You’re waiting in your car for the instructor to get in and your heart is pounding. You feel a little faint. Your hands are sweaty. How can you beat your anxious feelings so that you are calm and confident when you take your test?
The more you practice, the more comfortable you will feel in any situation in the car. While you don’t need to try to achieve mastery, the instructor will be looking for a level of competence that demonstrates you understand the road rules and that you are not going to be a danger to others on the road.
There’s no rigid timeframe for you to become proficient as it will depend on how much you have already been exposed to the road rules, whether you have done any kind of vehicle control off public roads (e.g. go-kart racing), how good your spatial awareness is, etc.
Driving is something you improve at over time as you experience different scenarios, and it’s all relative for your situation. For example, a person living in the Daintree could be considered an excellent driver, but put them on a snowy Norwegian forest road and their driving abilities will be much worse than someone that has grown up in Norway in that environment because they don’t have the same experience. What you need to do is get as much experience as possible.
Match the conditions
We mentioned preparation is important. Ideally, preparation should be conducted in the same conditions and circumstances of your test. You won’t be listening to music in your test, so don’t listen to music when you are practicing driving. Your brain will appreciate the familiarity of the situation when you go to take your actual test as it will have to do less work coping with the differences.
An obvious example here is to use the car you will be taking your test in to practice. You don’t want to have to think about which side the indicators are or how to turn the windscreen wipers on when you are taking your test. You want your body to have natural reactions.
Embrace your body’s natural reaction
Worrying about worrying will cause you anxiety. Being nervous is your body’s natural response to this situation. You are putting it in a scenario where you have something to lose. You have practiced for your test and now this instructor has the power to either give you a licence or not. That is why you are nervous: you don’t think that you have enough control.
However, nervousness also means you are far more alert. It’s better to be slightly nervous than extremely relaxed because you have heightened senses.
We’ve already mentioned how it’s good to be a little nervous for your test. You can regulate how nervous you feel by controlling your breathing. Deep, regular breathing will help calm you. You don’t want to be so calm that you’re falling asleep, but what can happen when we are really nervous is that we take rapid shallow breaths and that is not good.
You can practice driving and breathing with the help of a friend. Simply get them talk along with you while you are driving, saying ‘in’, ‘out’, ‘in’, ‘out’ in a steady rhythm. The idea of this is to condition your mind into associating driving with a steady, regular breathing pattern. Your body will automatically follow this pattern after a while as it embeds the routine in its subconscious.
Here’s a video showing a breathing technique to stop anxiety and panic attacks.
Natural relaxation remedies
Visit a naturopath or doctor and ask them what kind of herbal, natural products you can use for relaxation that will not make you drowsy. It’s important you don’t use alcohol or other drugs.
Business leaders, athletes and others use positive affirmations to condition their minds and bodies. Your brain controls your whole body, so if you give it positive messages then the body will respond, too. Just remember to never use negatives in affirmations as your subconscious mind doesn’t differentiate between negative and positive. I.e. don’t say ‘I’m not nervous’, say ‘I am relaxed.’ There are many great affirmations online – search on Amazon or Google.
Readers – do you have any other advice for people who are nervous when taking tests? How did you manage?