real-life impact. No, predicting a bad outcome does not create a bad outcome. However, this negative visualising does set you up to feel more nervous or fearful when it’s time to do it.
During a hypnosis session, you can visualise your experience at your driving test and imagine it going well. This visualisation may not come easily at first, but with several sessions, it will become easier and easier to imagine yourself getting into the car with confidence and completing the test with ease. Practising this positive visualisation will start to impact the way you think about the driving test, which will in turn change the way you feel about the driving test.
Rewiring Your Mind
Your mind is like a highway of paths and patterns. When nervous thoughts or feelings of self-doubt are common for you, it becomes the default route that your mind takes. That’s why it’s sometimes difficult to believe that you’ve learned things like self-doubt or that you didn’t always feel that way; they seem to come naturally.
By using hypnosis to boost your confidence and create an overarching sense of calmness, you start to change the default route of your brain. Now, it might feel natural to think things like:
- I’m not as good as my peers
- I don’t do well at things under pressure
- I’m not equipped to achieve my goals
With the help of self-guided hypnosis sessions, you may find yourself more naturally thinking things like:
- I’m only concerned with how I feel about myself, not what others think
- I feel confident that I can tackle difficult things, even under pressure
- When I set my mind to it, I am capable of achieving my goals
By making this effort before your driving test, you may not have to rely as much on some of the temporary tools that we’ve listed above. Instead, you may go into your test feeling positive, grounded, and sure.
Sign Up for Mark Bowden Hypnotherapy Sessions
Learning how to overcome driving test nerves isn’t as difficult or elusive as it may seem. Hypnosis is a great tool for increasing confidence and changing our perspective about many stressful life events, and taking your driving test is no exception.
Take a look at the complete catalogue of Mark Bowden self-guided hyponsis sessions. Recorded hypnosis sessions can help guide you into a relaxed state and begin to change your thinking at a fraction of the cost of in-person hypnotherapy sessions. Download your first session today and begin your journey to a more confident you.