Insider secrets to crushing your daily commute, stress-free
September 16, 2021
This thought—among many—races through your mind as you suddenly find yourself stuck in traffic on your way to work, class or a promising first date.
Your situation is likely causing you to feel more stressed and agitated behind the wheel. It’s not what you would consider an ideal driving mood, is it? Whether it’s amindful playlist or deep breathing techniques, our team at HiRoad has some insider stress-management tips to help you conquer your daily commute as stress-free as possible.
The science of stress in your daily commute
There are nearly 60 percent of Americans who experience stress or worry on a daily basis, according to a 2020 Gallup poll. And if you connect with that statistic, you’re no stranger to stress—at home, at work and in the car. But where does all of that stress come from? Let’s tap into the neuroscience and root causes of stress.
Niki Korteweg, a Dutch science journalist with a PhD in neurobiology, describes the relationship between the brain and stress as devastating for your brain.
“It [the brain] gets marinated in a toxic cocktail of stress hormones. This affects two key areas of the brain: the frontal lobe and the hippocampus.”
Niki Korteweg, neurobiologist and science journalist
The frontal lobe is where we set goals, make plans, focus and keep emotions under control. The hippocampus is the core of our memory. When the brain undergoes stress, those parts of the brain react in a similar way. You’ve heard of the term "fight-or-flight"? It’s your body’s way of coping with tough or demanding situations and causes hormonal, respiratory, cardiovascular and nervous system changes.
For example, if you are stuck in traffic and your 9 am meeting is getting close, you might feel sweaty, your heart beating faster and emotions all over the place—causing you to lose your sense of focus.
That stress contributes to distracted driving, which we’re not about. The good news is there are several ways to manage it at home and behind the wheel.
Stress management tips for when you’re behind the wheel
It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for—how to keep calm and drive on—insider secrets to mastering the art of zen on the road.
1. Listen to the right playlist in the car
If you’re someone who feels better after listening to your favorite tunes in times of stress, you wouldn’t be the first. And in fact, there’s some science behind it. A study conducted by Brazilian researchers found that listening to music can relieve cardiac stress while driving in high-stress situations.
“Listening to music could be such a preventive measure in favor of cardiovascular health in situations of intense stress such as driving during rush hour”
Vitor Engrácia Valenti, a professor at UNESP Marília and primary project investigator
With the right playlist on, you can achieve a flow state of mind—the feeling where there is a lost sense of time and you are fully immersed in what you are doing—on the road and reduce stress while driving.
2. Relax the body, relax the mind
Have you ever noticed the impact traffic congestion has on your body? For example, when you come home from being stuck in traffic and your neck, shoulders or back feel a little more tense and sore.
The assist: practicing progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). This technique can help remove some of that tension (even as you sit in the car), helping you feel more physically and emotionally relaxed while driving. Here’s how to do it:
Breathe in—as you inhale, contract one muscle group (like your neck and shoulders)
Count to eight as you breathe in
Exhale and relax
Repeat as needed, until feeling completed relaxed
Once you feel that particular muscle group is relaxed, work your way down. Move to your chest, abdomen, your arm, hands, legs, etc. An important note: avoid contracting muscles that would inhibit your driving—don’t close your eyes tight behind the wheel.
With practice, PMR can help minimize chronic stress and build resilience to the stress you may face in the future.
3. Breathe deep and meditate
Breathing exercises can be a fast way to help you cleanse your body, give your blood more oxygen and avoid road rage tension before your daily commute. Meditating allows for you to focus your attention on a word, object or your breath to help lower the stress and anxiety you’re feeling on the road.
A HiRoad tip: Before you hit the pavement, try belly breathing (a form of deep breathing). Get comfortable, close your eyes and place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. Inhale and exhale through your nose, notice how your body relaxes.
Deep breathing creates a state of deep rest and changes how the body responds to stress by sending more oxygen to the brain and subsequently calming the nervous system. A relaxed state of mind to make the most of your commute? That’s a win-win in our book.
4. Stress management at home
What we do and how we manage stress at home can have a direct impact on how we handle our daily commute. Niki Korteweg, our neurobiologist friend from earlier, gave us four ways we can improve the brain in its ability to cope with stress.
Be physically active
By being mindful and putting these stress management tips into practice, “we can help make the gap between knowing and doing a little bit smaller.”
Balancing an “every now and then” daily commute
The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely created some changes on the road. With more individuals now working from home, that rush hour we all know has changed. According to data provided by Wejo, rush-hour traffic is more spread out and has shifted later in the morning as Americans are more able to avoid heavy traffic periods due to remote work.
“The morning rush hour has gotten later and it’s gotten flatter. In almost all scenarios, traffic is not dropping as much in the later hours and is dropping more in the earlier hours.”
Daniel Tibble, director of data science and analytics for Wejo
Is there a cost to a decrease in traffic? Absolutely. With the decrease in traffic, that leaves room for those who “feel the need for speed” to drive more carelessly. In 2020 alone, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that the fatality rate per 100 million miles traveled on US roads was 1.37, reflected a 23 percent increase from the rate of 1.11 in 2019.
Our biggest stress management tip for those days? Plan ahead. Manage your time wisely because more often than not, that feeling of frustration on the road comes from being in a hurry. Stay organized and know what day(s) you will be required to hit the road and plan for traffic. It’s as the old saying goes, “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.”
Mindful driving on the road starts with HiRoad®
One way to reduce stress while driving is knowing you have an auto insurance policy that has you in mind. At HiRoad, we work to give you one less stress on the road with insurance that protects you and rewards you for mindful driving.
But we offer more than just great auto insurance to keep you calm. Our app gives you feedback on how you’re driving and offers tips to help you become more focused behind the wheel. And if something ever does happen on the road, you can initiate a claim in the app and our friendly Customer Care team will be there to help.
And with that, deep breath in…and out…in…and out…in…and out…
The information in this article was obtained from various sources not associated with HiRoad®. While we believe it to be reliable and accurate, we do not warrant the accuracy or reliability of the information. HiRoad is not responsible for, and does not endorse or approve, either implicitly or explicitly, the content of any third party sites that might be hyperlinked from this page. The information is not intended to replace manuals, instructions or information provided by a manufacturer or the advice of a qualified professional, or to affect coverage under any applicable insurance policy. These suggestions are not a complete list of every loss control measure. HiRoad makes no guarantees of results from use of this information.
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