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Rewiring the Brain: Understanding and Overcoming Driving Anxiety with Joshua Fletcher

rewiring the brain to overcome driving anxiety

29 June 2023.  Kev & Tracey Field, Joshua Fletcher

Driving anxiety is a common issue that affects many people. It can be triggered by a traumatic experience while driving, a fear of driving itself, or a fear of having a panic attack while driving. Whatever the cause may be, driving anxiety can be overwhelming and even disabling for some individuals. However, there are strategies and tips that can help overcome driving anxiety. In this podcast episode with guest Joshua Fletcher, we will discuss some of these strategies and tips.
Psychoeducation 

Psychoeducation is learning about the process of neuroception when our threat response kicks in. Understanding how our brain perceives threats and the underlying mechanisms that trigger the fear response can be instrumental in overcoming driving anxiety. Learning about how anxiety works can help individuals view anxiety as a natural response that is trying to help them.

Avoidance and Safety Behaviors 

Driving anxiety often starts with a feeling of being out of control. This leads to engagement in safety behaviors such as avoiding certain lanes or roads. These safety behaviors strengthen the brain's memory of them and can contribute to developing agoraphobic driving anxiety tendencies.

"You have to be scared. The biggest misunderstanding is that people think that when they're anxious, that's the failure. It's like, no. That's step 1. Like, that's how you rewire your brain."

Rewiring the Brain

Rewiring the brain involves facing the anxiety without engaging in safety behaviors and gradually practicing driving again. Mistakes may be made, but it's important to keep challenging the phobic side of driving and remembering that the anxiety won't last forever. Gradual exposure is effective in rewiring the brain. It involves confronting one's anxiety a little at a time and gradually gaining confidence. 

Tolerance for Uncertainty 

Tolerance for uncertainty is a skill that can be learned in exposure therapy. Anxiety is not pleasant, but it can be tolerated and gradually overcome through exposure without safety behaviors. Building up tolerance to anxiety-inducing situations can be done gradually, even starting with small steps like driving one junction without safety behaviors.

Identifying the Root Cause 

The key to addressing driving anxiety is to identify the root cause of the fear and determine if it's the actual act of driving or the fear of anxiety itself. Traumatic experiences may require specialized interventions, such as EMDR therapy, to address PTSD.

"Remember that you can always take steps forward where you have to get the credit. There's no point driving down the street, being petrified, and then your partner is sat next to you. Because if you end up saying,

'Oh, thank god my partner was next to me,' then your brain hasn't learned that you tolerated anything.

'Oh, thank god I've a bottle of water'. Well, then the water gets the credit.  

'Oh, thank god. I had ice cubes'  do not do that.  Because your brain will then attribute the credit to ice cubes as opposed to your bravery and courage."

Final Thoughts

Overcoming driving anxiety is not an easy task, but it's important to approach it with a willingness to learn and adapt. The ability to tolerate anxiety-inducing situations can be gradually strengthened through gradual exposure without safety behaviors. Psychoeducation, identifying the root cause of the fear, and engaging in therapy can also be instrumental in overcoming driving anxiety. Remember, anxiety is not the enemy, but merely a response that the brain is trying to use to help us. By understanding anxiety and changing the approach to it, one can overcome driving anxiety and gain the confidence needed to drive without fear.

Joshua Fletcher

Joshua Fletcher is a UK-based psychotherapist who specialises in working with anxiety disorders.

He is best known as Anxiety Josh across social media and has quickly become a renowned and reputable figure in the industry.

A self-confessed anxiety disorder nerd, Josh has a deeper level of understanding beyond the textbooks and training.

He grew up in Manchester and was once diagnosed with crippling anxiety; suffering from panic attacks, agoraphobia, health anxiety and generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), as well as intrusive thoughts, obsessive compulsive behaviours.

Socials: @anxietyjosh

Website: https://schoolofanxiety.com

Podcast Transcript

Tracey Field [00:00:00]:

In today's episode, we're welcoming Joshua Fletcher, sometimes known as anxiety Josh. Josh is a psychotherapist working with anxiety and panic. He's a bestselling author of 3 books as well as being a podcast host on his own podcast, The panic pod. So welcome, Josh.

Josh Fletcher [00:00:21]:

Hi. Thanks for having me on. I'm looking forward to today's episode.

Kev Field [00:00:24]:

So, Josh, obviously, we deal with driving. How would you describe driving anxiety? I suppose that's a massive question to start with, but

Josh Fletcher [00:00:34]:

Yeah. For me, there's 2 main reasons people would develop driving anxiety. The first one is a conventional reason. These are usually people that probably had a bad experience behind the wheel, whether it's driving themselves or whether it's being a passenger or witnessing something. maybe it's someone else having an accident. And I call it a conventional fear in phobia. You would do. Wouldn't you? If you've seen something, experience something, your threat response, the amygdala in your brain will remember that. And so the next time you see a car, you'd be like, you know, I'm gonna remind you of that. Some people have been quite serious accidents. They'll be like, they'll have a dramatic memories and and reminders of that, but that's quite rare. The the vast majority of people were driving anxiety. However, have not been involved in accidents as as such. There are people who developed a form of inwards disordered anxiety, which has agrophobic tendencies. And I'm also this person as well because I've also been I did not sit behind a wheel for years. And this was because I was afraid of how I would feel. You know you've got driving anxiety when you constantly behind the wheel and dictated by ‘what ifs’. You're afraid of the mostly the anxiety itself So I'm gonna avoid this a road just in case I panic. I'm not gonna drive in the fast lane of the motorway just in case I freak out and turn into the central embankment and cause a 50 car pile up and and whatever. And the stakes are in this. I'm driving my gears. I'm driving my family. I'm driving whatever. and yet often overlaps the agrophobia. And that is I can only do a certain amount of things. So so a lot of people most people driving is actually catch the drive, but the long drive certain routes at a certain time of day, certain distance, they'll avoid certain roads. Again, this was me, and some people just avoid it completely. But why I say it links to agrophobia is that agrophobia is the belief that if we leave a safe space, or a space outside of our what we believe that we can control ourselves in, something awful might happen. And for me, personally, that's what happened. I wouldn't drive outside my town. It all started where I started avoiding the fast lane of the motorway and then the motorway altogether, and then a road and then I'd avoid doing certain things. I'd I'd do that and I'd avoid being a passenger in a car, and then I'd avoid doing every and it slowly to start to develop very similarly to agrophobia, whereas people would have avoid going somewhere far away, and then they come home and, etcetera. But yeah. For me, whistle stop tour. That's mostly what I work with with with driving anxiety. I wanna work out. Why are you afraid? Is it the actual driving you're afraid of, or is it I'm afraid of the anxiety itself.

Tracey Field [00:03:15]:

There's so many things in there. So I've never thought about that link with agrophobia that's never occurred to me before in all the things that I've looked at and read and all the people we've worked with. But, yes, absolutely. That fear of going outside of your safe space.

Kev Field [00:03:41]:

Did Talking of that then, did you feel safe within the car?

Josh Fletcher [00:03:45]:

For me, it was I used to really I I love enjoy I enjoy driving again. by the way. So if you're someone who used to enjoy driving, didn't start to driving. I love driving. I think I said to you before you press record. I just recently drove to Portugal from Manchester, and it was a wonderful journey. But back in the in the midst of driving anxiety, I would not like, even looking at the car, even someone inviting me to go, I'd I'd my driving anxiety is so bad I wouldn't even get taxis. Or, yeah, it it was pretty bad because it was actually a kind of my association with the car was agrophobia and also claustrophobia. I don't like being in here if someone else is driving. Or if I'm driving, I don't wanna lose control. I don't want to feel the sensations of anxiety and panic. Some of those sensations include heart palpitations, derealization, sudden overwhelm. Everything becomes bright, peripheral vision shuts down, sweaty palms, you know, feeling a bit sick, winds down the window, doing all these things. I didn't like that. and that my threat response, my fear response, had developed an association that the car was suddenly now dangerous. So even thinking about doing a journey triggered my Threat Response. I'd feel sick and horrible, and my mood would change. Never mind getting in the car. But thankfully, associations can change. So now I can get into a car and and and be like, yeah. Or just A normal association rather than having fear, dictating. Yeah. But yeah. No. It was I felt I feel safe in the car now, and I used to. But the association with the with the car during that phobia, during that anxiety, yeah, it definitely changed temporarily.

Tracey Field [00:05:34]:

And so one of the and this is one of the reasons we've started to go out and speak to other people is we hear from a lot of people about exactly the same as you. You used to be able to drive. have been driving for however long, And then suddenly, one day, I'm driving, and, bam, I'm hit with mystery driving anxiety or actually More specifically, mystery anxiety while driving, which then becomes, like you say, associations becomes driving anxiety. And that's sort of part of what we're looking at. What is it that happens to somebody when they're suddenly whammied with this anxiety out of the blue. Why does that happen?

Josh Fletcher [00:06:19]:

That's a really good question. And for me, one of the biggest proponents to overcoming driving anxiety is Psychoeducation is actually learning what's happening. So what happens is when your body feels under threat, a process called neuroception happens. where your threat response kicks in. And and the amygdala in your brain signals, the rest of the body, you know, fight flight, freeze, and form. go. Something bad's gonna happen. And you get a big dump of adrenaline. So if you ever sat behind the wheel and your hands are shaking, you've had to pull over or you doing all these things. That's your threat response kicking off. That's your adrenaline. You feel like you're gonna lose control. You don't lose control, but it feels like you. And you feel like you might That's the whole point of a of an adrenaline rush or some people call it a panic attack. I don't call it panic attack because it's not very accurate. You're not nothing's attacking you, but it does feel scary and very imminent. So what happens is when you are driving along, And sometimes people can have panic loads people have panic attacks behind the wheel. Usually, nothing to do with driving. It's usually stress to do with their own lives. And there's an accumulation of stress and accumulation of stress. This threat response, the amygdala, is not part of our thinking brain. It will just detect that you're incredibly stressed and trigger just in case. Just trying to look after you like, woah. Why are you stressed? Maybe someone cut you up in the road. Maybe, you know, you went through, you know, a deep puddle. Maybe something happened. Another driver annoyed you. Maybe you just have a thought about work. Bang. And you're hit with adrenaline. This is how most driving anxiety starts. that feeling of I'm not in control. And so therefore and this is the key thing to remember. Driving anxiety mostly starts because then we engage in safety behaviors. So for me, my first panic attack happened on the last lane of the motorway. And so I didn't know that was a panic attack as such. I thought something really bad was gonna happen. And so I engaged in in CBT, we call it a safety behavior. So I was like, well, just in case I pulled over to the slow lane. but nothing bad happened. It was adrenaline rush. However, my amygdala remembered that I did a safety behavior, and so it goes, well, next time you go on the motorway, don't go in the fast lane. I looked after you, go in the slow lane and the middle lane, and that's how my driving anxiety started. And suddenly, 2 months later, I'm planning journeys Google Maps. I'm avoiding certain roads. I wouldn't go over bridges, you know, because of all these things, and I'm slowly developing these agrophobic driving anxiety tendencies because that's what the brain's supposed to do. You know, if my if you're bitten by a dog as a kid, Your brain, your amygdala will fire off every time you hear a dog, see a dog, or on TV, whatever. But what's great is that you can be wire it. But you rewire it by doing the tricky stuff minus the safety behaviors. That's a very kind of quick way of explaining it. because it's a bit of a journey to overcoming driving anxiety. But that's part of it. And for me, that's how I did it just practicing again. Just I'm going to some severe anxiety to literally just sitting behind the wheel, not even turning the car on, just sitting there and letting the amygdala kick off. letting all the scary what ifs and the palpitations and the feelings of an ease be there. And when and it always calms, you know, it doesn't last forever. Your body can't produce that amount of adrenaline. Let it hit me. Don't respond. No safety behaviors. And then go again in the next I drive down my street. Well, woah, okay. And then I go into another street, and the brain starts to rewire itself again. Don't get me wrong. It's tricky. Sometimes you'll make mistakes and do some safey behaviours. like I did. I went back on the motorway again. then I was like, oh, no. I need to go on her shoulder. And then I was like, no. Try again, you know, and stuff like that. But, yeah, in general, in a nutshell, that's kind of how I challenged the the phobic side of driving, the claustrophobic, the agrophobic side. I like that little tip there about the fact that it won't last forever.

Tracey Field [00:10:26]:

The adrenal gland can't keep producing adrenaline. It needs to recharge. It needs to it it will fire off as much as it can, and then it needs to reload almost. So it it has to stop at some point.

Josh Fletcher [00:10:43]:

Definitely. And, also, the bonus is it will always stop. But when it stops and and the brain sees, the threat of someone sees that you've not changed your behavior, Then the brain rewires too, so the amygdala literally rewires itself. It's called exposure therapy, and it works, you know, that it works for most things. You know, if you your 1st day are at work, you're probably really nervous. 2 weeks late. You're not because the you've not left work. The amygdala's just rewired itself. A job interview, your first 5, 10 minutes, you're petrified. By the end of it, you feel quite good because the amygdala's rewired itself. driving itself when you first pass your driving test and you and you got natural driving anxiety because you it's all new and you're on your own. the amygdala's gonna rewire itself because they knew practice driving. And then, you know, I I invite clients to say it was the last big journey that you did. And they're like, oh, yeah. I mean, I've done journeys in my life where I've not even remember driving. I've been listening to the radio. So if I don't remember changing gears, I don't remember doing any of that. because the amygdala isn't activated. However, when it is activated, it feels like, you know, it's trying to look after you. And That's what's really important. It's our behavior in that in that situation and a little bit at a time. It was for me anyway.

Kev Field [00:12:02]:

It's very interesting because, again, when we have people that are anxious, And, you know, it's the first thing of the case. Well, let's just sit you behind. We're very similar to what you've you've done there. And then just you know, what is it they're feeling? And some of them, it is quite a strong feeling because it's a steering wheel in front of them. They've got controls in front of them. Even though the engine's not on and the keys aren't ignition, but just that fault of I'm sitting behind the steering wheel, can just bring those emotions back out again. And it's it's really interesting you're saying that you've gone it, and it's like, you know, just little baby steps that are gonna rewire that link to say it's okay.

Josh Fletcher [00:12:50]:

Absolutely. I've been there. I've I've I've done that. It is scary. But you gotta remember is that anxiety is not the enemy. It's just been widened into a way where trying to help you. It now thinks that the steering wheel is dangerous. And what you're doing is you are showing the brain but this is no longer dangerous. But to do that, you have to sit through the threat response. So talk about the amygdala before, which is the conductor of that threat response. That's the reason why you feel anxious. And the only way that can rewire itself is when you're scared, This is really important. You have to be scared for it to rewire it. So because it's imagine like a oyster and a pearl and stuff like that. Like, it has to open up or if you took to get it it it will remain closed. This is why a lot of people fail with, like, a kind of, like, hack and shortcuts and stuff. I was like, well, the amygdala's not gonna rewire itself so you can, you know, stand on your head and align your shakras and learn and all these things and take all the supplements in the world. But that's that's not gonna rewire your amygdala. You know? And, therefore, you know, don't do it. Whereas what you guys are doing in sitting with people and sitting in front of the wheel first step, yes. That is literally opening the amygdala Prime for rewiring. And when that person doesn't leave the car and they start to feel a bit calm again, they've rewired their brain. and they call it gradual exposure. You know? A little bit at a time, you ask them how more how confident are you now sitting behind the wheel and not going anyway? Actually, yeah, I'm pretty bored now. Okay, then. Let's take the next step, you know, and take the next step. But, yeah, this is you have to be scared. The biggest as an anxiety expert, The biggest misunderstanding is that people think that when they're anxious, that's the failure. It's like, no. That's step 1. Like, that's how you rewire your brain. So oh, no. I'm anxious again. could carry on because that's what we have to do. If you're like, oh, no. I'm anxious again. I'm a fail you, and then you ain't gonna rewire your brain.

Tracey Field [00:14:48]:

I love that. Yeah. That's just so important, isn't it? Because how many people are trying to overcome I mean, for us, we're talking about driving anxiety. So how many people are trying to overcome their driving anxiety? by continuing to avoid, you know, not being willing to make a change. I mean, I will say that every Facebook group that I'm in. Whenever I'm in anything and I say what we do, there is always I can guarantee there is always someone who will say, I really need you. But then they say then they don't really want to make a change. They're quite happy with the status quo. they they don't want to do anything about it. And I guess it's because they don't want to feel -- It's not. -- that fear or those feelings.

Josh Fletcher [00:15:35]:

No. neither did I. You know? But what's really interesting is that when someone understood, explained to me the cycle I was in and why it was happening. I was like, now I understand why I'm doing something scary. There's something called the the the cornerstone of I work with all anxiety disorders complex and whatnot. But the cornerstone of everything that I do is practicing the willful tolerance of uncertainty. It's a skill that you cultivate. And so, you know, I get people coming in here with panic attacks and generalizing anxiety, OCD many things, and they'll come in and they'll say, Oh, Josh, you've had an amazing week. I wasn't anxious at all. And now for me, you know, okay. I'm I'm happy about a chilled week. but I'm not that interested in that because that's not recovery. Recovery is, Josh, you know what? Five times this week, I was anxious. but I did stuff anyway. I will fully tolerated my anxiety, and, actually, I'm feeling a little bit more confident with it. And that's when I get the pom poms out and start clapping because that's long term change. Now if you someone who is trying to get there without ever feeling anxious ever again, then you you you're just thanking the threat response. And these are the people that often give the credit to other things. So depending where you are on your driving anxiety recovery journey, Some people just won't get behind the wheel at all. That's fine. You know what your next task is, or you could just not. You don't have to drive again. It's completely up to you. You know? You you it's your choice. Or if you're, like, somewhere down the line, like, I can drive, but my partner has to be with me. Or I can drive I must have a diazepan in nearby just in case. Or I can drive, but I must have my cold bottle of water and ice cubes just in case I panic. If you're that person, get rid of that immediately because you'll never wire the brain to get the credibility. These these kind of things, and it's just like where you're at a little bit at a time. And that's why I did just a little bit at a time. It took me a while, but got there. Until one day, you'll be sitting there just daydreaming driving. He'd be like, Oh, wow. Doesn't really feel like a thing. You know? Like, just daydream. Or you could be like me in the fast lane, daydreaming about driving, and then going oh my god. What if I do get anxious? And I said going, no. Yeah. And then then I became anxious, and then I said, laughing. It's like, no. I'm not pulling over. I'm gonna carry on.

Yeah. Yeah.

Kev Field [00:17:59]:

Yeah. I could just imagine your face now. It's just like,

Josh Fletcher [00:18:03]:

no problem. Yeah. Smiling to horror to smiling again. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Tracey Field [00:18:08]:

Because everyone has those, we still do have those thoughts. Even if we don't suffer from driving anxiety, things still happen, and we still have those thoughts is what we do with them and where we go with them, isn't it? How we respond to them?

Kev Field [00:18:25]:

Absolutely. So the thing I got from that was face the fear, but in a nice way, like small steps.

Josh Fletcher [00:18:32]:

But -- Yeah. Face the fear whilst getting the credit. Now safety behaviors in exposure therapy are the 1 I I the one things I hear a lot, taking on social media and stuff like, I've been doing the exposures, and I've still got this anxiety, this driving anxiety. And I'm like, okay. Well, well done. First of all, facing your fears. Let's see where the brain is failing to acknowledge that you're getting the credit for driving. And then this is when the safety behaviors come out. So it's like every time I get anxious, I have to open a window. So why? Because I might get more anxious. Well, then your brain did not fully learn that you can tolerate that anxiety. Everyone can tolerate that anxiety. Believe it or not. And some people are quite harsh on themselves and be like, oh, no. I can't. But, yes, you can. You can. Do it a bit at a time. So I always talk about the will for tolerance of uncertainty. You get good at it. It becomes a skill, and you start to learn that you can tolerate it. Anxiety is not nice. And I don't there's no, like, sit I don't like the term sitting and accepting. Like, no. I don't wanna accept. It feels like crap. Why would I? But I'm gonna tolerate it. and that's what I can do. The thing that gets in the way are these sides of it. So I would be like, I started to panic on the motorway. I take the next junction off. Well, well done for getting on the motorway to me, for me. But then I'd be like, well, I've just thanked the amygdala there because it's given me a false alarm that there's danger. And by me acting like there could be danger, I've just thanked it. Next time, we were obviously shorter version. Next time we go on the motorway and feel this panic. I'm sat in the slow lane. I'm like, no. I'm gonna actually go in the middle lane and panic a bit more. you know, and I'm still gonna be a bit cold and warm. You know? I'm gonna be a bit clammy and all that, but it's fine. I'm not gonna lose control. If anything, My perception is gonna be even more tuned because it's the fight or flight response that our ancestors used. They're gonna be more tuned to predators around them. They're gonna be more aware what's happening around them, and that's what happens, and that starts to pass a little bit at a time. obviously build up to it. If you're someone who can't go anywhere near a slip road or anywhere near an A road, you build up to it a little bit at a time And sometimes that means just going one junction. One junction without safety behaviors might be 30 seconds. Might be a minute. Without safety behaviors, there's some brilliant rewiring and keep building and building and building. You'll have setbacks. But in general, that's the exposures the way through that. If you've been in an accident, a traumatic accident, which is rare and stuff, you might need some intervention from a trauma specialist, you know, and have trauma interventions like EMDR therapy and trauma therapy and stuff. Again, that's quite rare. Now most people who in car accidents do not develop trauma and PTSD, but some people do. And if that is you, know that there is treatment options for you as well, and you will be ending up doing that exposure therapy as well. So if there's no way out.

Tracey Field [00:21:30]:

So the What jumped out for me there was what about the people? because there's always people when who say yes, but yes, But -- Yeah. The yes butts. -- me. Yes, butts. So I completely agree, butts. So so the yes butts that I thought of there was with somebody who says, but my anxiety is so bad. I think I'm going to pass out or crumbled pieces or have a heart attack. So what do we say to them?

Josh Fletcher [00:22:03]:

No one's ever died from a panic attack. I hear a lot of people, my anxiety is worse. And sometimes, yeah, because they're probably surrounded by people who don't experience that disordered level of anxiety, the fear of fear itself. You know? And maybe they're around family members that get it frustrated, and they're like, well, what you got to worry about. 1 in for 5 people have that form of inwards disorder anxiety I've been there. I was so anxious But the one part part part of my life, I didn't leave my house for a year. Never mind my room. This is how I know of driving anxiety and agoraphobia are linked. I mean, I would I was so scared. I didn't eat. I didn't sleep for a year. I know what panic's like. I've been in the a and e four or five times. with ECGs and stuff like that. What was happening is I had a phobia of anxiety yourself. So not only was I getting the initial fear, So everyone gets anxiety, but you get secondary anxiety. And peep most people driving anxiety will have this. So these are people that are on their Apple watches looking at their heart rate. There's another safety behavior. If you've got an Apple watch and you're looking at your heart rate, Get that crap off your wrist. Yeah. It's not helping. He's yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Do not why? You know? And, you know, do not do that. and stuff like that. It's that's a safety behaviour and stuff. You can do it. Your anxiety is not worse than anyone else's you've got a chronic conditions or some stuff, maybe you've maybe you're steroid dependent or maybe you've got Type 1 or 2 or 2 diabetes or a thyroid condition. Of course, you know, factor the stress of anxiety into the management of your health But in general, your anxiety is no more than anyone else's. It's supposed to be terrifying. The whole point of anxiety is to make you doubt That's the whole point. It's the most powerful thing that's made humans, the most powerful predator ever to walk the planet because of this doubt mechanism. We're rubbish at fighting predators' hand to high in combat. We can't run away from predators, but because of a doubt mechanism and an analytical brain, we can spot predators from thousands of miles away or threats. So you know, imagine your ancestors on the Serengeti, I feel doubt. Why? What's up? I just feel doubt. I feel like I'm in danger. Okay. Well, let's have a look around. Oh, yeah. There's a pride of lions. They've not spotted us yet. Brilliant. Let's have a Lion King theme barbecue later. Because we can sneak up on them or pass or pass them or whatever. That literal doubt mechanism is what makes us so incredibly well as as a species. And it's never evolved over 1000 and 1000 and 1000 years. So when you're having a panic, That's the very same doubt mechanism. But then the amygdala is put is perceiving anxiety itself as a lion. it's adding more adrenaline. So, yeah, you're probably are experiencing more anxiety than the conventional person. But you are also experiencing the same anxiety as 1 in 5 people who experience panic attacks and disorder anxiety. your anxiety cannot get to a level where you just lose control, you pass out, unless you've got, like, vague vague or vague or syncope, but again, that's rare. No. You're not that's not gonna happen. That doesn't happen. What a rubbish response that would be Yeah. If you passed out in response to threat, can you imagine that? Yeah. There's a bear that's chasing me. Alright. I'm just gonna collapse. Alright. Well, we wouldn't have evolved at all. You know? Yeah. And if anything you you collapse when your blood pressure drops, Trust me, if you wanna do an experiment at home, but not compulsively, be in sit in your car when you're anxious with a blood pressure monitor, You're not going drop your blood pressure. Yeah.

Speaker D [00:25:52]:

Yeah. Yeah. Jesus.

Josh Fletcher [00:25:53]:

Yeah. I'm trying. Yeah. I can try that. I've got one. Yeah. Yeah. No. You'll you'll freak yourself out like us. Oh my god. Yeah. I'm done. Oh, yeah. Yeah. It's because you're anxious. Yeah. Yeah. Mhmm.

Tracey Field [00:26:08]:

Yeah. And I that thing about people yeah. People are constantly checking their watches out there, checking their what's not heart rate, what's this, what's that, So -- And you're teaching the amygdala

Josh Fletcher [00:26:20]:

threat response is dangerous in itself. So these are people that would usually be scared to do exercise. Yeah. Because they don't like their heart rates going. And now you go into panic disorder territory, which is I'm afraid to panic. Anything that reminds me of panic, I will avoid including driving. Yeah. And and that's why panic disorder, agrophobia, driving anxiety, they all come under the same umbrella. And when do you realize, actually, there's form that this is a fear of fear, and my behaviors are maintaining that phobia. k. Just get worse. You just get stagnant. But remember that you can always take steps forward where you have to get the credit. There's no point drive down the street, being petrified, and then your partner is sat next to you. because and then if you end up saying, oh, thank, you know, thank god my partner was next to me. then your brain hasn't learned that you tolerated anything. You know? Oh, thank god I've got a bottle of water. Well, then the water gets the credit. No. Oh, thank god. I had ice cubes to put on my wrists do not do that. I the the ice cube thing, it So I'm not gonna get angry, I guess. But but in general no. Because your brain will then attribute the credit to ice cubes as opposed to your bravery and courage. The ice cubes didn't help out. You know? Like, don't don't don't don't do that. and stuff like that. Oh, thank god. I was I was I was nearer the hard shoulder, otherwise, you know, I coulda wouldn't have done that. Well, the hard shoulder got the credit, not you. I’m very passionate about that.

Tracey Field [00:27:56]:

Yeah. So really watch out for those crutches. And if you're using you know, if there is something that that's a crutch that you're using and you feel you can't drive without it, then You're not overcoming your own anxieties.

Josh Fletcher [00:28:13]:

Yeah. Yeah. And people may have many crutches, so I would say take one away at a time. don't just go in blind. Like, I haven't got many crutches here. Yeah. Actually, I'm gonna take one away and see what happens. That's really good. The brain will start to rewrite, oh, okay. Well, you can function with 5 crutches, or you can function with 3 crutches. You've got one crutch left. See how you can do it. That's fine too. Yeah. Brilliant.

Kev Field [00:28:41]:

You've just sort of, like, gone poof with my brain at the moment. It's it's like a little volcano going off, and I've got loads of different things. and I can't think of a question at the moment because there's loads. But I'm gonna take the credit for that because I rewiring my brain. There we go.

Josh Fletcher [00:28:58]:

There we go. Yeah.

Love him. Very good.

Tracey Field [00:29:02]:

Just touching back on that. What we we've talked loads and loads about anxiety and crutches and the different things going on, that coming back to that mystery anxiety, we only touched on that very briefly, didn't we? The fact that this can be other things, and you mentioned it that it could be something that happens while you're driving, but it could also be a thought about work. or something seemingly random. Mhmm. So I think that's important just to go back to a little bit for those listeners who feel that they nothing happened while they were driving. So there's somebody in particular that I'm thinking of who is very well known. who has said that they were driving. They've always been happy driving. Nothing happened while they were driving. There was no driving incident. but suddenly got whammied out of nowhere. The stress doesn't have to come from the driving itself, does it? No. I'd actually argue that most driving anxiety start nothing to do with the car.

Josh Fletcher [00:30:04]:

I often use an analogy, which is not mine. It's not necessarily original, but I honestly believe that to be the cause of most most disordered anxiety. Never mind driving anxiety. is that we have the stress bucket, the stress jar. I call it stress jug. You know, if you go on Instagram on TikTok with someone obviously using it, using the same analogy. But I I do like this analogy because it's it describes almost the beginning of every person's disordered anxiety, phobia, phobia, a misfiring threat response is the thing we're gonna talk about. So if you're driving along suddenly you feel anxious, a little to no reason or an over it feels like an overreaction to a thought. This is because our stress jug is filled up. The proverbial straw broke the camel's back. The stress has been building for ages. The size of that stress jug is dependent on genetics. So if your mom and dad are anxious, then sorry, you probably got a very small stress jug. Mine's very small. Gotta be mindful of what's in And, yeah, often when we're driving, we've got time to ourselves, thoughts we can reflect, we can ruminate. Maybe we're a parent. Maybe something's going on. Maybe we've got relationship issues. Maybe we've got financial issues. Maybe we've got trauma from the past that we not spoke about. Maybe we're going through grief. Maybe we've gone have unprocessed abuse. Maybe we're in a work system where we're being treated unfairly. Maybe in my child eldest child's poorly Maybe my neighbor's keeping me up at night. Maybe whatever. This keeps building up and up and up. A mixture of worry and stress worry and stress. And it's fine. We've built to tolerate stress. However, when I was talking about the amygdala again, which I always bang on about, when stress gets so much, the amygdala misinterprets that amount of stress as potential threat. So don't be surprised if suddenly You hear a loud noise on the radio, or you just have a thought when you're behind the wheeliele, that was an extra drop, the final drop that made the jug overflow. The amygdala then steps in. You're not in control of the amygdala. You know you're not in control of the amygdala since that thing that wakes you up when you have one of those falling dreams. Or if you ever watch a scary movie, you didn't do that. You know? Or if you step out into the road, accidentally don't look, and you almost sit. So you step back That's the amygdala. It's not you. And it's also doing that here by when you're behind the wheel. Mystery anxiety is usually when the stress jug is filled up, it overflows. and even the smallest thing. My nervous breakdown when I developed anxiety disorder and agoraphobia, I dropped a spoon at work, and that was it. I suddenly hit by this derealization, sense of doom, dread something awful's gonna happen. Hands look like Clay racing thoughts. horrendous, exact substantial thoughts. I thought I was going crazy. I was having a panic attack on adrenaline rush. I didn't even know. It was my first ever one. And, actually, at the time, my stress bucket was so full. Some people then go down the the route of, well, I've emptied my stress jug. I do this. I eat healthy. My gut biome is +5000. I'm I've cut out gluten. I don't drink. I do this and blah blah blah, go into therapy. I'm of the hope of just do what non anxious you would do. But the main thing for people with disordered anxiety and driving anxiety its panic disorder that keeps refilling the jug is the fear of anxiety itself. So you can do all those things, and, you know, I did all these things. I'm still anxious. Well, you're doing it because you're not addressing your phobia here. You're doing it with the magical wish that it will get rid of phobia. You know, if I eat celery for breakfast, it'd be sad all day. Because I've eaten celery for breakfast, the antioxidants will make me less anxious Well, then, actually, that's nothing to do with the amygdala rewiring adrenaline releasing adrenaline and cortisol into your bloodstream. You're not addressing the fear. Yeah. It's like I'm going to do Tai Chi for an hour and hope that I have no longer have a phobia of spiders. Doesn't make sense. You know? And so what I say to people is that particularly from working people is, like, let's address the fear of fear first. And then we could go prodding around in your childhood or whatever and talk about your personal life. And then you can leave, overcoming a fear, and a phobia, and also less weight on your shoulders. And then so you're less prone to having those spontaneous bouts of mystery anxiety because your stress drug is overflowing.

Tracey Field [00:34:32]:

Yeah. That makes so much sense, doesn't it?

Kev Field [00:34:36]:

Yeah. Definitely.

Kev Field [00:34:38]:

I'm still lost the words. I'm still lost this last night. like, leave me out of the conversation now because it's the

Kev Field [00:34:45]:

I've got so much, but that's very similar to someone

Kev Field [00:34:49]:

that has a work you know, that the workload is horrendous, and they've got this big task to do. And they're feeling stressed about that. But going to the gym, is great for that hour, but they're still coming back to that work, aren't they? You know? They they're still coming back to the thing that makes them have that anxiety and that stress. And and that's the that's exactly the same we've driving. is someone that's trying to drive on a big roundabout that they feel nervous with. You're having round on little roads that don't have those situations on, it's fine. But they're still gonna have to deal with that stress at some point. and building it in little steps, little baby steps to be able to deal with that is the way to deal with it. But recognizing that they are working towards that goal or dealing with that fear of that roundabout,

Josh Fletcher [00:35:47]:

whatever it is. Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. And and I think that's right. It's like you can you can distract yourself with stuff with the gym. Don't get me wrong. Go to the gym. It's good for you, stuff like that. Yeah. By by all means, But why are you doing? Are you doing it for your overall wellness or you're looking for the miracle thought or cure? Don't do what I did for years. tried everything. You know? Are you there, like, pouring rescue remedy into my eyes so I don't become panicky on the dual carriageway, but Don't do it, doesn't work, you know, to the point where it's you. And this is one of the big biggest questions I get asked is, what if what are the best coping mechanisms and tips? I passionately believe that you are the coping mechanism. You It's your ability to tolerate uncertain uncertainty and those symptoms. When you do and the brain recognizes that it was just you, it rewires itself, and use all start to get more confident. You start to enjoy driving again. You know? When I drove to Portugal this year, they said to you before in an electric car as well, so I was a bit like, the natural range anxiety and the charges of weird places. I was like, but that was fine because there wasn't phobia of driving itself. It was just, like, kind of natural anxiety. But, yeah, you can start to enjoy it. Again, you will get there. The brain is incredibly neuroplastic. You can rewire it, but it also likes patterns, loops, and behaviors, and most driving anxiety is is that, basically. Mhmm.

Tracey Field [00:37:09]:

Oh, I think that really offers a a message of

Josh Fletcher [00:37:13]:

hope to our listeners, but it but it is possible you can do it. Yeah. So I I sorry. I I have, like, did it anyway. So a lot of the ones I do when I do hashtag did it anyway. So I did it while I was anxious, and loads of them are driving anxiety. You can do it, and you're you're very critical of it. But I'm the acceptance of the rules. No. You're not. You can do it. Mhmm.

Tracey Field [00:37:33]:

You can do it. Yeah. Brilliant. So when we contacted you and asked you to come on and talk to us about driving anxiety. Was there anything that you thought, I really wanna talk about that, or I hope they asked me about that, that we haven't covered?

Josh Fletcher [00:37:47]:

No. I think they're excellent questions, and I think it's a really important thing. It's I mean, When I my old podcast the panic pod, which I really enjoyed, interestingly, when you look at the statistics, the most listened to subject was driving anxiety. I thought, really? I've got some amazing stuff over there. Well, you know, and I was like, because it's so common, so I'm I'm glad I'm glad you guys are, you know, are talking about it. It's a really common subjects,

Speaker D [00:38:15]:

and and and and and and thanks for covering it as well, which is really important. But we're not to butter you up. but that episode was actually so before we started this podcast, obviously, you have to do your research, don't you? When you when you start

Tracey Field [00:38:30]:

podcast. And so -- Mhmm. -- researching what was out there. It was that episode. Really was the one of the few good episodes about related to driving anxiety that I found, and it was that that we actually, we recommend all the driving instructors who we train. So -- Oh, thank you. So so a lot of those lessons might be driving instructors. Well, we recommend

Josh Fletcher [00:38:54]:

to it. That's brilliant. Well, my latest podcast is Disordered. I actually take a more psychotherapy approach to it well. We're actually recording a a driving anxiety on today. It won't be out for a while. But, yeah, if if you want a more up to date one, I enjoyed the panic pop one, but it's a it's a bit it's a bit old now. It's a bit old now. It's a bit like, oh, you know, like, do you know, you I mean, you listen to yourself from years ago and be like, ugh. You thought you were so funny. Yeah. You know, really? No. Yeah. Yeah. But, yeah, And, again, if you can relate to the anxiety as well, the agrophobia and stuff like that, disordered is a is a resource for you. If you want, it's free, just go and knock it out and, you know, go and listen to it. Fantastic.

Tracey Field [00:39:38]:

Yeah. So there's there's 2 there's 2 podcasts where people can go and listen to Josh.

Josh Fletcher [00:39:46]:

But it sounds better in the newer one. He's a yes. Yeah. Oh, yeah. He's he's much better in the new one. Yeah. It's much more up to date. -- review is. Yeah. Yeah. Much more up to date stuff. Yeah.

Tracey Field [00:39:57]:

Great. We always ask our guests one final question. Which is, when you were learning to drive, Josh, what can you remember? Can you cast your mind back to learning? What did you find the most difficult about learning to drive?

Josh Fletcher [00:40:16]:

I I actually really struggled loads to drive a bit. I think I passed, like, 6th, 7th time. All the best drivers passed 7 times. For me, it was feeling stuck like I couldn't get past something and and trusting that your brain will do stuff on autopilot. So it's a hyperfocus on everything changing gears and doing that and to and go for the motions. And then For me, I was ready to do my test when I started to feel like an autopilot. I actually remember the the test that I passed. I was just chatting to the guy. Yeah. He was just chatting about his son. His son's comedy career. I don't even remember doing the test because I was just chatting in his own autopilot Whereas the tests I failed, I was, like, proper hyperfocusing on everything and not allowing myself to to do it. And, yeah, I just remember it. I was like, oh, it was nice. It's also nice that the the the the the examiner was a nice person. I think some of them proper get off on the power, you know, sit there in silence, mainly. You know? If you've got that person, I'm sorry. Do you know? Yeah. It's not just the there's no there's no anxiety like actually, I don't think I I do an anxiety on the driving test. Yeah. If if you're one of them that's that was afraid of kind of, like, anxiety itself, You're fine on your driving test. You're so busy trying to concentrate that you're not really that bothered. But, yeah, that's that's why I would I would be like, this will get to autopilot. It's okay. You can do a lot a lot of this automatically.

Tracey Field [00:41:44]:

Brilliant. And great. And, of course, like you say, you've gone from that through all sorts of stages of liking driving, being so big about driving, liking driving again, and driving to Portugal. So the whole range, really,

Josh Fletcher [00:41:59]:

Yeah. Doing alright. Love driving. It's great. It's great fun.

Kev Field [00:42:03]:

Well done, you, Josh. Right.

Josh Fletcher [00:42:05]:

Cheers. Well, done me. Yeah.

Yeah. No one's ever said that. --. Yeah.

Tracey Field [00:42:17]:

Great. So before we wrap up, Josh, where can people find you? How can they work with you? And, obviously, we've talked how they can listen to you?

Josh Fletcher [00:42:26]:

I'm called anxiety, Josh, on social media. I mostly work on Instagram, TikTok, and stuff. or you could type in Joshua Fletcher, and you'll find me there. My website's school of anxiety .com when you'll see all the stuff that I do. whether it's kind of books, the disordered podcast, and things like that. If you if you wanted to do to do any of that, that's what that's what I like to do. Yeah. So, yeah, anxiety, Josh, my mother, I wasn't wasn't born with the name anxiety, that would be quite prophetic, wouldn't it? And it's sadist of my mother. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Exactly, Josh. Yeah.

Tracey Field [00:43:03]:

Fantastic. Lovely. Well, Josh, Thank you so much. I really hope that's been interesting and helpful for our listeners. I think it's been great. I've think it's been helpful for me as well.

Josh Fletcher [00:43:15]:

It's been great. So thank you very much for that. Oh, thank you so much. Thank you. It's it's been great.

We hope you have found these thoughts on understanding and overcoming driving anxiety helpful. Please help us by sharing this guide with others.  There is a good chance that if you found it useful, so will they.

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Nervous Drivers Calming Kit

Our Nervous Drivers Calming Kit includes video guides asking you key questions about your driving nerves as well as stress management techniques to help you finally tackle your driving anxiety.  The Kit includes the techniques featured below and more.  Access to all the resources is online.

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The Driving Confidence Podcast

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We created this podcast for those struggling with driving anxiety who want to be calm and confident on the road as we believe that everyone can learn the skills to build their driving confidence.

Whether you are a learner driver, a new driver or have been driving for years, this podcast will help you to beat driving nerves and anxiety and build your driving confidence.

Co-hosted by Kev & Tracey Field, we are the only UK podcast offering a mix of stress management, confidence building and driving know how.

Each Driving Confidence podcast episode offers bite-sized information, tips, real life stories and ideas that are both relatable and achievable to help you manage your driving nerves or anxiety and reassure you that you are not alone in a world of seemingly confident drivers.

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Drive Calm Journal A twelve week prompt journal for anxious drivers

Drive Calm Journal : A Twelve week Prompt Journal for Anxious Drivers

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Follow the prompts, questions, exercises and reflections each week to create your own goal based action plan to work on your driving mindset.  Created by Kev & Tracey Field to help anxious drivers take action and track their progress over twelve weeks based on our unique Drive Calm® System.  
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