Stress, no matter the source, can lead to distracted driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Traffic Safety Facts April, 2019 Research Note reported that nine percent of fatal crashes in 2017 were reported as distraction- affected crashes, killing 3,166 people. The age group consisting of 15 to 19 year-olds had the largest proportion of drivers who were reported as being involved in distraction-affected crashes.
The NHTSA recently pinpointed stress, or driving under the influence of emotions – distressed driving – as a cause of as many as 80% of crashes involving distracted driving. While distressed driving is not punishable under the law, it may have severe public safety consequences.
Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger—whether it is real or imagined—the body’s defenses kick into high gear in an automatic process known as the “stress response.” The body’s nervous system, however, isn’t very good at distinguishing between emotional and physical threats. If you become super stressed over an argument, a work deadline, or a mountain of bills, your body can react just as strongly as if you are facing a true life-or-death situation.
According to the widely validated Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, these are the top ten stressful life events for adults:
- Death of a spouse
- Marriage separation
- Death of a close family member
- Injury or illness
- Job loss
- Marriage reconciliation
Even if you have not experienced any of these, or are feeling overly happy, sad, angry, excited or sad, drivers can suffer from impairments that drastically reduce their safety on the road.
During #NationalStressAwarenessMonth that coincides with #DistractedDrivingAwarenessMonth, here are some tips on how to beat emotional stress that might render you a driving hazard:
1) Look after yourself physically
Stress raises your cortisol levels which have a big impact on your physical well-being as well as your emotional state. It’s important to remember to look after yourself in all the usual ways: getting enough sleep, eating well and taking regular exercise.
2) Learn to stop worrying
You can learn to recognize and treat rising feelings of anxiety. Some people get back aches when they are over-stressed, in others stress might manifest itself as pain in other parts of the body – these are signs that you are experiencing anxiety and body signals telling you to stop, recalculate and get going calmly down the right road again.
3) Challenge unhelpful thoughts
The way that we think about things has an impact on our mood, anxiety and stress levels. Many of these thoughts occur outside of our control and can be negative or unhelpful. It is therefore important to remember that they are just thoughts, without any real basis, and are not necessarily facts. Even though we may believe a lot of our unhelpful thoughts when we are feeling low, anxious or stressed, it is good to remember that they should be questioned, as they are often based on wrong assumptions.