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Seven Ways to Control Your Emotions While Driving

Seven ways to control your emotions while driving

Have you ever considered how strong emotions can affect your safety when you're behind the wheel? Think about the following situations and how they might affect your driving.

Imagine you are on your way to your best friend’s wedding. You’re excited; your mind is on the dancing, the good food, and the fun night ahead of you. You're rushing through traffic, eager to arrive at the wedding. At the next traffic light, you plan to take a second to make some last-minute adjustments to your hairdo or make sure your tie is straight. 

Now imagine another scene, one that’s very different. You’re driving home from work on a Friday evening. Just at the end of the workday, a co-worker told you that the company is downsizing, and employees are being fired. Now the only thing on your mind is those cutbacks. Will you be the next one? You feel frustrated, angry, and perhaps a little desperate.

How do you think your driving would be affected in each of those circumstances? For instance, if you were rushing to get to a party, how would you react if a vehicle in front of you was driving too slowly? If you were frustrated over major problems, what would your reaction be if a car pulled in front of you unexpectedly? Would you be tempted to react with impatience or anger?

When driving, strong emotions can distract you, much like texting on a cell phone steals away a person’s attention. In fact, the risk of a collision can be up to ten times higher when a driver is under the influence of strong emotions. And it’s not just troublesome emotions that have a negative effect on driving. Any emotions that a driver may experience - whether he feels positive or negative, happy or sad, excited or furious - can all influence his driving abilities.

While drivers can be banned from using cell phones, it’s harder to pass a law to ban someone’s innermost thoughts. That’s why you as a driver have to be aware of how you feel, detect how your emotions are affecting your ability to drive, and be aware of what you can do to change your state of mind.

What are some emotions that affect driving?

Stress – Perhaps your day at the office didn’t go well, or you just broke up with your significant other, or you failed a college exam. Maybe you’re thinking about your personal finances or that fight with your best friend or your teenage daughter. Any of these stressful situations can make a person drive more aggressively and be less willing to share the road with others.

Fear – Do you panic at the thought of being in a collision? Overly cautious driving can actually lead to making mistakes that can provoke a collision.

Strong positive emotions – Receiving exciting news or celebrating a happy event can certainly make your day. That feeling of excitement is marvelous, but it can be so exhilarating that it impels you to drive faster and take more risks behind the wheel. You may pay less attention to the little details that can make the difference between being in an accident and avoiding one.

Exhaustion – Driving while fatigued (or really, doing anything else when you’re overly tired) can bring on feelings of frustration and impatience. You could also be less aware of your surroundings, and respond slower to unexpected situations on the road.

How can you deal with your emotions?

The first step to controlling your emotions is to recognize them. Sometimes a person can be so swept away with their thoughts and emotions that they’re not even aware they’re experiencing them! So take the time to recognize what you feel. Once you recognize what may be causing your feelings, then you can take steps to control them.

Seven ways to control your emotions when driving

Take back control. If you control your thoughts, you’ll be able to control your emotions. Keep your mind on pleasant thoughts. Think back to pleasant moments during your last vacation. Or remember how delicious last night’s dinner was. As you concentrate on pleasant moments you’ll find yourself calming down.

Breathe deep. Taking slow, deep breaths is a simple way to relax and soothe racing thoughts.

Use your ears. While it can be useful to keep up with the news while you’re commuting to work or running errands, be aware of how you feel when the news turns negative. Does it bring on feelings of stress or frustration? You might want to switch to some music that has a soothing effect on your thoughts and emotions. So don’t be afraid to turn off stressful news, or to put away the heavy metal rock, and get out some cheerful tunes.  

Wait. Although your problem is weighing on your mind, the reality is that you most likely won’t solve it while driving. Wait until you get out from behind the wheel to work a problem out.

Sleep. Of course, not while you’re driving. However, if you get a good night’s rest, you will be more alert and more capable of dealing with the emotions that come up during the day. That will have a direct effect on your driving since when you get behind the wheel you’ll be in a better frame of mind.

Plan. Are you frequently frustrated because of unexpected delays on the road? Plan on leaving a bit early, so that, when you hit the delay you can keep your calm and still arrive on time. Planning ahead may also help you choose the best route with the fewest delays and reduce unnecessary stress.

Stop. If you truly can’t calm down, it may be better to pull over at a gas station or other convenient stopping place and resume driving only after your emotions have settled down.

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