Can a therapeutic drive reduce your stress levels?

Some studies show many drivers feel calmer when at the wheel, so can driving help relieve stress? Alisdair Suttie reports

We often associate driving with stress, anger, and even road rage, yet there are drivers out there who report that being behind the wheel actually makes them feel calmer.

There are many studies that show drivers become very territorial when they drive and this leads to aggression, but there is also evidence that some people find the cocoon of a car soothes their nerves.

Driving should not be seen as a way of de-stressing after a tough day in the office, but if you enjoy the act of driving, it can take away the strains of modern life.

Many racing drivers report feeling much happier and less worried when they are driving on public roads, compared to sitting in a meeting.

Much of this is to do with controlling the environment you are in. Where a racing driver finds sitting in a conference room alien to their working life, being at the wheel is where they are most confident and so their stress levels decrease.

It’s not just racing drivers, however, who say they find the act of driving helps them relax.

Many people who drive for a living, whether it’s driving a van, truck, or bus, or they drive to get to work appointments, say time at the wheel is time well spent.

Again, to many this might sound like the opposite of perceived wisdom, but when we are at the wheel of our cars, vans, trucks, buses, or on a motorcycle, it is possible to filter out all of the other distractions of daily life.

Driving demands our full attention, so it’s a way of forcing the brain to set aside other concerns while it deals with road-based situations that require intense decision-making processes.

There are those who find driving relaxing simply because they don’t think about anything, including driving, but these are people who should not be on the road and are usually easily spotted by their poor driving habits. On the other hand, someone driving very well and with consideration is most likely someone who feels at one with being at the wheel. It can take a lot of experience to achieve this state of mind, but it’s one that comes with practice. So, the more you drive and take the time to be a skilled driver, the more quickly you will ascend to the ranks of relaxed, stress-free drivers.

Some drivers say they only feel happy when driving quickly and there is a lot of evidence from research to show their attention wanders when forced to drive more slowly, usually because of traffic in front.

This is not the same as relaxing while driving and is, instead, about the adrenaline produced by driving quickly. It’s wise to keep adrenaline and driving purely for the race track.

Relaxed drivers also tend to make fewer mistakes, are involved in far fewer collisions and are much less likely to speed.

With these kinds of upsides on offer to those drivers who see the car and driving as a calming experience, a stress-free existence is only a car commute away.


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