Open Mic: The Stress of Driving

By Ann Troy

Driving is one of the most stressful things we do—and it brings out the worst in us. Most of us don’t progress to road rage, but still, our anger and frustration take a toll on us and on those around us.

I have thought a lot about this and have come up with some tips to make it less stressful.

First, it helps if you can leave rested and relaxed. If you meditate, try meditating for a few minutes before you take off. Also, give yourself more time than you think you will need. This way red lights, traffic jams and road construction won’t be as stressful.

Try to avoid anger. When you get angry whose heart rate goes up, whose blood pressure increases, whose gastric acidity increases, whose catecholamines increase, whose cortisol level rises? Yours—with immediate, short-term and long-term negative consequences to your health and wellbeing.

If you find yourself getting angry, try to distract yourself, as you would distract a two-year-old who is about to have a tantrum. Sing your favorite song, turn on some music, notice the natural beauty around you. Remind yourself: “This is not who I want to be, this is not how I want to interact with the world and this is not what I want to do to my mind, my heart and my body.”

It helps to take some deep “belly breaths.” This is a relaxation technique in which you take slow, deep breaths that expand your belly. You can also remind yourself that everyone around you is in the same awful traffic. Do a “loving kindness” meditation in which you wish everyone around you—and yourself—peace and happiness. It helps to do these two things at the beginning of your trip and also intermittently, especially as you encounter frustrating situations.

Last but not least, smile and be courteous to other drivers. Let someone cut in front of you, let a pedestrian cross, try to be patient and forgiving of others’ less than perfect driving. Who knows, maybe they are having a bad day. Remember that we, too, are less than perfect. The Golden Rule applies here.

Ann Troy lives in San Anselmo. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write [email protected]
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