With just over 284 million vehicles in operation in the U.S, many, drivers feel anxious and stressed when on the road.
According to Healthline, the number of road rage incidents is rising, with 728 road rage events occurring in 2021, 522 of which involved injury or death.
In addition to putting you at risk of experiencing a road rage incident, stressed driving can negatively impact your cognition behind the wheel.
It can also leave you feeling sad and tired. If you struggle with anxiety and stress when driving, consider the following eight ways to reduce driving stress and create a calm space for yourself while on the road.
Why Do You Feel So Stressed While Driving?
Many people experience driving stress. A car insurance industry survey found that approximately 66% of U.S. drivers experience some level of anxiety while driving.
The survey also reports that 75% of women feel anxious while performing driving maneuvers and that 62% of Americans have experienced a traumatic incident related to driving.
Driving stress is brought on by a number of different elements. It may be that you were involved in a previous traffic incident which causes you to feel nervous when driving.
You may also feel stressed out by aggressive drivers who force you to operate at a speed or manner you don’t feel comfortable with.
Driving stress can also occur when you are experiencing non-driving-related stress.
If you feel sad, angry, distressed, tired, or distracted due to current issues in your life, your emotions can transfer to your driving experience.
When this happens, you may feel more easily stressed by other drivers or maneuver your vehicle in a way that causes you to feel more anxious and stressed.
Situations That Cause Driving Stress
Many situations can cause you to feel stress while driving. Some of the most common stress-inducing circumstances include:
- Another driving cutting you off
- Being stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic
- An aggressive driver riding your bumper or starting or stopping in front of you
- A slow driver that won’t allow you to pass
- Other cars’ failure to signal
- Seeing other drivers practicing distracted driving
- Drivers who are speeding or changing lanes erratically
- Feeling pressured to maneuver in unsafe ways by other vehicles
- Feeling lost or being forced to take an unfamiliar detour
- Unexpected stops that result in hard braking
- Parking lot/spot confrontations
Depending on how often you drive, the distance you drive, and the areas you operate in, you may encounter more stressful driving situations than others.
Why Is It Important to Reduce Driving Stress?
Lowering 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, it can put you at a higher risk for mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
Constant stress raises your cortisol levels, which can have a massively negative impact on your physical well-being.
In addition to harming your mental health, driving stress puts everyone on the road at a higher risk of accident and injury.
A 2020 study looked at stress and its impact on driving performance. Researchers found several significant connections:
- Prior tiredness and sadness strongly impact levels of driving stress
- Stressed drivers, whether the stress comes from an outside element or driving itself, increases the risk of traffic accidents
- Adverse emotions generated dangerous driving behaviors
- Stressed drivers brake and accelerate six times more frequently than non-stressed drivers
- Stressed drivers felt 20% more tired after driving
- Stressed drivers are more likely to speed, cut other drivers off, and fail to stop at crosswalks than non-stressed drivers
How To Reduce Driving Stress To Stay Calm on the Road
You can take several actions to reduce stress and stay calm on the road. These stress-reducing techniques vary from listening to calm music to practicing breathing exercises to deal with your existing anxiety or stress.
1. Listen to Calm Music
If you feel stressed while driving, try listening to relaxing music to create a more peaceful atmosphere.
A 2013 study that examined the effect of soothing music on the autonomic nervous system found that listening to peaceful sounds such as rippling water or classical music positively affected psychological stress factors and aided in recovery from stress.
Next time you hop in the car, turn on your favorite peaceful music like lo-fi hip hop beats, rain sounds, or “New Age” songs to help you relax while driving.
2. Change Your Travel Route
Your regular travel route may cause you to feel stress due to congested traffic or poorly maintained or designed street signs or traffic lights.
If you find yourself stressed while driving a particular route, alter how you get to your destination.
Taking a different course may help you avoid triggering traffic situations. It may also allow you to find a better route that saves you time and stress.
3. Keep Snacks and Drinks in the Car
Low blood sugar can cause you to feel tired, stressed, or confused.
Although you may not experience clinical hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), not eating for several hours can cause you to feel lightheaded and irritable.
Consider keeping a few snacks and drinks on hand so that if you begin to feel stressed while driving, you can increase your blood sugar and promote clearheadedness.
Opt for healthy, non-refrigerated items like nuts, granola bars, pretzels, and nut butter to keep in your vehicle.
These snacks give you a boost of protein and healthy fats that will take the edge off and help you concentrate. Make sure also to leave a water bottle in your car to stay hydrated.
4. Try Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is the practice of using scents to induce specific emotions. You can use the basics of aromatherapy to create a relaxing space in your car.
Look for car sprays or air fresheners in scents like lavender, lemon, orange, and mint to bring a touch of relaxation or uplifting energy to your drive. Choose a fragrance you enjoy and keep your car smelling fresh and peaceful when you drive.
5. Give Yourself Extra Time
One of the most significant reasons people experience stress while driving is feeling pressure about time.
If you are rushing to work or an important event and traffic is slow, you are more likely to feel rushed and stressed out behind the wheel.
To avoid this experience, always try to give yourself extra time when traveling. If possible, leave fifteen to 20 minutes early so that you don’t feel the need to rush on the road.
Giving yourself extra time also helps you relax when facing frustrating situations like traffic jams or stoplights.
6. Perform Breathing Exercises
Relaxing breathing techniques are an easy way to reduce driving stress. Deep breathing calms your nervous system and helps you ease tension no matter where you are.
Opt for a breathing exercise that you can do while driving, such as belly breathing or breath counting to calm your nerves.
You can practice these exercises while sitting in congested traffic or just after experiencing a stressful incident caused by an aggressive driver.
7. Clean Your Car
Although it may not be an obvious cause of stressed driving, sitting in a messy car can add to feelings of chaos and disorganization.
If you feel tired or stressed, dealing with extra items in your car shifting when braking or accelerating can increase your anxiety.
Sitting amongst too much “stuff” can make you feel overwhelmed and out of control.
Keep your car clean and free of excess items like books, bags, coats, and papers.
If you eat in your car, throw away food 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 non-cluttered space to support stress-free driving.
8. Keep Your Kids Occupied
If you drive with kids in the car, you know the struggle of focusing on the road while they are fighting or asking you for things.
While you can’t always avoid these situations, you can try to plan for traveling with your children by bringing items that can occupy their minds while you drive.
Keep a basket or toy organizer in the back seat so that your kids can grab a toy when they are bored.
Stock the organizer with books, coloring books, and markers for older kids. Place several stuffed animals and age-appropriate toys in the bin for younger kids.
If you allow electronics, consider letting them watch a tablet or device for the duration of the drive. This will enable you to focus on the road, keeping everyone safe.
Keep Calm and Drive On
The calmer you stay during your drive, the better off you and other drivers on the road fare.
Driving while stressed can negatively impact your mental and physical health. It can also put you at a higher risk of accident or injury while in the car.
Try different calming techniques to reduce your driving stress and create a calm, peaceful atmosphere every time you get behind the wheel.