Driving Yourself Sane
“Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you and scorn in the one ahead.”
— Mac McCleary
Driving is an activity that most of us do on a daily basis. It also tends to incur a significant amount of stress. In fact, commuting to and from work may be the most stressful part of the day for some people. It is, at a minimum, a contributing factor to the accumulation and cycle of stress within daily life. Therefore, this an especially fruitful place to apply mindfulness skills.
The practice of mindful driving entails paying attention to your experience (what you see, hear, feel, smell) while driving rather than getting engaged in other stimulation or being preoccupied by your thoughts. There is plenty to pay attention to while you are driving. In fact, for many people, driving is a very stimulating experience on its own, even without adding other distractions. So when we then engage in additional stimulation, it can be overwhelming to our system.
Here are some suggestions for driving with more mindful awareness:
- Turn off all optional sound (radio: music/news/talk; CD/tape; mp3 player)
- Eliminate other distractions (phone, food, etc.)
- When you are stopped, either at a red light or in heavy traffic, use that as an opportunity to check in with yourself. Notice if you are holding tension in your body and see if you can release that. Areas particularly vulnerable to tension while driving are your jaw (notice if you are clenching your teeth) as well as your arms and hands (notice if your fists are tightening). Notice if your mind is preoccupied and see if you can return your awareness to the moment. Taking a few abdominal breaths can be helpful to bring yourself back to balance.
- When on the freeway, select one of the right-hand-most lanes and drive at or close to the speed limit, unless conditions demand that all drivers slow down. Allow other drivers to pass you if they seem to want to exceed your speed. People commonly have a misconception regarding how much time will be saved by going faster. It may surprise you to learn that calculations estimate by increasing your speed from 65mph to 75mph you may only save 1 minute 14 seconds every 10 miles. According to Natural Resources Canada, speedy and aggressive driving burns excessive fuel and money and only saves a matter of minutes.
- In heavy highway traffic, pick a lane and stay in it, but not the fast lane. Over the course of many miles, all lanes will go approximately the same speed. In the end, excessive lane changing will not get you to your destination any faster, and ultimately only makes traffic run more slowly overall. It also increases your chances of a collision. According to some statistics, 10% of crashes are due to lane changes.
- Leave a few minutes earlier than you think will be required to arrive at your destination. Giving yourself this buffer may be one of the best ways to reduce the stress that arises from time pressure. Tip: Google Maps will not only provide you with driving directions to your destination but you can also ask to see up-to-date traffic conditions to help you plan your route before you leave.
- And if you are running behind schedule while you are on the road, or get caught in unexpected traffic, accept that you will arrive whenever you arrive. Let go of your tendency to strive to make up for lost time or change the circumstances you are in. Once you are on the road, you have fewer means to significantly impact when you will arrive.
Driving need not be a necessary evil. Instead, it can be another opportunity to bring mindfulness into your daily life. Try some of these suggestions to see if you can reduce the toll that driving takes on your health and well-being.