8 Ways to Reduce Stress While Driving

by Alison Lakin
Road rage may not be the topic du jour anymore, but the perils of getting stressed out when behind the wheel are still capable of turning a daily drive into a dangerous affair. Think we’re overreacting? A study published in Psychological Science reported “stress-related reductions in the quality of driving led to a spike in the rate of fatal traffic accidents." That’s scary stuff.
Of course, most people’s stress won’t make them swerve into craziness. Instead, it’s easy to simply let the little things throughout the day create a stressful and unpleasant drive. Even worse, your stress may one day be the cause of an accident.
With your safety in mind, let’s talk about ways to reduce driving-related stress. 

Go Zen

Spas are made to be the ultimate relaxation zones, and there’s no reason you can’t make your car as calming. Skip the fluffy white robes and instead bring in an air freshener with essential oils and a massaging seat cover if you’re dealing with a long daily commute. Try playing more subdued music as well – it turns out that head banging isn’t a recommended driving technique. Lastly, rid yourself of distractions – remove any items that might make unexpected noise like that water bottle in the back that thuds against the trunk at every stop sign and silence your phone.

Allow for Extra Time on Your Journey

Stress can build throughout the day, but nothing delivers an immediate reaction more than being late. As the minutes tick by, so does your likelihood of getting into trouble on the road. Stay calm by allowing yourself extra time to get where you’re going, including a ‘getting lost’ buffer for trips to new destinations. Arriving a bit early never got you in trouble or made your temperature rise to boiling, so build in that extra time to ensure a calm trip and safe arrival.
Of course, that’s not always the way life happens. If you are running late, remind yourself that getting into an accident or getting pulled over is a considerably worse option. 

Plan Your Route Beforehand

Save yourself from getting lost in the woods by planning your route ahead. Between smartphones and in-dash navigation devices, it’s all too easy to start the journey without a second thought. But checking the route in advance means you get a jump on any major construction or traffic delays that could cause re-routing. 

Keep Snacks Nearby

Raise your hand if you get cranky when hungry. It’s ok, it happens to the best of us. Being stuck in a car with an empty belly creates the perfect storm for irritable and stressful behavior. Instead of suffering through stomach grumbles, keep non-perishable or long-shelf-life snacks, like energy bars or nuts, in the car for emergency situations (and don’t be afraid to dip into the stash yourself!).

Entertain the Kids

Bored children are noisy children. Minimize the stress of in-car fighting or generally grumpy behavior by having games, videos, or other entertainment methods on hand. Your sanity – and eardrums – will thank you.

Practice Makes Perfect

A recent online study showed that 31 percent of U.S. drivers actively avoid parallel parking. It’s not an easy maneuver, we’ll give you that, but there will come a time when it must be done. In those situations, having a little practice under your belt will come in handy. Prepare for those things that make you nervous, like parallel parking, reversing, or turning, and you’ll find that you’ll be much less stressed out when you encounter them in real-life driving situations. 

Use Technology

Technology can be your best friend in a stressful situation. Safety systems like rearview cameras and blind spot warning systems can take the pressure out of stressful driving situations. In fact, in a study testing whether automated parking systems reduced stress, MIT recorded “test subjects averaged more than 12 beats per minute lower heart rate" when using a park assist system compared to the subjects who were manually parking a car. If you’re in the market for a new car and have trouble with parking, try opting for a system or two that will lessen stress. 

Recognize Tension

When all else fails, try your best to remember that your life – and the lives of others – can be at risk if you don’t drive with caution. Give your physical state a once-over. Do you have a death-grip on the wheel? Loosen your hands and fingers. Are you sitting forward, hunching over the wheel? Try leaning back. You may want to roll your shoulders and head a couple times or wiggle your jaw around. It’s amazing how the simplest actions can tell your body that it’s time to chill out. 

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