There are no two ways about it: driving can be dangerous. Even if you’re a great driver, there is always a risk in getting behind the wheel of a car, because accidents do happen. When it comes to your emotional state while driving, it matters just how calm, collected, and alert you are when you’re in the driver’s seat.

People can go through many different emotions while on the road. This could be excitement for the destination they are headed to, worry if the weather is bad, stress from outside events, or even anger if other drivers make mistakes around them. There is no limit to the potential scenarios – or the emotions attached to those scenarios – when it comes to driving. One of the keys to staying safe on the road is to learn how to control your emotions when driving a vehicle.

How can your state of mind impact your driving?

The state of your mind while you’re behind the wheel has a huge impact on how well you drive for many reasons. Your psychological state will determine how focused on the road you are, how safe you are, and whether you’re following all driving laws properly, as well as any risks you’re willing to take behind the wheel.

For example, a person running late for work may experience anxiety and stress. These emotions may lead to them to drive too fast or not pay as much attention to the rules of the road in an effort to get there faster. On the flip side, a person with all the time in the world will likely be calmer and thus more focused on the journey, as opposed to simply racing for their destination. The stark differences between these two emotional states make a perfect example of two distinct ways of driving.

woman upset behind the wheel in car
Image by Sinitta Leunen on Unsplash: If you cannot control your emotions while driving, pulling over to take a breather is the best way to compose yourself and limit the risk your emotions can have on your safety behind the wheel.

What emotion occurs most in drivers?

While all drivers are different, the emotion that is seen the most is anger. This is because of four specific reasons. The first is tension. Driving in and of itself can be a tense experience because of how dangerous it can potentially be, even on a good day. This leads to an increased heart rate and a tense physical demeanor, which primes the body to react quickly with anger in a situation.

The second is goal-blocking. When a person gets behind the wheel, they have a goal to arrive somewhere, so subconsciously, everything from a person cutting them off to a red light is stopping them from getting to their goal. This is why it’s so easy to become angry behind the wheel.

The third reason has to do with the unwritten rules of the road. Everyone follows their own unwritten rules based on the rules that are set in stone. For example, most people don’t drive the exact speed limit to the T. If you are a person who has decided driving 65mph in a 60mph zone is acceptable, and someone else has decided that 70 mph is better, it is easy to get angry at that other person for driving faster than you think they need to be going.

The fourth reason is anonymity. Drivers in other cars are faceless to people on the road, and that means getting angry and labeling them negatively is much easier than if there were more of a personal connection at play. 

How can you control your emotions when you drive?

You cannot control how other people drive, nor how they react to your driving, but you can control how you react and feel while behind the wheel of the car. One of the best ways to control your emotions while driving is to learn how to take control of your thoughts. If you stay in a positive mind space while behind the wheel, you’re less likely to react in a stress-driven way. Deep breathing exercises can also be helpful if you’re in a situation where you need to calm down.

Planning your journey can also help to avoid certain situations that may increase negative or strong emotions. If you’re aware that your work commute is always packed with bumper-to-bumper traffic, leaving earlier or planning a different route could help to avoid those stressful emotions altogether.

If a problem or a stressful situation is something that cannot be calmed or relieved through deep breathing techniques or positive thinking, it’s best to avoid driving altogether until you can compartmentalize the issue or solve the problem entirely. Driving while under the influence of strong emotions can cause accidents, bringing about more stress, perhaps a lost vehicle or license, or even more serious consequences such as injury and death.

radio playing music in car
Image by Jackson David on Unsplash: Putting on music that calms you is a great way to stay grounded and in control while driving.

Ways to avoid emotional stress when driving

It can be difficult to avoid emotional stress at all times, but while you’re behind the wheel, there are a few things you can do to keep yourself in a good place. Listening to calm music, for example, can help to reduce tension while you’re on the road.

If the emotional stress is coming from a situation you’re experiencing, such as another angry driver or a traffic jam, it may be helpful to put yourself in the shoes of others. By telling yourself that everyone else is stuck in that traffic, too, or that the person who just cut you off and shouted obscenities at you is just having a bad day, it may help you keep your cool behind the wheel.

Learning how to control your emotions is important in many aspects of life, but when it comes to driving, it may just be the very thing that keeps you from getting into an accident.

Featured image by Fortune Vieyra on Unsplash