Stress and driving: a very dangerous combination

We got behind the wheel. We started. We pull out of our parking spot and into the fast beating traffic in our city. We have started driving, one more day; such a routine task for many that it hides great danger; possible incidents or road accidents that put our reaction capacity to the test.

There are many causes that can lead to them. Infractions, malfunctions of the car, mistakes, different personal states. Stress is one of the causes that can be in the shadow of these problems . For this reason, driving requires us to be in good physical and mental condition to carry it out in an optimal way, guaranteeing our health and that of all those drivers and passers-by who share space around us. 

Therefore, improving stress problems can be a guarantee that encourages us to drive efficiently and in an orderly manner, which will translate, at the same time, into better well-being and greater enjoyment of our vehicle.

How does stress affect driving?

We call stress to a process in which great pressure is experienced , physical and / or mental, that our emotional mechanisms cannot manage correctly. Although a certain level of stress can be adaptive (as it prompts us to act in situations of possible danger), a level that is too high or out of adjustment with reality can have very serious consequences for the physical and mental state of those who suffer it. 

Stress can have consequences that make it difficult for us to be at the wheel , such as muscle tension, headaches, significant fatigue and / or sleep problems, among others. if we take into account that traffic is a great source of stress, we can conclude that these manifestations can occur behind the wheel with great ease. 

The phases of stress

Stress at the wheel goes through three very representative phases , each with its characteristic signs and symptoms, which will make it difficult to drive safely. These are:

Alarm phase

It is the first phase we experience on our journey. It can occur as a consequence of being immersed in a stressful situation (a lot of traffic, a traffic jam, the rush of each moment) or as a consequence of personal problems external to driving, but that remain in our mind while we are behind the wheel (previous discussions , financial, personal problems …). 

As a consequence, our mind focuses its attention on the most relevant information , which favors the neglect of the rest of the factors. Taking into account that driving is an activity that requires large doses of attention, often divided into different places, this reduction in our attention span can have negative consequences. 

In this phase, our muscles remain tense, faced with the possibility of having to flee. It is, therefore, a phase that produces a lot of physical and mental fatigue .

Resistance phase

Our muscles begin to relax, although some physical and mental tension remains . Tolerance for frustration is low, which can create problems behind the wheel . We also feel very impatient, impulsive and aggressive , which can lead to reckless behavior and not respecting traffic rules. All this can have fatal consequences on the road.

Exhaustion phase  

Our stress has taken its toll on our bodies and we have ended up exhausted. It is then that the body cannot sustain this tension any longer, and it relaxes. But it does it in a very profound way. Tiredness, fatigue, pain and sleep appear . We know the great danger posed by these factors when driving; our attention can drop considerably, as well as our ability to react, increasing the chances of having an accident.

How to improve driving stress?

Therefore, it is necessary to improve our stress level, especially when we go to get into the car. To do this, we can practice respiratory relaxation exercises, as well as gradually tense and loosen our muscles . Meditation, performing routine exercise and trying to face problems with greater tranquility can also help us to improve our state. 

If there is something disturbing you on the road, try to control your breathing. Breathe mindfully, breathe deeply, as breathing slows your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure and completely calms you down.

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