It’s the morning rush hour and your blood has reached boiling point. You have exactly five minutes to get to work and you come to a major traffic hold-up along the dual carriageway. You see the cones and temporary traffic lights and realise that you are stuck in roadworks. The stress of inevitably being late for work is overwhelming.
Or perhaps it’s 5:30 p.m. and you’re rushing to pick up your three-year-old from nursery. A car suddenly veers in front of you and you have to slam on the brakes. You barely avoid an accident. Again, your stress level is rising and you’re finding it difficult to cope.
In today’s world driving is a major cause of stress. Many of us spend countless hours stuck in traffic jams. There are more cars on the road than ever before. In many towns and cities traffic problems are a major public safety issue. And at times it seems that drivers are less courteous than they’ve ever been – someone else’s anger is adding to your stress.
Another source of anxiety is caring for and maintaining your vehicle. Keeping a car on the road is expensive. You worry about the cost of insurance, servicing, repairs and MOTs and rising fuel prices. Also, if your car is getting old and unreliable, constantly anticipating breakdowns, even if they don’t happen, can be very stressful.
For parents, chauffeuring children can be a stressful time. You might have to find innovative ways of keep them occupied during long journeys, and even find yourself refereeing squabbles as you drive. The hunger of travelling children also has to be dealt with. “Are we nearly there yet?” In desperation, you pull into a drive-thru, where the queue seems to be growing rather than shrinking and the children’s patience, and yours, is tried to its limit.
Driving stress is a fact of modern life. There will always be potholes, discourteous drivers, irritating passengers. You will inevitably meet traffic jams on your way to work, to the shops, or to school. There will always be times when you grip the wheel very tightly, wondering whether you’ll be able to get there on time.
While you cannot eliminate the stress of the road, there are ways to manage and reduce it. For instance, you might consider investing in some restful CDs or DVDs. Classical music can be quite soothing on a difficult driving day. Or you might like to listen to a recording of nature sounds as you are trying to negotiate your way through traffic. If you don’t have a CD/DVD player, cassette tapes are another possibility, if you have them. Also, if you cannot afford to buy disks at a record store, consider buying them at a yard car boot sale or church bazaar. You can even borrow CDs from your local library. You might well find that you’re better able to handle the stress of driving with some pleasant sounds emanating from your car stereo. (NB The choice of music is important – heavy metal and hard rock are not known for their soothing qualities, and you don’t want to be lulled to sleep by something very soft and gentle.)
Another thing to consider is changing your normal route. If you inevitably end up in traffic jams on the main roads, consider using side roads instead. While you might find that your journey time is longer, you might also discover that changing your route has reduced your stress, as you are avoiding the trouble spots. And there is the satisfaction which comes from taking control in order to improve the situation
A technique used by many drivers is to start out five to ten minutes earlier than necessary. That way, you don’t have to operate under such time pressure. Those five or ten minutes can make quite a difference to your daily journey. In addition, you might enjoy having those extra minutes to yourself once you arrive at school or at work to relax before you plunge into the stress of the working day.
Driving is a necessary daily activity for most of us. The trick is to make it as enjoyable as possible in order to lessen our stress levels. Investing in a comfortable seat cushion or one of those bobbly back rests can do wonders for our physical comfort and therefore for our frame of mind. Singing or whistling in the car can be another effective stress-reducer. You could practise slow regular controlled breathing when stopped at traffic lights. Playing games with your children — such as trying to spot particular licence plates or counting legs — can be yet another effective stress-reducing technique. You are unlikely to be able to reduce your stress level significantly overnight, but don’t disregard cumulative effects. Many of us have become so used to stress on the road that we anticipate it whether there is good reason or not, and it takes time to unlearn this fixed reaction. However, by identifying elements over which we have some control and acting to remove those stressors, making our journeys as pleasant as possible, we can go a long way to lessening driving-induced stress.