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8 Ways to Reduce Stress and Anxiety While Driving

With just over 284 million vehicles in service in the US, many drivers feel anxious and stressed out on the road.

According to Healthline, traffic incidents are on the rise, with 728 traffic incidents occurring in 2021, of which 522 resulted in injuries or fatalities.

In addition to putting you at risk of being involved in a traffic accident, stressed driving can negatively affect your perception of being behind the wheel.

It can also make you feel sad and tired. If you’re struggling with anxiety and stress while driving, consider the following eight ways to reduce driving stress and create a calm space for yourself while you’re on the road.

Why do you feel so stressed when you drive?

Many people experience stress while driving. An auto insurance industry survey found that about 66% of American drivers experience some level of anxiety while driving.

The survey also reports that 75% of women experience anxiety while performing driving maneuvers and that 62% of Americans have experienced a traumatic driving-related incident.

Driving stress is caused by a number of different elements. You may have been involved in a previous traffic accident that makes you nervous to drive.

You may also feel stressed by aggressive drivers who force you to drive at a speed or in a manner that you are not comfortable with.

Driving stress can also occur when you experience stress outside of driving.

When you feel sad, angry, anxious, tired, or distracted by current issues in your life, your emotions can affect your driving experience.

When this happens, you may feel more stressed by other drivers or maneuver your vehicle in a way that makes you more anxious and stressed.

Situations that cause stress when driving

Many situations can cause you to feel stressed while driving. Some of the most common circumstances that induce stress are:

  • Another record that cuts you
  • Getting stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic
  • An aggressive driver who will get on your bumper, or start or stop in front of you.
  • A slow driver who won’t let you pass
  • Missing signal from other cars
  • See other drivers practicing distracted driving
  • Drivers who speed up or change lanes erratically
  • Feeling pressured by other vehicles to maneuver in an unsafe manner
  • Feeling lost or being forced to take an unknown detour
  • Unexpected stops that cause hard braking
  • Confrontations in parking lots/venues

Depending on how often you drive, how far you drive, and the areas you work in, you may find some driving situations more stressful than others.

Why is it important to reduce stress while driving?

Reducing your stress levels while driving is vital to your health and the health of others.

If you feel stressed every time you get behind the wheel, you may be at higher risk for mental health problems like depression and anxiety.

Constant stress increases cortisol levels, which can have a huge negative impact on your physical well-being.

The stress of driving not only damages your mental health, but also increases the risk of accidents and injuries for all road users.

A 2020 study looked at stress and its impact on driving performance. The researchers found several significant connections:

  • Previous fatigue and sadness have a strong impact on stress levels while driving
  • Stressed drivers, whether the stress comes from an external element or from driving itself, increase the risk of traffic accidents.
  • Negative emotions generated dangerous driving behaviors
  • Stressed drivers brake and accelerate six times more than non-stressed drivers
  • Stressed drivers felt 20% more tired after driving
  • Stressed drivers are more likely to speed up, intercept other drivers, and fail to stop at crosswalks than non-stressed drivers

How to reduce stress behind the wheel to stay calm on the road

There are several steps you can take to reduce stress while staying calm. These stress reduction techniques range from listening to relaxing music to practicing breathing exercises to help manage existing anxiety or stress.

1. Listen to calm music

If driving makes you feel stressed, try listening to relaxing music to create a calmer environment.

A 2013 study examining the effects of relaxing music on the autonomic nervous system found that listening to peaceful sounds, such as running water or classical music, positively impacted psychological stressors and aided in stress recovery.

The next time you get in the car, turn on your favorite relaxing music, such as lo-fi hip-hop beats, rain sounds, or “New Age” songs, so you can relax while you drive.

2. Change your itinerary

Your regular schedule may cause you to feel stressed due to traffic congestion or poorly maintained or poorly designed traffic lights and signals.

If you’re stressed driving a certain route, change the way you get to your destination.

Another course can help you avoid triggering traffic situations. It can also help you find a better route, saving you time and stress.

stop driving stressed

3. Keep snacks and drinks in the car

Low blood sugar can make you feel tired, stressed, or confused.

Although you may not develop clinical hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), you may feel dizzy and irritable if you don’t eat for several hours.

Consider having a few snacks and drinks on hand so you can boost your blood sugar and promote a clear head if you feel stressed while driving.

Opt for healthy non-refrigerated items like nuts, granola bars, pretzels, and nut butters to store in your vehicle.

These snacks will give you a boost of protein and healthy fats that will calm you down and help you focus. Also, be sure to leave a bottle of water in your car to stay hydrated.

4. Try aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is the practice of using scents to evoke specific emotions. You can use the basics of aromatherapy to create a relaxing space in your car.

Look for car sprays or air fresheners with scents like lavender, lemon, orange, and mint to add a touch of relaxation or uplifting energy to your trip. Pick a scent you love and keep your car smelling fresh and calm while you drive.

5. Give yourself extra time

One of the main reasons people experience stress while driving is time pressure.

When you’re in a hurry to get to work or an important event and traffic is slow, you’re more likely to feel rushed and stressed behind the wheel.

To avoid this experience, always try to take extra time when you travel. If possible, leave 15-20 minutes early so you don’t feel the need to rush down the street.

Taking the extra time can also help you relax when faced with frustrating situations like traffic jams or traffic lights.

How to avoid stress while driving

6. Do breathing exercises

Relaxing breathing techniques are an easy way to relieve stress while driving. Deep breathing calms your nervous system and helps relieve tension no matter where you are.

Decide on a breathing exercise to do while driving, such as B. Belly breathing or counting breaths to calm your nerves.

You can do these exercises while sitting in heavy traffic or right after a stressful incident caused by an aggressive driver.

7. Clean your car

While not an obvious cause of stressed driving, sitting in a messy car can lead to chaos and disorganization.

If you’re feeling tired or stressed, dealing with extra objects in your car that move when you brake or accelerate can add to your anxiety.

Sitting among too much “stuff” can make you feel overwhelmed and out of control.

Keep your car clean and free of unnecessary items such as books, bags, coats, and papers.

If you eat in your car, dispose of grocery bags as soon as possible, and try to vacuum and clean your car once every few weeks.

Maintaining a clean vehicle will help you create a tidy space to support stress-free driving.

reduce driving stress

8. Keep your kids busy

If you’re riding in the car with kids, you know how hard it is to stay focused on the road while arguing or asking for things.

Although you can’t always avoid these situations, you can try to plan the trip with your children by bringing items that can occupy their minds during the trip.

Keep a toy basket or organizer in the back seat so your kids can grab a toy when they’re bored.

Fill the organizer with books, coloring pads, and pens for older kids. Place a variety of age-appropriate stuffed animals and toys in the younger child’s container.

If you allow electronic devices, consider showing them a tablet or device while driving. So you can focus on the road and keep everyone safe.

Keep calm and go ahead

The calmer you remain while driving, the better for you and other road users.

Stressed driving can have a negative impact on your mental and physical health. It can also put you at greater risk of an accident or injury while in the car.

Try different relaxation techniques to reduce your driving stress and create a calm and peaceful atmosphere every time you get behind the wheel.


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