A recent Time Magazine story reported that Americans spend an average of 204 hours a year commuting, and for most workers, that means driving their car.
The same article cited numerous studies about the effects of so much time on the road, including increased levels of blood sugar and cholesterol, higher rates of depression and anxiety, and lower rates of cardiovascular fitness, life satisfaction, and happiness.
It’s no wonder that driving can put significant stress on your body and mind. You need to force yourself to stay alert. You wonder about what you’re missing while you’re stuck in traffic. You may even be fuming about another driver who cut you off or almost rear-ended you.
If you’re starting to think that the situation is out of your control, think again. There is much that can be done to make your driving experience less stressful and bring you to your destination with a calm mind.
- Budget more time. Traffic jams are less frustrating when you’re not running late. Give yourself an extra 10 or 15 minutes for any trip.
- Plan your route. Check online for construction work and accidents to avoid. Just ensure that your alternate routes will really save you time and not take you too far out of your way. Consider using apps like Waze to help you find the fastest route with real-time updates.
- Switch your hours. If your boss is cooperative, you may be able to avoid rush hour completely. Ask about telecommuting or coming in an hour earlier or later. Maybe you could do it part of the week or on a trial basis.
- Bring entertainment. Stock up on audiobooks and podcasts. Listen to your favorite music. The time will pass more quickly and you may learn valuable lessons.
- Limit distraction. Avoid phone use, eating, and other activities that will divert your attention from the road. Turn off the notifications on your phone or switch it off completely until you reach your destination.
- Make yourself comfortable. Adjust the seats and mirrors so that you are comfortably seated and have a perfect view without needing to stretch out too far. Adjust the temperature so that it just feels right.
- Sit up straight. Your posture could be creating aches and stiffness that make any irritation worse. Draw back your shoulders, open your chest, and lift your head if you have a tendency to hunch over the steering wheel.
- Eat something. Is your stomach rumbling? Enjoy a small, balanced meal before you leave home. Being energized with a good breakfast gets you into better conditions to face the rush hour traffic.
- Stay Hydrated. Be sure to have a water bottle at hand, because being well hydrated will help you concentrate better. On hot summer days you will need some extra fluid intake to stay with a clear mind.
- Sleep well. Driving when you’re exhausted is dangerous. Call a cab or pull over to avoid harming yourself or someone else.
- Take breaks. On long road trips, stop and get out of your car at least every 2 hours. Walk around and stretch your arms and legs. Give a stretch to your spine, rotate your head and go back to the road refreshed and with a clear mind.
- Practice Regular Maintenance. Keeping your car well maintained will prevent breakdowns and unexpected issues which can be a quite stressful experience.
Managing Your Reaction
- Breathe deep. Whether you’re dealing with backseat drivers or merging on a busy highway, use your breath to soothe yourself. Inhale and exhale fully and slowly.
- Develop compassion. Instead of becoming angry with another driver who seems rude or aggressive, imagine the stress they might be under. Try to empathize.
- Evaluate your role. Switch your attention from making judgments about other drivers to examining your own actions. Assess your emotions and question your assumptions. Be willing to forgive your fellow commuters when they make a mistake.
- Practice patience. Accept that traffic jams, road construction, and unexpected events are part of the driving experience. Cultivate patience to handle those situations without getting frustrated.
- Avoid road rage. If you encounter aggressive drivers, try not to engage with them. Stay calm, avoid making eye contact, and focus on your own driving. Responding aggressively can easily escalate the situation.
- Practice Gratitude. Instead of focusing on the negatives of other drivers and the road congestion, focus on the positive aspects of your journey. Be grateful for your comfortable car, your ability to make the trip, and any positive experience along the way.
- Leave your work stress behind. If possible, try to leave work-related stressors behind when getting into the car. Create a boundary so that your stress is not overflowing to other areas of your life and focus on a positive experience during your way home.
- Lay off the horn. Remember that your horn is not a comment button. Use it gently and only when necessary to get another driver’s attention.
- Play it safe. When you see driving that is clearly aggressive or erratic, keep your distance. Your safety should come first.
Make driving more pleasant by thinking creatively about your transportation options and changing your attitude. You may be able to shorten your commute or at least make it more enjoyable.
Do you need a guide to help you understand how to cope with Stress in an all inclusive approach? Learn how to combat stress, mentally, physically, emotionally and strategically in your life.
Martin Neumann was trained for Lifestyle Interventions in 1998 at Wildwood Lifestyle Center & Hospital. Since then he has lectured in different parts of the world about a healthy lifestyle and natural remedies. He is the founder of the Abundant Health website.