Many people experience stress surrounding driving. Stress is triggered by something external, such as extreme weather or heavy traffic. Stress is normal and isn't always a bad thing. It can help us avoid danger (e.g., if the driver behind you is too close and you start to feel stressed, your body is signaling a need to avoid the other driver). The effects of stress can be felt in your body as aches and pains, a racing heartbeat, high blood pressure, or muscle tension. Stress can make you irritable. It can cause anger or make you feel unsettled.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is a prolonged reaction about something that causes us stress. Anxiety doesn't go away on its own when you're out of the stressful situation. For example, people who have witnessed or been involved in collisions experience anxiety about driving even when they aren't behind the wheel.
Anxiety can heighten our senses and make us feel unsafe. It turns stressors into even bigger worries and may make it difficult to go about your daily life.
If you find that your driving anxiety is having a severe impact on your ability to drive safely, or if you have an anxiety disorder, consider talking to a medical professional about your options. You should never get behind the wheel when you're not feeling in control.
If you're experiencing stress when you drive, don't feel bad. It's pretty common! There are some actions drivers can take to help alleviate their stress on the road, and we'll cover a few of them here.
Many things may trigger a stress response in our body, and that response is different for each person and each situation. One thing that tends to cause stress on the road is a loss of control. When other drivers behave in a way that negatively affects you, your body may feel threatened. The unpredictable aspects of sharing the road with other humans can take a toll on you, especially when loss of control is an intense trigger for you.
Long commutes, road construction, poor weather, and traffic can also cause drivers to experience stress.
Stress can affect your driving like any other emotion if you're not in control of your body and reactions when the feeling arises. A stressful situation can cause you to feel angry, fearful, distracted, or even reckless.
Understanding what triggers your stress and recognizing the feeling is the first step to managing stress on the road. Think about situations where you've felt intense emotion on the road. Maybe you were stuck in traffic for hours on end with no sign of it letting up. Someone who hasn't learned how to manage their stress might lose their cool and begin to illegally drive on the shoulder in an attempt to get past traffic.
Handling stress can be difficult. Regulate your body and take a driving break if you need to. Pull over in a safe spot and take a few deep breaths until you feel calmer. You should avoid putting yourself in a situation that you know will trigger a stress response. For example, if heavy traffic is incredibly stressful, avoid driving at times when traffic is heavier or look for an alternative route.