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Help avoid stress and anxiety behind the wheel with these top tips on how to remain calm while driving

Driving requires total concentration and a sense of calm, so it's essential that you control your emotions and reduce stress levels whilst on the road. Whether you are relaxed, anxious, or hot-tempered, the way you feel affects how you drive and react to circumstances on the road. As such, it's crucial never to let your emotions dictate your actions behind the wheel, putting yourself, your passengers and other drivers at risk.

Research from Confused.com says that one in five British drivers experience stress because of driving. This research is certainly understandable with drivers experiencing various stressful scenarios every day whilst on the road, from smart motorways and traffic jams to potholes and roadworks.

To help you keep control of your emotions whilst on the road, Nationwide Vehicle Contracts has put together 10 tips for remaining calm whilst driving, helping you to avoid any stress and anxiety behind the wheel.

1. Adjust your driving position

It may sound simple, but by adjusting your position in the car and keeping your body loose you can help to limit stress. If you find yourself holding the steering wheel too tightly, relax your hands and fingers ever so slightly. If you find yourself hunched over the wheel, try leaning back or adjusting the car seat to make yourself more comfortable. 

The importance of a good driving posture is vital for lowering stress levels whilst driving. GEICO Living suggests that your seat back's angle should be slightly greater than a perpendicular 90 degrees. Leaning too far back forces you to push your head and neck forward, which can cause neck and shoulder pain and tingling in the fingers. Also, make a habit when stopped at a red light to stretch your arms in the car to relieve any possible muscle tension.

2. Listen to music

Music has a significant effect on both the emotions and the body, so it's vital that you are listening to appropriate music whilst driving. Faster tempo music can make you feel extra alert and help you to concentrate better, whilst slower tempo songs can calm your mind, making you feel relaxed while releasing the day's stress.

Studies from Emesa30 advise pop music as the best form of music to hear whilst driving as it doesn't require much effort from the driver, who can stay focused on the road. So, listen to your favourite playlist or turn on the radio and enjoy the tunes whilst driving.

3. Take deep breaths

If you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed while driving, an excellent method to aid relaxation is to take a few deep breaths. Deep breathing can increase the oxygen supply to your brain and refresh the parasympathetic nervous system, forming a state of calmness. Take a deep breath in through the nose, making sure the diaphragm can fill with plenty of oxygen, helping your lungs to stretch. Repeat this breathing technique five to 10 times in a row to relax your mind and body. In doing this, you refresh your mind and allow you to overcome any stress or anxiety you're having while behind the wheel.

4. Allow more time for your journey

If you are ever feeling stressed before your drive, allow yourself some extra time to travel. If you are commuting to a new destination, give yourself extra time in case you get stuck in traffic or if you get lost. It's always best to try and plan your route to avoid traffic or construction delays. In doing this, you can arrive early, or even after the delays, on time and won't feel the pressure and stress of being late.

5. Do you have to drive?

Think before you leave, do I have to drive and is this trip necessary? For example, during busy holiday seasons or bank holidays, is there a more stress-free alternative to driving, such as taking the train? There's nothing people find more stressful than sitting in traffic for hours not moving, so if you get easily anxious while driving, try avoiding getting behind the wheel on public holidays unless necessary.

6. Stay away from aggressive drivers

If you spot another road user driving recklessly, try to keep an extra distance between your car and theirs. Definitely don't get involved and react by accelerating, braking or swerving suddenly, as this will reduce your car's control and will put yourself and other drivers at risk. Careless drivers can make any driver feel nervous, so avoiding them at all costs is the best way to reduce anxiety and the risk of any accidents.

7. Don't carelessly honk your horn at other drives

The horn is there to warn drivers or pedestrians of hazards. If someone else uses it to express frustration, don't join in. Inappropriate use of car horns is one of the most commonly broken traffic laws in the UK. If a driver is caught improperly using their horn, they may face a fine of up to £1,000, according to the highway code rule 112. Plus, if someone is honking their horn out of frustration, it will stress other drivers and create a sense of danger, which is unneeded, especially for the anxious driver.

8. Turn your phone off while driving

Using your mobile phone is one of the biggest distractions while driving. The best way to prevent accidents and stress from using your phone is to turn off your device or switch it to "do not disturb". According to Defensive Driving, rear-end crashes and run-off-the-road collisions are the most common forms of accidents that result from drivers using mobile phones on the road. Not only do phones distract your eyes from the road, but they can also change how your feelings or even affect your mid-set from the information receiver from the device. Driving requires total concentration, so if your mind isn't entirely focused on what's on the road, you become a hazard to yourself and other road users.

9. Leave extra space

Generally, you should leave enough space to manoeuvre if the vehicle in front breaks down or an emergency vehicle needs to get past. However, if you're feeling stressed or anxious on the road, be sure to leave a considerable distance between you and the other cars around you to help reduce the fear of getting into a collision. If you are on the motorway, allow room for other vehicles to merge safely.

10. Pull over and have a break

Finally, one of the best ways to cope with stress and being overwhelmed behind the wheel is to pull off to the side, when it is safe to do so, and have a break. Stress can affect your driving abilities, so it's a good idea to take a couple of minutes to calm yourself. Even negative emotions can be a distraction when driving, so pulling over can allow you to clear your head and collect yourself mentally and physically. The Highway Code recommends taking a break every two hours for at least 15 minutes. Two hours needs to be the maximum period without a break from driving.

To find out more about how to stay safe on the road, check out our comprehensive motoring guides, on everything from understanding road signs to child car seat safety and UK mobile phone law or call Nationwide Vehicle Contracts on 0345 811 9595 for expert advice.