Did you know commuter stress can cause short-term memory loss? No, really. This, along with bad mood, increased blood pressure and muscle tension have been proven to be exacerbated by driving.
If this sounds like you, there are plenty of ways you can keep your cool behind the wheel – all you need to do is make a few simple tweaks to your daily routine.
To learn more about tackling frustrations, we asked Dr Dawn Sant, anger and stress management trainer at Emotional Matters, for her top tips on keeping calm behind the wheel.
Beat the rat race
The first thing to do before you begin your commute is to check for the best route. As Dr Sant says, you want to “find out the best rat runs to beat the rat race”.
A useful app for seeing how busy your route is in real-time is Google Maps. Not only does it show your expected journey time, it also accounts for factors that could potentially derail your usual commute, such as roadworks, diversions and speed limit restrictions.
Similarly, if you’re like nearly half of drivers in the UK, you’ll have felt the ill effects of ‘road rage’ on your commute. In fact, you might assume your commute is the most time-consuming (and by far the most exasperating) journey amongst your colleagues. If this sounds like you, try Rush Hour Routes. This easy-to-use tool shows you not just how long you spend sitting in traffic, it also compares your commute to other worker-bees across the country.
Or, if you’re eager to beat bottle-necking before reaching the final mile of your journey, Dr Sant advises ‘switching up’ your commute. “Break patterns of behaviour by incorporating more activity into your daily commute. For example, shorten your car journey by checking out different places to park that might incorporate a walk through a park or along a canal or river, or simply park further away from work and walk the rest of the way to boost your step count”.
If you’re expecting a chock-a-block journey to work, you should try to de-stress before you even get in your car. Little niggles, such as arriving on time or leaving your laptop at home, can increase anxiety even before you’ve sat behind the wheel.
Dr Sant recommends a few ‘life hacks’ before heading out on the road:
- Plan your meals and outfits the night before – this way you can quickly grab your keys and leave without any last-minute flapping.
- Get a good night’s sleep (between 6-8 hours is recommended) – this will help you stay alert and clear-headed when stuck in traffic.
- Set up your phone so that it synchronises to your car (if your car has this feature) or buy a phone holder, so that you can access hands-free calls during your commute.
And when you’re ready to set off:
- Turn on radio traffic updates or download a traffic app so you can spot problem areas before you reach them.
- It might seem obvious, but play something you can easily relax to in the car. Whether it’s your favourite radio station, an audiobook, your own playlist, or silence, giving yourself something enjoyable to listen to will help you focus on the road.
Dr Sant recommends listening to classical music because it “is known to lower blood pressure and anxiety levels.” Studies also suggest it can make you smarter (known as the ‘Mozart Effect’).
Learn from previous journeys
Once you’ve completed your commute and returned home, it is easy to feel anxious about your next journey. However, the worst thing you can do, according to Dr Sant, is let a bad journey get you down (otherwise you’re destined the repeat the same frustrations):
“Think through your commute: at what time did you start to feel frustrated? Where are the most problematic areas of your commute? If you notice the same patterns of behaviour, switch it up. Try back roads, leave at a different time, choose a different car park. If you can think of any ways to miss the busiest parts of your rush hour, do it”.
Take a look at our Rush Hour Routes tool here.