Curbing your emotions behind the wheel

Curbing your emotions behind the wheel

We recently investigated how our emotions can cause a lack of concentration and impact how dangerously we drive. Speaking with a variety of experts to understand what may induce these emotions, they also shared their advice about how to reduce or control them when we’re driving.


Causes and triggers

Mike Fisher, founder of The British Association of Anger Management, and author of ‘Beating Anger’ explains why someone may feel angry in their car. He tells us that usually they’re already feeling some form of irritation or stressor. Once you get into your car, “all that happens is that everything becomes exaggerated and amplified.” As a result, if an “insensitive driver or person puts your life in danger, this leads you to justify being angry or expressing anger in that moment.”

Some behaviours which other drivers carry out can trigger feelings of anger. These may include:

  • Speeding
  • Not indicating
  • Cutting you up
  • Sudden braking
  • Rude gestures, flashing lights or beeping horns

Keeping anger at bay: Tips for drivers

Fisher recommends following these steps, to help reduce or avoid feelings of anger or road rage:

  1. Tidy car, tidy mind: “Make sure your vehicle is clean, tidy, orderly and smells nice to start with.”
  2. Consider any eventuality: Be prepared for “heavy traffic, accidents, road works, cars breaking down, or your car breaking down.”
  3. Play chilled music: “Put on relaxing music before taking off and remind yourself that getting angry with another person in a vehicle or with yourself is counter-productive. Ask yourself: Is it really going to matter in five minutes?”
  4. Don't take it personally: “People make mistakes in all walks of life, it just happens to be more dangerous on the road. Don't go out of your way to find fault with other drivers; just relax and enjoy the pleasurable moment of driving, whilst remaining present and mindful of any dangers or warning signs.”
  5. Remember you’re not perfect either: “Stop thinking you are a wonderful driver and everyone else is a terrible driver – even you are prone to making mistakes on the road.”


Causes and triggers

Neil Shah, director of The Stress Management Society, and author of ‘The 10-Step Stress Solution’  reveals that, “feeling stressed is a reaction to modern life. Nowadays we are overloaded with an overwhelming excess of demands” which can put an extreme amount of pressure on us.

He reveals that, “there’s a broad variety of things which cause us to feel stressed – whether it’s spilling coffee down ourselves, being stuck in traffic, thinking about something that happened last night, or even driving to an interview or presentation.” Drivers may also feel stressed from:

  • Running late
  • Driving at peak times or in rush hour
  • Motorway driving 
  • Other drivers pressuring, making mistakes or tailgating  
  • Journeys on unknown routes and roads
  • Other passengers in the car 

De-stressing on the road: Tips for drivers

Shah explains that “your emotional state can be affected by your physiological state.” Therefore he recommends that if you’re feeling stressed before going for a long drive, “doing exercise will help, as it burns off adrenaline and cortisol. You could even go for a walk around the block to clear your head before getting behind the wheel.”

If we start to feel stressed during your journey, we should, “take long, slow, deep breaths. This will mean you’ll get more oxygen to your brain and will help you calm down.” To help avoid stress on the road we could also try:

Anxiety and nervousness

Causes and triggers

Laura Whitehurst at Anxiety UK highlights that there’s “a variety of different reasons why somebody may experience anxiety, and they will all experience their anxiety differently.” Some of the following factors may trigger feelings of anxiety when in our cars:

  • Past experiences: “For some, they may have had a negative experience when driving in the past – perhaps an accident – and as such the anxiety is caused by the notion of getting in another accident, or brings up frightening flashbacks of the accident whenever they go to get behind the wheel again.”
  • Living with a panic disorder: Those “who are already living with a panic disorder, or have experienced panic attacks in the past, may be anxious about having a panic attack behind the wheel.”
  • Experiencing agoraphobia: In this case, “they may feel anxious about getting lost whilst driving, and driving outside of their ‘safe zone.’”
  • Experiencing claustrophobia: They may “find being stuck in traffic whilst driving very triggering of their own phobia.”

Calming your nerves: Tips for drivers

  • Whitehurst recommends undertaking breathing exercises, mindfulness and meditation to help with  anxiety.
  • We can also carry out gentle exercise before going on a journey, to “help relax the muscles and release any excess adrenaline.”
  • She advises against “caffeine and any sugar fixes before or whilst driving, as these can exacerbate any feelings of anxiety.”
  • Should we be suffering from anxiety, Whitehurst explains that “the best way in which to manage such emotions is to learn about it, and learn how to control it. You don’t have to let anxiety stop you from driving as there are many ways in which you can learn to manage it each day so it doesn’t have to interfere with your day-to-day life.”
  • If anxiety is having a large impact on your daily routine, speaking to your GP, seeking therapy, or taking medication can assist in overcoming these feelings and helping to ensure you’re driving safely. 

Follow these tips to help stop our emotions affect our driving, aid road safety and ultimately help reduce the number of accidents which occur on the UK’s roads.

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