A new driver got in touch, saying they had passed their test but would like some support. They experienced anxiety, specifically when driving over 30mph and driving downhill, which starts with thoughts that they are going to lose control and the car will overturn, followed by physical sensations of feeling dizzy resulting in them slowing down and being unable to accelerate again. The case study had no experience of being in a car that overturned and did not know anybody who had been in a vehicle that overturned.
How our brains respond to stress
In this case study, the first experience they can remember was after passing their driving test. While driving over 30mph, they started to feel dizzy. This was quickly followed by thoughts that they might lose control of the car, and they stopped where it was safe until the feeling passed.
The brain likely made some incorrect interpretations and connections during this first experience. Potentially the dizzy feeling was interpreted as similar to the sensation of the car overturning, specifically when connected to the thought of losing control – creating the incorrect belief that driving over 30mph will result in loss of control and the car overturning. This thought has been repeated and strengthened whenever they drive the car which results in them feeling dizzy again.
Our brains have a logical thinking area and also emotional, survival driven areas (which override logic). Many fears, worries and phobias are not rational because they do not originate from the logical part of our brain. Logic is not fast enough to override the emotional, survival part of our minds. Thoughts and beliefs may be incorrect as a result of our survival skills keeping us safe and misinterpreting information and also strengthened by repetition and habit. However, it is possible to retrain outdated, unhelpful thoughts and beliefs.
We recommended an exercise to challenge the thought that was causing the problem and create an updated, more balanced thought to take its place by asking them to write down answers to these questions:
What is the thought?
What is the evidence that supports the thought, suggesting it is correct?
What is the evidence against the thought, suggesting it is incorrect?
Create a new balanced statement based on the exercise to replace the thought.
Writing instead of thinking uses a different part of the brain and helps to give the case study a different perspective on the thought. You can help your students by asking them these questions about their own beliefs and encouraging them to write them down.
The good news is that the emotional, survival area of the brain which creates the fear of driving over 30mph cannot tell the difference between something that is happening, or that we are imagining is happening. This enables us to use imagery to help retrain the brain and update old unhelpful beliefs and thoughts with new ones. The more experiences the brain has that driving over 30mph is safe and that the case study can carry the route out confidently at that speed, the less stress they will experience.
We recommended they pick a local route where they would typically expect to drive at 30mph that makes them feel mildly anxious. While comfy and safe at home they should spend some time imagining driving that route safely with as much detail as possible. Whenever the incorrect thought pops in their head, they should balance it with their new statement. They should do this every day until imagining it no longer makes them feel anxious. Then they should pick a new route to imagine, somewhere a bit more challenging or at a different speed.
In addition to the suggestions above we also recommended a mindfulness exercise on unhelpful thinking. This involves noticing whether thoughts are factual or just thoughts. This can minimise the likelihood of unhelpful thoughts creating unnecessary stress and anxiety.
We also suggested the driving confidence hypnotherapy audio on our website, which works on the subconscious mind, the area responsible for the emotional survival response. While there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for everyone, hopefully one of our suggestions might also help your students.
Do you have a nervous or anxious student that you would like some advice about? If so, fill out the form on confidentdrivers.co.uk/adi-case-study-request