For many people, driving can induce a lot of stress. Let’s face it, no one likes to be in the middle of a congested traffic, and whenever we do get caught in one, we eagerly anticipate the moment when we can finally step out of our cars once and for all upon reaching home.
Although driving can be mentally dreadful, especially if you live in a car-centric city such as Kuala Lumpur (where I live), it can actually work in the opposite direction under the right set of circumstances. In fact, one recent study carried out by the University of California, Los Angeles, found that motorcycle riding can offer the same stress relief benefits as heading to the gym.
Since I got my driving licence many years ago, leisurely night drives have become a routine for me, especially when I am not feeling like myself or when I need time alone. Over time, I discovered several reasons why going for leisurely drives has helped me combat some of my difficult times and learned how to do it without jeopardising other drivers’ safety.
Given the nature of our world that seems to favour overcomplicating things, I would like to take this window of opportunity to share them with you and how you can go about doing it yourself safely.
1. You Will Have Alone Time To Clear Your Mind
At times, when the pressures of work and the overall stressors of life become too overwhelming, the best remedy is to retreat and spend some time alone. This is especially relevant if you reside in a densely populated area, where privacy and peace seem hard to find, if not non-existent.
A study has shown that solitude can offer an endless amount of mental health benefits. If you live in a large city like Kuala Lumpur, owning a car might be an expensive commitment (especially when the inflation rate outpaces the minimum wage by a significant degree). However, it offers a means of escape that is more secluded and less stressful than public transportation.
2. A Change Of Scenery Can Alleviate Your Stress
When going through a period of stress, simply changing our environment can deliver more benefits than you can imagine.
The bliss derived from the simple act of driving leisurely at night can be especially stress-alleviating if your workplace serves as a source of physical fatigue and mental anxiety.
If your workplace is indeed one of your main stress inducers, then driving away from the location provides you with a buffer between you and the things plaguing your mind at work. Quite literally, temporarily running away from the inherent problems with your responsibilities can be good for you. Just make sure you return to work in one piece.
3. It Is An Ideal Place To Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a form of meditation in which we pay attention to our surroundings and the present moment to be better attuned with our senses, thoughts and emotions. As a result, we would feel a heightened sense of alertness and relaxation. Typically, such results are best achieved in a silent (almost), solo space, which a car can provide.
If you can, utilise the time while driving to practice mindfulness. It can manifests in many forms, from intentional breathing to practising gratitude. What I usually do is I would mentally take note of all the things I am blessed with, ranging from my good health to the unconditional love of my family members and friends.
4. You Would Not Be Tempted To Spend Time On Your Smartphone
Our smartphones have helped us in more ways than one, but they can also be the origin of our stresses. Many of us have this obsessive behaviour of interacting with our pocket devices, whether it is to check the time, pass the time, or make us feel less awkward when we are all alone on a busy street.
Moreover, we seem to have this strong need to check our email frequently and respond to messages from our family, friends and colleagues immediately. When combined with the negative effects of social media on our mental health, it signifies that spending time away from the screens can be a healthy act.
Take every second of your leisurely drives to unglue your eyes from your smartphone. Instead, pay attention to the scenery right in front of you. Listen deeply to the tunes coming out of the car’s speakers. Focus on the sensations around you. By the time you exit your vehicle, you’d find yourself in a calmer state than before.
5. Listening To Music While Driving Can Be Therapeutic
Whether it is your favourite “Piano Background” playlist on Spotify or a storytelling podcast you enjoy listening to, each of us has something that is our go-to play when we need to wind down, and there is no better time to seize the opportunity than when you are cruising down the highway at night.
One study revealed that listening to music while driving successfully maintained the participants’ mood. Additionally, researchers in that study showed that the respiration rate lower for those who listened to music than those who did not, signifying a deeper state of relaxation.
Final 2¢: Regardless Of How You Tackle Stress, Safety First
As listed above, driving can be an exhilarating method to tone down stress levels. However, that does not mean you should be relaxed to the point where you are not alert behind the steering wheel. Always keep your eyes open for the following signs that you might be enjoying yourself too much.
- Being relaxed and being sleepy are two different states. If you sense that you are zoning out or experiencing microsleeps, pull over and take a break. If you cannot remember what you did 30 seconds ago, then it is probably time for you to head home and call it a night.
- Avoid reaching for your phone too frequently. I understand that once a particular playlist or podcast does not bring you soothing comfort, you are tempted to change things up by moving to another playlist or podcast. Typically, that would require you to reach out for your phone. However, doing so while you are at speed on the road can be a dangerous stunt. My advice for you here would be to either turn on whatever you are listening to before you start your journey and allow it to play throughout, or fidget with the music control only when you stop at a traffic light junction.