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10 ways to reduce stress behind the wheel

Stress affects us all at one time or another – whether it’s down to work, home life or a tough situation you’re facing. Stress can affect how we feel physically and emotionally as well as impair our judgement and our reactions, which isn’t good news when we need to concentrate on something significant, like driving.

It’s important to recognise how you feel and try to relax before getting in the car. So to help you stay calm behind the wheel, Ben, an independent charity which provides support for life to the people of the automotive industry, provided us with some tips to share with you on what to do if you feel stressed before driving.

Warning signs of stress

First of all, we need to recognise the warning signs of stress. You might feel some or all of these:

  • Becoming easily irritated with colleagues, friends or family
  • Feeling distracted, forgetful or moody
  • Having racing thoughts
  • Not being able to ‘switch off’
  • Becoming quiet and withdrawn
  • Under or overeating
  • Smoking more, drinking more alcohol or taking drugs
  • Tense muscles
  • Headaches
  • Feeling sick
  • Not sleeping well / insomnia
  • Getting ill more often
Some tips to combat stress

If you’re about to head out in the car and feel a little stressed, then there are things you can do to try and calm down before driving. Given how driving can exaggerate stress through traffic jams, other motorists and dealing with poor road or weather conditions, it’s important to try and reduce stress before taking to the wheel. Here are some things to try:

  1. Go for a short walk around the block to get some fresh air and unwind from the stresses of the day
  2. Wait until you feel calm, collected and well enough to head out on your journey. Driving itself can be stressful, especially in rush hour, so if you are already stressed this is likely to make matters worse
  3. Try mindfulness and deep breathing before getting behind the wheel. You don’t have to be spiritual to benefit from mindfulness and meditation – anyone can meditate and it has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. If you’re new to meditation, try the Headspace app free trial or a lesson from the Free Mindfulness Project
  4. If you’re feeling ill from stress with headaches or sickness, make sure you feel well enough before you drive. Drink plenty of water and get some fresh air
  5. Write down a list of the things that are stressing you out and set yourself some time to tackle them later on – sometimes writing your worries down and making time to sort them out helps clear your mind
  6. Is stress causing you to struggle with addiction to alcohol, drugs or nicotine? Be aware that these could still be in your system before driving. If you’re struggling with addiction or substance misuse, then it’s important to seek help
  7. If you’re having trouble sleeping due to stress then make sure you aren’t too tired to drive. IAM RoadSmart advises if you feel sleepy whilst behind the wheel, find a safe place to pull over and stop – not on the hard shoulder of a motorway. Research suggests that almost 20% of accidents on major roads are sleep-related so don’t drive if you feel sleepy
  8. You can check your mood with the anxiety / stress checker tool on Ben’s website to see how you’re feeling and if you need some extra support
  9. Tell someone you trust how you feel. Sometimes opening up about our problems to loved ones can make all the difference and they can even help you find solutions. As they say, a problem shared is a problem halved
  10. If you need more advice about how to handle stress, read Ben’s top tips on managing stress

So there you have it. By employing some of these methods we should all be a little calmer on the road.

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