Driving test anxiety and wearing a face mask

driving test anxiety and facemasks

Confident Drivers are delighted to share with you a guest blog from Dr Kathryn Newns on the topical subject of wearing a facemask during driving lessons and your driving test.  Dr Newns is a Clinical Psychologist, one of the founders of the Emotional Health Toolkit Facebook group and the Director of Applied Psychology Solutions.

Face masks are not very comfortable at the best of times. But what about wearing one when you are learning to drive? Or taking your driving test? 

If you are nervous and you are wearing a mask there is a chance that your breathing will change; you may feel uncomfortable (like you cannot get enough breath in) and this is likely to make your anxiety worse. Imagine doing this for the first time when you are taking your driving test! It is already likely that you’d be feeling anxious about your driving lesson and wearing a mask might make that feel worse. But it doesn’t have to be this way. 

It is really important that you get used to wearing a mask, especially if you are going to have to wear one when you are likely to feel on edge and worried. You do not want the first time you experience discomfort wearing a mask to be the day of your driving test! You might be used to wearing one to pop into a shop, but that will be very different from wearing one for an hour during a driving lesson or test. 

So how should you prepare yourself for this? Just like learning to drive - you have to practice:

  • If you are not used to wearing a face covering, get used to wearing a mask at home, to begin with. Start by wearing it just for a few minutes, and gradually increase the time you wear it. Once you are comfortable wearing a mask for a short period of time, start to wear it in different situations. 
  • Experiment with different kinds of masks – some will feel more comfortable for you than others. Some have elastic behind the ears and others tie behind your head; you could try attaching your masks to a hairband using buttons. 
  • If you wear glasses, try different ways of wearing the mask and use anti-fogging so that your glasses don’t steam up. Wash your glasses with soapy water and wipe them with a tissue. The thin layer of soapy film that should be left might stop the lenses from steaming up. You could also experiment with different nose bridges on your mask – those with a metal bridge may be better if you wear glasses, and it might help to sit your glasses on the top of the mask.
  • Focus on breathing slowly and steadily with long deep breaths – this is good advice for any time you feel panicky anyway! Wearing a mask can cause feelings of “air hunger” or shortness of breath (known as dyspnea). 

Bring your focus to your breath. Take slow, deep breaths all the way from your diaphragm (the muscle just below your lungs). Breath in through your nose over 4 seconds, then slowly exhale through pursed lips (fish lips!) for 6 seconds. Take a 2-second pause. These are “Quality Breaths”. 

Regulating your breathing in this way helps to engage the vagus nerve – part of the “parasympathetic nervous system” (which is part of our built-in “calm down” system) – this can help your body and mind to feel calm and relaxed. Even if you are not wearing a mask, any time you feel anxious or worried, focussing on your breathing can be a real help.  

Before you put on your mask, right after you put it on, and once you have taken it off, try taking 5 “Quality Breaths”. 

  • Take a mask to your driving lesson, practice wearing it while driving as much as possible before your test. 
  • While you are driving with your mask on, focus on the world around you – if you feel anxious about your mask, focus your attention to the road and what you have learnt in your driving lessons. 
  • As you drive with your mask on, think positively – if you think about not being able to breath, you will feel anxious – instead tell yourself how well you are doing, or come up with your own mantra to reassure yourself that you are safe. 
  • Do not ever wear your mask on your chin or forehead – it must be on (covering your mouth AND nose) or off, but not somewhere in between. 

It has always been the case that, when it comes to a test such as a driving test, preparation is key. The techniques described here about breathing and focussing to reduce anxiety have always been advised when people are nervous about their tests. Now we also need to apply them to wearing a mask and the anxiety and discomfort that this might bring. The best thing you can do to prepare is to practice, practice, practice. Then you can focus on passing and enjoying the freedom that driving can bring!

Dr Kathryn Newns

The Emotional Health Toolkit was created by a group of Registered Psychologists at the start of the COVID19 pandemic. The Facebook group shares high-quality information and psychological resources, created by Registered Psychologists. The founders of the Emotional Health Toolkit also offer support to businesses to improve the mental wellbeing of their employees so that they can recover more effectively from COVID-19 and create a stable and resilient workforce.

driving test mask anxiety infographic

We hope you have found these tips on managing driving anxiety while driving long distances 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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