The Science and Art of Stress Free Driving
Carol J. Scott, MD, MSEd, FACEP
The StressRelief Coach
“Are we there yet?” When u are on the road in traffic or more likely traffic jams its easy to be stressed. And Stressed drivers end up in the Emergency Room(ER).
Especially during times of peak automobile travel the gurneys in ER’s across the nation are full survivors of crashes; for some, life will never be the same. I have seen my share of patients -and- more disturbing the family members who rush into the ER, only to find their loved one went straight to the morgue.
Motor vehicle accidents (MVAs) are a significant cause of death and disability in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 44,000 people died as a result of motor vehicle traffic accidents in the last year data was officially reported.
So here is the deal. There is no doubt stress contributes to MVAs. My goal is to keep you out of the ER by considering how stress may affect your road trip or your daily commute.
According to researchers, 5 factors account for most of the stress you experience when u drive:
- driving aggression
- dislike of driving
- tension & frustration connected with successful or unsuccessful overtaking
- irritation when overtaken
- heightened alertness and concentration.
Given that the experience of stress is unique for each of us; its no surprise that studies show that the stress of driving varies according to: age, experience, health, sleep quality, driving conditions -and- most importantly your thoughts about driving; Next, researchers have described three driving patterns that are interesting to think about. As u read about them, ask yourself “is this me”:
- The “thrill,” pattern. You like to drive at high speeds to test the limits of both the car’s and your own capabilities. Basically u are in it for the ‘high’ u get from putting the petal to the metal.
- The “power” pattern. Like the “thrill,” drivers you derive pleasure in displaying the capabilities of your cars. In this case, however, pleasure comes not from the risks associated with particular driving behaviors, but rather from what u feel to be power and demand for respect.
- The “self-testing” pattern is distinguished by the tendency to measure or test yourself against other drivers. Its a way of validating to yourself that u are the best. This is YOU if you always try to “outsmart” other drivers. You know what i am talking about; quick lane changes, or passing on the shoulder. U are driven to do this; even if you are not on deadline. Seriously you just have to demonstrate that one can cope with traffic better than others.
- Finally, you are a “smoothly driving along” driver if you are primarily concerned that no obstacles appear in your path. It’s likely you drive in the right lane. A “peaceful, easy, and relaxed journey free of complications with other drivers” is the goal.
Okay, so having said all that, here are the top 15 ( no…not 10) reasons why driving is stressful according to researchers who study stress related to driving. Reading this list may help u rethink some of the conscious and unconscious factors that have u stuck into thinking driving is stressful. You know the saying; If u change the way u see things, the things u see change.
Reasons WHY Driving is Stressful
- Immobility of just being in your vehicle
- Constriction due to restraint devices
- Regulations associated with driving
- Lack of Control
- Potential Danger of just being on the road
- Diversity of types of drivers on the road
- Attempting to Multi-task while driving
- Denying your own mistakes
- Lack of Objectivity
- Ambiguity about choices when driving
- Undertrained in Emotional Intelligence
Enough of the science, here are some specific measures you can take help u prevent and deal with potential stress associated with driving. You my friend can find yourself driving in your BestStress Zone.
Strategies for Drive in your BestStress Zone
- Allow some extra time. When the inevitable delays occur, just reset your expectations. Call your destination and inform them of your situation.
- Do u Text? If you are a power text, let know u will be unavailable for the duration of your drive. Really reduces your stress. No such thing as hands free texting. You know what I mean. I could tell u stories from the ER. Enough said.
- Keep kids occupied; if they are old enough let them choose the activities or movies. I have an app called “AroundMe’ which identifies categories of destinations including; “Nearby” attractions that u may not know about, in addition to locating various pit stops; gas stations, pharmacies, supermarkets, hospitals.
- Be cautious about staring into the sun; use polarized lens for the ride
- Keep water and healthy snacks on hand.
- Avoid traffic jams; use whatever App u want but know alternative routes.
- IF you do get lost; breath! Use your peripheral tools, but also your brain.
- Try stretching or breathing at stop lights or rest stops.
- Maintain good posture. It is amazing the value of lumbar support.
- Make that vehicle your sanctuary:Play your favorite music, stay cool (keep the air conditioning working), Clear up clutter. Maybe use a scent if that inspires or calms you. Remember its not just about the destination, its the process.
Recently on StressReliefRadio, Dr. Roadmap, discussed specific strategies to deal with stress associated with traffic. Check it out at www.crntalk.com/stressreliefradio. I hope this information can help u stay out of the Emergency Room this weekend and throughout the year.
About Dr. Scott:
A stress management strategist and expert on the connections between stress and health, Carol J. Scott, MD, is a practicing Emergency Physician and Health Educator trained at Johns Hopkins University where she served as Assistant Chief of Service in Emergency Medicine. Dr. Scott is a wife and mother of two sons, principal of the Scott Institute for Optimal Stress and is a noted stress management consultant to executives across the country. She is in demand as a speaker and coach to corporations including Microsoft, Kimberly Clark, Oracle, IBM, UPS, Johnson & Johnson. Her insights on stress management have been covered by The Wall Street Journal, Self, Fast Company and “O” magazine, she blogs for Huffington Post and Fast Company, and she is author of Optimal Stress: Living in Your Best Stress Zone (John Wiley 2010).