Studies show that your emotional state can impact your safety on the road. Learn how it can affect you, and tips to help you stay calm and alert when you drive.
We know that we shouldn't be texting while driving, and that drinking and driving is a definite no-no. But did you know that strong emotions can affect your driving ability as well?
Research shows that driving while you experience extreme emotions can be as dangerous as driving when fatigued, and it can distract you even more than using your cell phone while navigating the roads. An intense emotional state can also negatively affect your ability to perform tasks and influence your thoughts, attitude and problem-solving skills.
Whether you are very worried, upset, anxious, depressed or even excited, how you feel can meddle with your focus and influence how alert you are. It takes a mere second to miss a potential risk that might lead to an accident - something that you might have noticed if you were otherwise calm and not preoccupied.
How being emotionally overwhelmed can affect road safety
- When you're under immense stress, you can suffer from tunnel vision where you're less likely to notice things happening outside of the car around you.
- Your observation and reaction times can become slower.
- You're less able to predict risky situations or traffic.
- Feeling depressed or detached from your surroundings may cause you to make riskier manoeuvres in traffic.
- You can lack precision and the ability to perform driving skills that require fast timing.
Keep your cool
Road rage is possibly one of the most dangerous emotions that you can experience on the road. Keeping your emotions under control can make a big difference in your driving safety. Everyone has different ways of dealing with their emotions, so it's important to find which calming techniques work best for you. These suggestions can help you get started:
- Don't dwell on the actions other drivers take that rouse your anger. Let it go and focus on staying safe rather than venting. Allowing your anger to overtake you in that moment will only make things worse.
- Be courteous to other drivers whenever you can. Cutting in, erratic lane changes and speeding will, at best, save you a feeble few seconds but at worst will land you and others in hospital or jail. It's simply not worth it.
- Take deep, slow breaths and count for a few seconds as you inhale and exhale. This can help keep yourself calm and handle stressful traffic better.
- If you're feeling particularly overwhelmed by emotions such as anger or grief, pull over at a safe location such as a shopping centre or petrol station and take a short break from driving while you compose yourself. Close your eyes, breathe, turn the radio on to soothing music or off if that helps, and just breathe. It can also help to get out of the car, go for a short walk or get yourself a drink of water until you feel more collected.
- Once you're back behind the wheel, try to hold disturbing thoughts and emotions at bay until your journey is over by focussing on the road.
- Leave earlier than necessary to give time for traffic and other hold-ups.
Prevention is better than cure
Being able to calm yourself down while you drive is valuable, but even better is taking pre-emptive steps to lower your overall stress levels. This could include getting more sleep, exercising, practicing relaxation techniques, yoga and meditation, staying hydrated, connecting more with your friends and family, taking up a craft or hobby, or volunteering in your community.
We tend to focus on fitness or good eating habits at the start of a New Year, but it's a good idea to also consider our emotional and mental health, because it affects all aspects of our lives. While life's rollercoaster of emotions is unavoidable, there are many ways of dealing with it, so be deliberate about practicing calmness and patience - not just for your sanity but also for your safety on the road!
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