Driving Instructor Tips for Nerves
Most learner drivers experience nerves on the day of their driving test. Experiencing nerves before a test or assessment is a conditioned automatic response based on our past experiences of similar situations. This is why we all experience different levels of nerves because we have all had different past experiences.
It is important to bear in mind that a manageable level of nervousness is actually beneficial. An optimal level of nerves (again different for everyone) helps a learner to be focused on the task of driving and improves their concentration so that they can respond appropriately to each situation as they are driving. If nerves increase past the optimal level however, they can have a detrimental effect on a learner's performance and possibly result in uncharacteristic mistakes and a test fail.
So, what tips can an ADI share with their learners to keep nerves at a manageable level?
Verbal Encouragement– remind your student that you believe they are ready for their test; you would not have encouraged them to book their test otherwise! You have enough confidence in their ability to drive your car without you sitting next to them and that says a lot. Positive phrasing can come from you (their coach) and also from themselves so, if they have been practising any positive phrases in their lessons ensure they remember to use them on test day.
Imagery– the chances are you know which element of the test is bothering your learner the most. Remind them of all the lessons when they have completed that element successfully and if you have time, suggest that they replay their successes in a mini mind movie. Replaying successes will boost their confidence and interrupt negative thinking.
Managing emotions – negative emotions tend to increase a learner's experience of stress and nerves. Whereas positive emotions are more likely to help keep nerves at a manageable level. How we interpret physical sensations into emotions is up to us. Compare the physical sensations of nerves to excitement, they both include that sensation of butterflies in the stomach and being fidgety. Encourage your students to choose the more positive interpretation of excitement.
Encourage your students to smile as this immediately sends a safe, calm signal to the mind and body and helps them feel more positive.
Humming or a singing a tune to themselves is also helpful in managing emotions. It resets the Vagus nerve which is connected to all the internal organs and is the nerve responsible for rest and relaxation (among other things), helping your learner to feel more positive.
Managing physical stress symptoms – If interpreting physical sensations as excitement is too much of a challenge then encourage your learner to see them as a sign of readiness for action instead. Keep an eye on your learner's body language. Rather than hunching over themselves in a defensive or protective posture encourage them to sit or stand up straight. Not only does this allow them to breathe properly but it triggers a physiological response in the body to feel more positive and confident. Find out more by searching for Amy Cuddy and Power Poses on YouTube.
Breathing - Breathing calms the Vagus nerve, slows the heart rate, reduces physical symptoms of stress and distracts the mind from negative thoughts. Breathing is the closest thing to a magic wand when it comes to controlling nerves. If your learner has not been practising breathing exercises before the day of the test it is probably best not to introduce them at the test centre. Instead, if you notice that your learners breathing rate has increased in response to nerves, simply suggest that they breathe out through pursed lips as if blowing out a candle. This will help them to focus on their out breath which is responsible for calming and relaxing the body.
Verbal encouragement, imagery, managing emotions and physical signs of stress are all key elements of Bandura's (1997) theory of self-efficacy (commonly used in sports and business coaching) and can help your learners to believe in their own driving ability and increase their confidence in preparation for their driving test.
Tips for Driving Test Nerves
I remember my driving test like it was yesterday - it was possibly the most nerve-racking experience of my life. I wanted to pass so badly. I wanted the freedom it would give me. I am completely amazed that I did pass as I literally was on the verge of a panic attack throughout what felt like hours. When you are that nervous, making mistakes is so much easier to do as the reasoning, logical part of your brain is taken over by the emotional part. You mind switches to 'fight or flight' mode where you instinctively look for dangers and are on high alert - hence increased breathing and heart rate as your body prepares you to run or fight the foreseen danger. It's very difficult to be calm and methodical when you mind switches to this high-intensity state. Everything you've learned and practised seems to temporarily vanish from your mind and it's easy to become absorbed in thoughts about what might go wrong instead of focusing on what you want to happen.
Are your driving nerves caused by your thoughts?
If our last few social media posts have resonated with you then it's possible that your driving stress, nerves and anxiety is made worse by unhelpful thinking styles.
If that’s the case don’t worry! Being aware that the way you are thinking is half of the way to solving the problem, you can then begin to learn ways of developing more helpful thinking styles which will help you reduce the signs and symptoms of your nerves and begin to feel more confident.
How can mindfulness help your driving nerves and confidence?
You are probably already being mindful while driving without even realising it!
Mindfulness is simply noticing what is happening around you, right now, on purpose and with curiosity
While driving you will be giving your full attention to what you are doing in order to drive the car, paying close attention to other road users and if you are learning you will also be listening to your driving instructor. By being more aware of the theory of mindfulness and consciously adding mindfulness exercises to your driving you could develop and strengthen your attention skills while driving, which in turn will help you feel more confident in your driving ability. Mindfulness can help you notice and manage any unhelpful thinking habits that you have and be more aware of how your mood and emotions might impact your driving lessons and your future driving.
How does stress affect self-confidence?
One of the key theories cited in psychology for improving self-confidence and performance is Bandura’s (1977, 1986, 1997) self-efficacy theory. I know it sounds a bit of a mouthful but its good to know there is some scientific basis behind why we are recommending certain techniques on the website! Self-efficacy is simply self-confidence in a specific situation and whether you have belief in your own capability to do something.
How does stress affect performance, learning and driving behaviour?
Over the last two weeks blogs, we have covered the three emotional systems and learning zones. So how does all this theory about stress, emotions and learning apply to our learner drivers in real life? We can take a learner driver at a roundabout as an example.
Are you too calm or too fearful to learn?
Are you in the best state of mind to learn how to drive? Do you love your driving lessons or does just the thought of them make you feel nervous? Your emotions have a big role to play in how well you are able to learn during your lessons. We have different zones that we move between when are learning something new.
How do you feel when driving?
When you are driving or are on a driving lesson how do you feel? What emotions do you experience? Do they stay the same or do they change?
We have three emotional systems that govern our actions and how we feel. We should experience all three systems throughout the day, with different systems being more prominent depending on the situations that we find ourselves in. Understanding more about how we all experience these emotional systems can help you learn how to manage them and use them to your advantage.
Are your Limiting Beliefs affecting your driving?
According to Jack Handey "A belief is just a thought that you think over and over again"
Have you ever stopped to take notice of what your beliefs about your driving or passing your driving test are?
Are your beliefs holding you back and stopping you from achieving your goal of being a safe, calm and confident driver? If so then you may be experiencing what is known as limiting beliefs.
Do you get the most out of your driving lessons?
Have you ever been in a lesson at school, college or university or a work training course, fitness class, driving lesson or even accessing this website and secretly decided you can not be bothered? You go through the motions, do just enough - or maybe you don't, and as a result, you don't achieve anything and feel that you've wasted your time.
This action of being consciously aware and in control of how much you are going to actively participate with something is called reflexivity. We've all been there, some days you just do not feel like it, however when you go through the motions anyway you just end up feeling more fed up and negative. Unsurprisingly research has found that those individuals who consciously decide to take part or engage in a situation are much more likely to have a positive experience and achieve more as a result.
What is stress?
The word stress has become part of our everyday language with people using it to describe themselves, work or modern life. We often see different reports telling us stress is bad for us or that some stress is good for us. Different people seem to experience varying levels of stress in the same situations, making it confusing to work out what triggers a stress response and what feeling stressed means for different people.
Stress is experienced when a person perceives that they are not able to cope with the demands of a situation or task that is important to them and has four different stages.
Negative Thinking is a habit
Habits are developed over weeks, months and years and are a great time-saving solution. Once we have learnt and mastered an action we can daisy chain it with others until we have our daily routines organised on autopilot.
This daisy-chaining of actions and developing habits is the same process we undergo when learning to drive both that is a subject for a future blog!
How about thinking? Do you have any thinking styles, patterns or thoughts that have become a habit? Negative thinking can become a habit that is so automatic that it can be hard to break - or more concerning you may not even have realised that you are doing it!
Why is the Out Breath calming?
Several breathing exercises ask you to focus on the out breath which may seem counter-intuitive but there is a reason.
When we breathe out unconsciously this is actually a letting go rather than an action. Breathing in is an action which is why when we choose to breathe consciously we instinctively start with the in breath. Breathing out is actually a release of air, when we breathe out we let go a little, releasing the air in our lungs and at the same time, our muscles let go a little, relaxing and softening. Try it now and notice how your muscles respond to the in breath and out breath, notice what your shoulders do.
How do relaxation techniques help reduce driving stress, nerves and anxiety?
Every time we find ourselves in a stressful situation and we feel under threat we tense our muscles ready to fight, run, freeze or hide. Even when the stressful situation is resolved and the time for action has passed our muscles will often remain tense for a long period of time.
Repeated long-term stress whether generated by everyday life or by driving can lead to long-term muscle tension and muscle tension can lead to pain, headaches, poor sleep patterns and irritability which of course can make us more stressed! These habits are repeated and developed over years until the feelings of being stressed with our shoulders being up by our ears, aching necks and shoulders and sudden flares of anger in response to situations become a normal part of our lives.