Our Rides: Driving As Stress Relief?

Toyota GR Supra. Photos by Randy Stern
Toyota GR Supra. Photos by Randy Stern

How do you cope with stress?

It is one of the most important questions we often ask ourselves. Stress itself affects our own health and well-being. How we manage it is the key to avoiding any further health issues that can cause further strain on our bodies in the short and long term.

Stress is one of the biggest contributors to our mental and emotional health. It should always be the conversation when it comes to our complete health and wellness picture. Part of that conversation is to find ways to manage it, if not resolve it. 

Sadly, resolution of any mental/emotional health issue takes time and patience. We can manage stress the best way we can. There are many ways to do so. 

One of the ways I manage stress is to get in a vehicle and drive.

Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? After all, our daily commute can stress us out before we arrive at work. If it’s not the traffic or other motorists’ behaviors, then it is the people on the bus or train. The strongest people who deal with these issues know how to either concentrate on what they’re doing or simply tune everyone out. 

If simply concentrating on driving or tuning out the world are only as simple as that. 

There are a few studies that support the fact that driving – even motorcycle riding – is a way to reduce and cope with stress in one’s life. One such study was sponsored by motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson with the University of California at Los Angeles’ Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior. This particular study looked at the correlation of motorcycle riding and stress relief from a positive and affirming perspective. 

What about driving an automobile? Motorcycle riding is often seen as “recreational” compared to a car, truck, or SUV. We end up driving our automobiles year-round in this part of the country. Therefore, we wonder if there was something that could affirm the use of an automobile as a form of stress relief. 

Dr. Mary Beth Lardizabal, Vice President of Mental Health and Addiction Clinical Services Line at Allina Health provided some insights regarding the positive effects of driving to relieve stress. “If you think back to the 1950s,” Dr. Lardizabal explained, “people would go for a Sunday drive. It was a relaxing family event. They drove for pleasure into the country or to view the scenery. There also is a sense of movement in a vehicle or a boat which can be calming.”

It is still pertinent today. If you put this into practice, you may find what other automotive enthusiasts have enjoyed for well over a century. In my interactions with fellow automotive media professionals and enthusiasts, they all point out that a good drive will do wonders for the soul. 

How do you approach taking a good drive for stress relief? How do you make it worth your time away from that stressful situation? Dr. Lardizabal further explained that “it’s all about how you use your time. Perhaps you see it as a private, peaceful oasis that gives you respite. For some people, driving might be the only time they can listen to their favorite podcast, audiobook or music.”

Having something in the background through your infotainment system will help you enjoy the drive. Your favorite song, podcast, radio station, or audiobook helps to ease the tension of the road. Even better when you’re the only person on that stretch of road. 

What if you are stuck in traffic somewhere? How do you cope with the increasing stress of backed up highways, poor driver etiquette, and other distractions on the road? Dr. Lardizabal mentioned that she teaches a “lot of mindfulness” at Allina Health. “It’s all about your approach and perspective on things,” Dr. Lardizabal said.  She also suggests that “while driving, if you feel yourself getting mad at other drivers, you can do a compassion meditation. You can say, ‘I hope they get to their destination on time.’ Perhaps, they’re going to see someone in the hospital, you don’t know why they’re speeding.” 

“There is a practice called Just Like Me,” explained Dr. Lardizabal. “When someone is trying to get somewhere in a hurry, you can connect with them by thinking, ‘That person is just like me. They’re trying to get to their destination quickly.’ It helps us relate to the other driver.”

“There is another mindfulness practice I teach at Allina,” continued Dr. Lardizabal. “Every time you see a brake light, focus on it. Rather than thinking, ‘another stop again!’, allow yourself to see it, look at the color and consider how long the light is. It will help you focus on where you are and be in the present moment.”

All of these practices and strategies certainly help when you are working through those anxious moments as you take that drive to relieve stress. 

When you do find yourself needing to take a drive somewhere, find a road that you know will calm you down. One where you can enjoy the scenery and let you take it in – at legally-posted speeds, of course!

Lastly, just be safe out there. Pay attention solely to your driving. That way, you refocus yourself from the stress you are working through onto something that induces pleasure – like finding a lovely stretch of open road and becoming one with it. 

Just remember: The pleasure of driving will always be there. You just have to partake in the experience as a way to take care of yourself. 

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