In view of the reduced traffic levels thought to have resulted from lockdown, it may come as a surprise that more drivers have recently reported that they feel stressed or angry when driving. Feelings of stress and anger are often associated with heavy traffic, which can lead to lateness, frustration and sometimes enmity between drivers as they jostle for position. The results of a recent survey carried out on behalf of Direct Line and road safety campaign organisation, Brake! found that nine out of ten drivers reported that they experience stress or anger when driving in March 2021, an increase of 6% compared with a year before. The survey also found that one in ten drivers experiences such feelings on every journey; up 3% on the previous year.
If traffic conditions still haven’t returned to their pre-lockdown peak, then there is a suggestion here that factors other than traffic must be causing drivers to experience heightened stress levels. Many workers will have spent long periods away from driving, and perhaps feel less prepared for challenging situations than they might have done when they were frequently commuting in rush hour, or driving long distances. For drivers who were already nervous, news reports of increased speeding during lockdown won’t have helped boost their confidence.
Stress can affect how your drivers feel physically and emotionally, as well as impairing their judgement and reactions, so following best practice in terms of stress-reduction can have a real-life impact on the safety of our roads. Below are some of our top tips for identifying occasions when you might be affected by stress, and for helping to reduce stress when getting behind the wheel.
The warning signs of stress
- Becoming easily irritated with colleagues, friends or family
- Feeling distracted, forgetful or moody
- Not being able to ‘switch off’
- Becoming quiet and withdrawn
- Under or overeating
- Tense muscles
- Feeling sick
- Not sleeping well / insomnia
- Getting ill more often
Reducing stress before getting behind the wheel
- Wait until you feel calm, collected and well enough to head out on your journey. Driving itself can be stressful, especially in rush hour, so if you are already stressed this 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’s been shown to reduce stress and anxiety.
- 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 causing your stress 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.
- If you’re having trouble sleeping due to stress then make sure you aren’t too tired to drive. IAM RoadSmart advises if you feel sleepy whilst behind the wheel, find a safe place to pull over and stop – 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. See our tips on avoiding driver fatigue here.
- Tell someone you trust about how you feel. Sometimes 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.
Reducing stress on the road
- Remove road rage: We’re all human, and we all make mistakes. Most mistakes made on the road are unintentional, so try not to take things too personally. Be a kind and helpful driver, rather than an angry one.
- Watch out for distractions: remove/put away anything and everything that could distract you while you’re on the move – the last thing you need is to have your attention diverted.
- Plan ahead: Don’t forget ‘OAP’: Observe your surroundings, Anticipate what could happen, and Plan your route.
- Stress less: Don’t rush on your journey and try to leave plenty of time to complete your trip.
- Prepare your car: Knowing that you have something of a ‘survival kit’ in the boot will give you peace of mind, as will carrying out regular checks on your car.
For more information about how to handle stress visit www.ben.org.uk, an independent charity which provides support for life to the people of the automotive industry.