Simple Ways to De-Stress Behind the Wheel

A few years ago, Time Magazine ran an article titled “10 Things Your Commute Does to Your Body.” Spoiler alert: none of them were good. In fact, they were downright disturbing. The thorough roundup of research indicated a long list of frightening risks: high cholesterol, increased blood sugar, depression, anxiety, and more. You probably knew your time behind the wheel wasn’t doing you any big health favors but did you expect it to affect your physical and mental wellness significantly?

The root of many of these issues is, perhaps unsurprisingly, stress. From traffic jams and rude drivers to street closures and unexpected car trouble, driving can suck the life out of you. Luckily, there are some simple ways to keep your cool:

  1. Remember to breathe…literally. The first thing that many of us do when faced with stress is to hold our breath. Shocking news: this complete oxygen deprivation won’t help you cope or calm down. The good news is, you have the power to control your breath no matter where you are — even if where you are is stuck in rush hour. An easy go-to technique is to breathe deeply and fully through your nose, pause, and exhale slowly.
  2. Listen to soothing music or an entertaining podcast. The research on whether music and podcasts are driving distractions is mixed, so you have to figure out for yourself whether these auditory additions will greatly improve or further mess with your experience. (Might we suggest music or a light podcast and avoiding oft frustrating subjects like sports or politics?)
  3. Improve your posture. It may sound small and silly, but modifying your position in the driver’s seat can go a long way toward improving your overall outlook. Notice if you’re gripping the steering wheel and gently loosen your grip; lean back and avoid hunching and slumping your shoulders; unclench your jaw. And if you really want to treat yourself, consider an ergonomic cushion or seat back to feel great every time you get behind the wheel.
  4. Create a stress-free schedule. Running late has a way of magnifying the small stresses of driving. Try getting out the door 15 minutes earlier and see how it affects your mood — easier said than done, of course!
  5. Consider an alternative. De-stressing behind the wheel can help, but we’d be remiss not to mention driving less in the first place…it’s our thing. Perhaps you’d appreciate public transit? A morning bike ride? A carpool buddy? It’s tough to oversell the benefits of ditching a car commute altogether.

There’s a bonus if you take that last bit of advice: more money in your wallet from saving on gas, maintenance, and insurance. We can help with the savings; we leave the relaxing habits to you.

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Michelle Konstantinovsky is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist, UC Berkeley alumna, and Metromile customer.