Relieving Driving Stress

Stressed Out DriverMy question is, what do we do about driving stress and anger on the roads due to drivers that are endangering lives of others? What do you recommend to help get your mind off a negative experience while driving?

image showing driving stress reaction

I have wondered about this myself since I retired. As I can no longer reach for the controls to activate lights and siren, I have started to develop a different perspective. 

It is easy to get caught up in the emotion of the situation because you feel helpless to do anything about it other than sit and stew, sound the horn or make rude gestures at the other driver.

Behaviour That Endangers Lives

When you find a driver who is truly endangering the lives of others on the road, I recommend making a driving complaint to the police. Be prepared to back it up with a written statement and the resolve to attend court if necessary.

You Control Your Driving Stress

I'm currently working through Defensive Driving Fundamentals and Attitudes, an on line course from The Thinking Driver. One of the key points is that I control my driving stress level.

When something happens around me in traffic, I get to choose the story about why it is happening even though I don't know anything about the other driver's circumstances.

The difference between deciding that the other driver intentionally cut me off while making a lane change and cutting them some slack for unintentionally making a human error can result in a huge difference in your driving stress level.

Don't Fuel the Fire

Your reaction to the behaviour of other drivers also determines your driving stress level.

Honking, waving a fist or retaliating with bad driving of your own is really counterproductive. If the driver is a selfish one, your consternation just becomes a source of amusement for them. 

If the other driver has a short fuse, you may find yourself becoming involved in a road rage incident.

None of this solves the problem.

Turn the Other Cheek

In some cases it will be a challenge, but smile and think of the things that really matter in your life when you feel your impatience, anger or frustration begin to get the better of you.

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As a professional driver, and long hauler, I see many times a day driver's making all kinds of mistakes. Some surely stupid, and some very intentional and dangerous.

Now, if you are truly driving with a defensive posture, your situational awareness must be fully engaged. If you are thinking about time and distance as your main motivation, you will experience your journey very differently.

You are not imagining the fact that there are many more careless drivers on the roads today than say 20 years ago. Part of this IMO is the loading of traffic in general, on roads that were never intended to carry as many vehicles as we are driving today. And, sadly, part of the issue appears to be an increase in narcissistic behaviours of the population at large.

With the above in mind, how do we navigate safely? First, is to check your skill level for the journey. Do you have limitations on some level? Then accept what those may be and hold yourself responsible and don't drive outside them. Unless you have a more competent escort, you could be, or will be overwhelmed.

Here are a few considerations;

Do freeway speeds and proximity to other vehicles particularly transport trucks intimidate you? Then maybe a slower speed limit, less traveled route should be considered.

Have you recently been involved in a vehicle incident while traveling? This can have lasting effects you may not be conscious of, limiting your overall ability to drive safely.

Are you affected by other emotional situations that have your attention? Asking a loved one or friend into the vehicle may have the calming effect you require, to feel and therefore drive safely.

Do you yourself have anger issues that could be present when you drive? Visualizing parts of your route prior, knowing that there will be problem drivers, may and can help to lower your stress levels. Seeing it as a challenge to spot and not react could be a method to relieve anxiety while driving too. Don't be drawn into someone else's poor driving skills as an excuse to exercise your own shortcomings.

Knowing the surroundings you are about to drive in, understanding your limits, keeping distance between you and other vehicles, maintaining safe driving speeds, and applying safe driving habits are what we strive for in the commercial trucking industry. If you choose to drive while your mental focus is limited, and/or your emotional state has you not in a positive state of mind, then, maybe you need to take steps to rectify this before you choose to get behind the wheel.

Lastly, remember that the other driver's practices and behaviours are about them. By following a higher standard, you will be safer, more relaxed, and more confident in your driving skills and positive habits.