Of all the things that stress us daily — workload, financial problems and relationships, to name a few — commuting to work is another that is universally loathed. It’s fair to say, inside every car on the Kenyan roads lurks driver stress and it’s not just an unpleasant experience: Long commutes have been linked to a number of negative health outcomes, including high stress levels, poor sleep, unhealthy weight, and even a shorter life. A study made in Sweden in 2011 found that couples where one partner commutes for more than 45 minutes to work each day have a 40 percent higher chance of getting divorced.
Stress creeps up when motorists are stuck in start-stop traffic, or having to brake hard to avoid a crash, or seeing other motorists who don’t follow the rules, or dealing with potholes or inconsiderate matatu drivers or when the road becomes a complete parking lot.
The list of how driving can torque up your tension level goes on and on. A calm driver is a safer driver. A person who drives while stressed runs a much greater risk of being involved in a crash that will damage their vehicle or worse, kills or injures them or another person on the road. So, put on you seatbelt and try all these tension tamers.
- Plan: Manage your time wisely. Often, when we’re frustrated on the road, it’s because we’re in a hurry and can’t get there quickly enough because of traffic. Organizing your schedule so you can leave earlier, and planning for traffic, can leave you feeling more relaxed because it really won’t matter as much if the trip takes a few extra minutes.
- Be Calm – Clear your mind of problems before starting your vehicle, so you can focus on the road and hazards ahead. Avoid driving if you’re exhausted or angry. Stress and powerful emotions, whether they come from driving or something unrelated, can affect your abilities. If you’re driving to a place you don’t usually drive to, figure out your route before you leave, and allow enough time to reach your destination. If you’re driving with kids in the car, prepare them for the drive and ensure they have what they need before you set out. There’s nothing worse than hearing, “Mummy, I need the toilet” when you’re stuck in traffic. Put your seating, cooling, heating and music where you want them before you put your vehicle into gear.
- Be Aware and Drive With Care – The unexpected can happen at any time. Watch for vulnerable road users such as cyclists, pedestrians, and bodaboda. Animals too can show up by surprise. The perils of distracted driving – like using a cell phone, texting, grooming or drinking/eating when behind the wheel – are serious. It’s illegal to a use a hand-held communication device like a cellphone and certain other electronic items while driving. Stay focused and pay attention to your environment when you’re in the driver’s seat.
- Be Courteous — Be the best driver you can be and drive for the current conditions while staying within the speed limit. Watch the road ahead, lookout and obey traffic signs, use your turn signals and yield to others whenever possible, especially pedestrians.
- Maintain a Cool Mindset – Traffic jams are norm and being frustrated won’t get you there any faster. Accept that there are other people out there who will not always drive considerately or responsibly and decide that you won’t let them bother you. Try giving the other driver the benefit of the doubt – maybe they’re having a tough day or they made an honest mistake. Every once in a while, we too make honest mistakes on the road.
- Don’t Entertain Negativity and Anger — Don’t ridicule, curse or yell at other drivers — even when you’re keeping it to yourself. Getting wound up over others’ actions may have a long-term negative effect on your health, — completely not worth it. You might feel protected in your vehicle but frustration can impair your judgment and lead to rash decisions, and verbal and physical conflict. Dr. Leon James, co-author of Road Rage and Aggressive Driving says, “With road rage, you’re basically driving under the influence of impaired emotions.”
- Label and Let Go – Use cognitive-behavioral interventions like “Counting Idiots”. Basically, if you accept that a certain amount of people are going to make fools of themselves on the road, and decide to make a game out of counting them, you can cut down on the stress you feel in response to their rudeness.
- Try Tools to Tackle Tension – Take deep breaths if you feel tense, or listen to calming or feel-good music. If you are driving on a long trip, take regular breaks to revive your body and concentration. Practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) at home and then you can quickly do Deep Muscle Relaxation (DMR) when you’re in traffic. If you have self-help motivational audio material in the car, now’s a good time to catch up and if all else fails and you can’t do any of the above, go ahead and discover your inner Prince or Beyoncé. Remember, these relaxation techniques can reduce the stress your body develops while stuck in traffic and will make you feel better physically and emotionally.
- Stay Away From Aggressive Drivers – Get out of the way of aggressive or annoying drivers and let them pass. Do not make eye contact – you don’t want to know any more about them. Never retaliate with nasty looks or rude gestures. If a fellow motorist becomes seriously threatening, drive to a police station or crowded public place. Reduce tension while you’re en route and you’ll feel better and drive better. If you get the urge to return to angry thoughts or rev up your driving intensity, think about the long-term stress and pain a crash could cause you or others. With driving, as in many things in our lives, we have little of control over others or our environment. Our greatest power lies in how we view the world and manage ourselves. These secrets to taming driver stress might just have some similarities with the secrets to a happy life.
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