It seems that stress has simply become an integral part of everyday life and something we just have to get used to. But stress while driving can be dangerous for both the driver and the other people in traffic. So how should you deal with driving stress? Here are a few tips and tricks on how to calm you down in those situations and help you fight the stress.
What Is Driving Stress?
Driving stress has become more and more present with drivers in the last couple of years. It’s no secret that life and daily chores get progressively more stressful over time. And if you’re someone that spends a lot of time in their car due to work, you must face a lot of driving stress. It’s bad for your overall well-being, so you have to learn how to deal with it while you’re behind the steering wheel.
How Does Driving Stress Affect Your Health?
There have been studies done about how driving stress and time spent behind the wheel affect your health. Not only mental health but physical as well. Believe it or not, your regular everyday commute to work can have serious effects on your health. Each added mile of driving can lead to:
- Higher blood pressure,
- Increased cholesterol,
- Higher blood sugar,
- Increased risk of depression,
- More frequent back pain,
- Worse sleep quality, and so on.
Is It Any Different Than an Anxiety or Panic Attack?
Don’t confuse driving stress with driving anxiety, they are two completely different things. Driving stress is simply stress caused by various factors, but driving anxiety is a deep-set fear of driving. It’s a phobia – vehophobia, where a person refuses to get behind the wheel due to fear. Ultimately, both can lead to a panic attack over hearing the sound of a car alarm, but stress is much easier to deal with. Fighting anxiety usually consists of cognitive behavioral therapy and help from a professional psychologist or psychiatrist.
How Does It Affect the Driver at That Moment?
Besides the long-term effects it may have on your health, driving stress also causes some very real consequences at the moment. It can lead to road rage and aggressive driving, making you a danger on the road, both to yourself and other people in traffic. This kind of behavior results in a higher frequency of car accidents with fatal outcomes since it interferes with our logical thinking.
What Causes Driving Stress?
There are many factors that have an impact on a driver and cause driving stress. They are all highly individual and are different from person to person, but they can generally be split into four main categories:
- The overall health of the driver – their physical and mental condition,
- Traffic conditions and the situation on the road,
- External disturbances,
- The condition of the vehicle.
Being Late and Rushing Everywhere
It’s common knowledge that people speed and rush when they’re late for something. It makes them lose all sense of logic and only think about one thing – how to get to the needed destination in the quickest way possible, so they can make it in time. And drivers use that as an excuse for themselves to do things they normally wouldn’t do. They speed, run red lights, drive aggressively, and so on. Their concentration is compromised, and that leads to more traffic accidents.
Traffic Jams and Congestions
Traffic jams and congestions cost each American about 100 hours each year. That’s a lot of time spent stuck in a row of cars barely moving. The roads are overfilled with vehicles, and once everyone starts going back home after work, rush hour creates insane congestion, especially if road works or traffic accidents are involved.
Dangerous Behavior Caused By Other Drivers
Perhaps the most common reason people get stressed out while driving is the fact that other people can’t drive adequately. You can be the best driver in the world, but you could be surrounded by reckless people who clearly didn’t learn how to drive properly.
If you drive on a daily basis, you’ve probably seen it all – tailgating, veering out of their lane, swerving, speeding, sudden, unpredictable movements with no signalization at all, and other forms of reckless driving. As a driver, I’m starting to get a little frustrated at the thought of these kinds of people. And the worst part about this stressor is that there is very little you can do to prevent it, short of burning their driver’s license.
The Condition of Your Car
No matter how experienced of a driver you are, everyone gets a mini heart attack every time a new icon lights up on their dashboard. Personally, I simply pretend not to see them and ignore them until they go away or my car totally breaks down, but that might not be the best solution to this problem.
Whether it’s no big deal like a change of brake fluid or running out of fuel, or it’s as serious as a malfunction in the motor or replacing U-joints, it’s not the best feeling in the world. Problems with your car can cause a lot of stress in the middle of a drive. There’s nothing that can stress you out and ruin your day as much as a flat tire in the middle of your drive.
Weather Conditions Have a Giant Impact on Drivers
Have you ever noticed how many traffic jams and accidents occur anytime a little bit of rain falls? It’s like everyone’s windshield wipers stopped working and people instantly forget how to drive properly as soon as there is a little cloud in the sky. The same goes for driving at night. Why do weather conditions affect people so much while driving – is it their mood or the problem with the visibility of the road? Either way, weather conditions play a major role in causing stress while driving, especially if snow falls or the roads are icy and slippery.
Learn How to Reduce and Deal With Stress While Driving
While you can’t control everything in life, and you definitely can’t control how other people choose to drive, there are some precautions you can take to make your drive easier and more enjoyable. Here are my top 9 ways of dealing with driving stress.
#1 Plan Your Route
As it does with everything in life, planning makes driving easier and less stressful. You won’t get stressed out over where you’re supposed to take a right turn, double-checking if you’re on the right path, or any other unpredictable occurrence. If you plan ahead and do some research on your route, there will be no surprises, and even traffic jams will be easier to face once you know they’re inevitable. Of course, knowing when and where traffic jams occur gives you the advantage of looking for an alternative route to your destination.
#2 Always Leave Your House a Bit Earlier to Give Yourself Extra Time
As mentioned, being late stresses people out and forces them to rush and speed, and break all kinds of driving laws. They can get aggressive and drive recklessly, putting themselves and others in danger. So why don’t you avoid those situations altogether and always leave your house fifteen minutes early? That way, you definitely won’t be late, and you’ll even have extra time for unpredictable scenarios like traffic jams.
If you’re someone that’s always late simply because you can’t get an accurate estimate of how long it will take you to get somewhere, I can relate to that. Something that helped me out a lot are GPS tracking apps, where you can check exactly how much time you need to get to your destination. Always check that time, and add extra fifteen minutes to it.
#3 Allow Yourself to Take Breaks
This piece of advice is meant especially for people who take long journeys and don’t stop driving for hours at a time. When you drive a couple of hours at once, your concentration lowers, and your stress levels get higher. That’s why professionals advise you to take a 15-minute break every hour, hour and a half. Stop at a gas station and stretch, take some deep breaths, get some coffee and continue your trip once you’re well-rested. Taking multiple short breaks will help you release the accumulated stress and have a safe drive.
#4 Play Your, Favorite Music to Calm You Down
This might sound too obvious, but create a playlist of your favorite songs to play in the car. It will relax you, relieve stress, and elevate your mood, all resulting in a better drive. Just make sure not to play the music too loud and get distracted.
#5 Be Extra Careful on the Road If It’s One of Those Days
We all have a few bad days, it’s perfectly normal. If it’s that kind of a day for you – where you feel like nothing can go right and you’re really stressed out and anxious, just force yourself to pay extra attention to the road and your surroundings. Leave more space than you normally would between you and the car in front of you, drive a little slower, and take deep breaths to calm down.
It might sound silly, but simply taking three deep breaths can make a drastic difference in your mood and stress levels. On those days when you’re really feeling overwhelmed, take a few deep breaths, it will relax your body and clear your mind long enough for you to get safely to your destination.
#6 Make Sure You Feel Comfortable in Your Car
There is a reason your mood elevates once you tidy up your living space and why military training orders that the first thing you should do every morning is to make your bed. Having chaos around you elevates your stress and anxiety, so it might be a good idea to keep the interior of your car clean and tidy since you spend hours in it each day. Throw out the trash, wash your car, clean your seat belts, and create an atmosphere you will enjoy – it will automatically make rides more enjoyable and less stressful.
#7 Don’t Use Your Phone While Driving
Besides the obvious safety reasons behind this rule, using your phone while driving can be a distraction, and any distraction raises your stress and anxiety levels. So do yourself a favor and put your phone in the Do Not Disturb mode.
#8 Don’t Fight With Other Drivers
Try to avoid conflict at all times. Not everyone is as normal as you are, and not everyone knows how to drive. It’s just something you will have to accept, and there is no point in stressing out about it. Take the high road, and let them be even if they start being aggressive; simply keep your distance.
#9 Regularly Maintain Your Car
In order to avoid the stress of seeing your dashboard light up, take care of your car. Regularly take it to courtesy checks and have your mechanic check if everything is working properly. Also, always fill up your fuel when going on longer trips, as there’s nothing worse than running out of fuel in the middle of nowhere.
Be Mindful and Drive Safely
I saved the best piece of advice to help you deal with driving stress for last – drive slowly and safely. By doing so, you’re allowing yourself to have time to react and avoid the most stressful and harmful situations. Practice stress management by using my nine tips and tricks, be mindful of your surroundings, and be careful on the road.