Top ten driving tips for handling stress

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Whether it’s down to work, home life or a tough situation to be faced, stress affects everyone at one time or another.

So to help drivers stay calm behind the wheel, BEN – an independent charity which provides support for life to the people of the automotive industry – is offering some practical tips on what to do if you feel stressed before driving.

First of all, we need to recognise the warning signs, which include:

  • 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  • Becoming quiet and withdrawn.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 over-eating.
  • Smoking more, drinking more alcohol or taking drugs.
  • Tense muscles.
  • Headaches.
  • Feeling sick.
  • Not sleeping well / insomnia.
  • Getting ill more often.

Here are a few things you can do before you get into your car:

  • Go for a short walk around the block to get some fresh air and unwind from the stresses of the day.
  • Wait until you feel calm, collected and well enough to head out on your journey.  Driving itself can be stressful, especially in the rush hour, so if you are already feeling stressed it is likely to make matters worse.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, it’s important to seek help.
  • If you’re having trouble sleeping due to stress, make sure you aren’t too tired to drive.  IAM RoadSmart advises that if you feel sleepy behind the wheel, find a safe place to pull over and stop – but 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.
  • 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.
  • Tell someone you trust how you feel.  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.

If you need more advice on how to handle stress, read BEN’s top tips on managing stress.