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How to Beat Stress as a Driver

How to Beat Stress as a Driver

How to Beat Stress as a Driver

No matter if you’re in New York, London or Edinburgh, driving for a living is stressful. 

Not only must you cope with heavy traffic, poor roads, traffic cameras, parking issues, and so on, but when you drive to make money, there’s also the need to stay busy, keep a clean license, follow strict rules and deal with difficult passengers. No wonder professional driving ranks in the top ten of most stressful jobs.

Stress is a factor of our body’s reaction to potentially harmful situations, which may be real or imagined. This reaction triggers a flood of chemicals that prepare our bodies for fight or flight. Adrenaline flows, pulse rates rise, breathing quickens. Within seconds, we’re in full defence mode. 

Most of us can cope with a small amount of stress without any noticeable effect, however, repeated and excessive doses can lead to heart problems, diabetes, stroke and other life-threatening diseases. It can also cause issues at work, in our relationships, how we handle our finances and create a dependence on drink, drugs and stimulants like caffeine and tobacco. 

All in all, it’s clear that stress is something to avoid. However, due to its complex mix of emotional, physical and behavioural symptoms, it’s often hard to know when you’re suffering from too much of it. You may be highly stressed, but you put the issues it’s creating down to other causes. For instance, you’re rapidly gaining weight and you think it’s due to lack of exercise. You don’t think that you’re eating more because of a very stressful situation. 

Fortunately, stress can be beaten with some simple prevention and responsive techniques. But before we look at those, we need to understand…

1. Identify Stress

How to beat stress as a driver? Step 1 – know what to look for. Stress can reveal itself through emotional and behavioural issues as well as physical. 

Due to our common habit of playing the ‘blame game’, where we put the cause of a physical problem down to something not related to stress, physical symptoms are particularly hard to spot. (Review our Physical Symptoms of Stress Checklist to decide if any indicators are relevant to you). However, key emotional and behavioural symptoms are often easier to see. They include:

  • You’re irritable and short tempered: Small issues that have little meaning cause you to over-react, complain, get angry and lash out at other people for no reason at all.
  • You find it hard to concentrate: Focus becomes difficult and you find your mind wandering. You have no interest in accomplishing tasks. Everyday problems overwhelm you. 
  • You can’t sleep: Your mind is constantly churning. You worry about everything. It’s tough to go to sleep and even tougher to stay there. This creates physical and mental fatigue. 
  • You exaggerate problems: Everything is a major issue, even when it isn’t. This drives more irritability and makes it even harder to sleep. 
  • Your self-esteem is low: You cannot see any value in what you do or who you are. Everything seems pointless. You reveal a sense of inferiority. 

Then there are the physical symptoms. Do any of these complaints seem familiar?

Symptoms Physical Effects
Headaches Often mistaken for migraine, stress headaches can be very acute and come in waves or surges.
Weight change Sudden loss or gain in weight is a classic sign of stress. Your body is over-compensating by shutting down or ramping up your appetite.
Chest pain High heart rate and rapid breathing come with this symptom. It can sometimes feel like a mini heart attack, which then increases worry.
Dry mouth Constantly feeling thirsty – can also be paired with difficulty swallowing.
Upset Stomach Typically shows itself with heartburn or frequent digestive issues.
Clenched jaw Goes along with teeth grinding. A subconscious act created by a stress-driven flood of hormones.
Colds and infection You catch cold easily and often. Infections are too frequent to be normal.
Aches and pain Muscle cramps, tension, aches and continual pain for no obvious external reason.
Nervousness More acute than normal, regardless of the circumstance. May be accompanied by tics, foot shaking, frequent blinking, trembling hands.

2. Stress can Increase the Effects of Fatigue

Fatigue usually manifests itself as tiredness, inattention, lack of energy and forgetfulness. The emotional and physical effects of stress can exaggerate these factors, which could prove highly dangerous to the professional driver. 

See the common signs of driver fatigue below. If you frequently suffer from these symptoms they may be caused by stress, or easily fixable issues, such as an overloaded schedule, poor diet or lack of exercise. Try to combat your fatigue by taking more time off, eating properly and visiting the gym or taking up a sport. If these changes do not help, the reasons for your fatigue may be more deep-rooted and stress could be the cause. 

Indicators of driver fatigue:

  • Rubbing the eyes, yawning and nodding the head. 
  • Poor judgment and slower reaction times. 
  • Zoning out. (Driving somewhere but can’t recall how you got there).
  • Lane drift. (You wander across the lane lines or onto the shoulder).
  • Blurred vision. 

3. What Can I do to Help with Stress

Most advice will tell you to beat stress by doing things like going for a long walk, taking up a hobby or visiting friends. It’s tough to do that as you’re driving through the city. Instead, here are some tips you can follow while you’re still at work:

Connect with people: A good support network of colleagues, friends and family can ease your work troubles and help you see things in a different way. Do this using social media like WhatsApp and Facebook. (But please, not when you’re on the move). A good laugh, a news-swap or just a chance to let off steam with people you know is a proven stress-buster.

Take some ‘me’ time: Most professional drivers already work long hours, so don’t add to the pile. Stop for regular and meaningful breaks when you’re out on the road, (five minutes for lunch is not enough). Take some ‘chill’ time, (at least half an hour) away from the wheel. Read the paper, listen to a talking book, play sudoku. There’re always more rides, you’ve only got one body.

Set limits: It’s too easy to stay out there if the rides are available. But the longer you’re on the road, the more stress you incur. Set a daily limit – time or income – and when you reach it, switch off and go back to the real world. Tilt your work-life balance in favour of your health.

Be positive: Keep your glass half full, not half empty. Concentrate on the positive things in your life and for which you can be grateful. Post photos of family and friends in the car. Keep a journal of the good things that happen to you. Refer to it if ever things look bleak. Happy moments can travel with you and last all day long.

Be realistic: Don’t set goals that will put you under stress to achieve. For example, if the weather is bad and traffic is slow, don’t tell yourself it doesn’t matter, and you’ll stay at work until you’ve earned a high sum that day. Trying to reach that unrealistic target will probably shoot your stress levels through the roof.

Avoid unhealthy habits: Don’t rely on alcohol, drugs, smoking or caffeine as your ways of coping. This is called avoidance behaviour and it will only make the effects of stress much worse. Drink water, eat properly, get out of the car while you wait for rides to come in.

4. Seek Medical Advice

If you stress levels are so high that self-help does not ease the problems, you should seek professional care from your doctor or local clinic. Don’t be afraid to ask. Stress is a very common and growing problem. Before it totally overwhelms you, take further measures to keep it in check.