Driving isn’t always straightforward. Whether you’re delayed by heavy traffic, frustrated by other drivers, or worried about something at work, it can be easy to feel stressed behind the wheel. 

As well as the negative impact on your own wellbeing, stress can distract you from concentrating on your driving, which is dangerous for you, your passengers and other road users. So, it’s important to do what you can to relax while driving. Here are some tips to help create stress-free journeys.

Plan ahead 

Prepare yourself and your car for any and every journey. Dr Maheinthan Yogeswaran, a GP at Medicspot says: "Small steps you take before driving can reduce the level of stress and anxiety you may experience while on the road. For example, getting enough sleep before you head out will have you feeling refreshed and more in control of your emotions on the road. This will also help increase your ability to concentrate.”

Rushing is likely to add to your stress, so, if possible, allow a time buffer so any hold-ups won’t add to your anxiety. Dr Yogeswaran says: “You may arrive earlier than expected, but you will not feel the pressure of running late”. 

He also recommends ensuring your car is in good condition and fuelled up before you head off.

Road safety charity Brake has some other suggestions for planning a stress-free journey:

  • Try to clear your mind of personal or work problems before driving.
  • To avoid aches and pains due to poor posture, ensure your seat and head restraint are correctly adjusted for you.
  • Don’t drive while hungry, as it can affect your concentration. However, you should also avoid eating at the wheel, as it can be distracting; ideally, you’d want to grab a bite to eat before heading off.

Concentrate on your driving

Try and clear your mind before starting the engine. Safe Driving for Life, an information resource produced in partnership with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), recommends taking deep breaths and telling yourself that concentrating on your driving comes above everything else.

Then, once you are driving, focus on the road and other road users around you. Brake reminds drivers to stay well within the speed limit and avoid overtaking unless essential.  It advises: “Driving aggressively, speeding and overtaking are unlikely to get you there much faster, but could make you feel more tense, or even prevent you from arriving at all”.

Consider alternatives

If you’re not in the right frame of mind to drive, then consider an alternative, such as walking, cycling, public transport or sharing the driving burden with a friend or colleague. While this isn’t always possible, you might at least be able to avoid driving in the situations that you find most stressful, such as during rush hour. 

Take stops 

Planning for stops, especially on long journeys, can not only make you feel more prepared, but is also much safer. 

Dr Yogeswaran advises taking a 15-minute break for every two hours of driving. “This will give you the opportunity to recalibrate, stretch out your legs and fuel up by grabbing a healthy snack and drink,” he says. 

But factor these stops into your planning. “Make sure to plan for these 15-minute breaks beforehand so you don’t feel you are going to arrive late to your destination”, says Dr Yogeswaran.

Put things in perspective

This can be easier said than done, but it’s good to try to learn to accept things that bother you on the road. 

For example, if others are driving inconsiderately, Brake suggests you make a positive decision not to let them wind you up. 

Likewise, Will Craig, managing director and CEO of LeaseFetcher, says: “Once you put things in perspective, and realise that getting stressed about traffic and other people's driving is an ultimately fruitless activity, it's easier to adopt strategies to face the situation head on."

Prioritise "problem-focused coping" 

If that sounds like something a psychologist would say, you’d be right. Writing in Psychology Today, Alice Boyes explains: “Problem-focused coping is when you use practical solutions to prevent or minimise problems, rather than just trying to cope with your emotions better. For example, use a map or traffic app to find out if you should take an alternate route due to an accident or slow down, even for routes you drive often, like your commute.”

Other coping strategies

Here are some other simple stress-busting strategies from Safe Driving For Life. They’re intended for anxious learner drivers, but are useful for everyone, stressed or otherwise:

  • Stand up tall: research shows that standing or sitting in certain poses can significantly alter your body chemistry and relieve stress. So, when driving, sit up tall, put your shoulders back and lift up your chin. 
  • Smile: Smiling, even if you’re grumpy and forcing up the corners of your mouth, is good for you and makes you feel more positive.
  • Play music that calms or motivates you and put it into a driving playlist. Listen to it all the way through several times, noting the calm and happy feelings you experience as you hear each song. Just make sure the volume isn’t too loud, so you can still listen to any warning sounds around you and focus on the road.

Seek help

If you are struggling to cope with stress and self-help strategies don’t work, speak to somebody who can help. The NHS has several resources available to help you deal with stress and feel better, which can help you manage many daily situations as well as driving.

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To find out more about how to stay safe on the roads, go to Solved.