While driving, one of the most important skills you can exercise is remaining calm. It may not seem like it, but your emotional disposition can have a major effect on your safety while driving. Plus, if you’re ever involved in a car accident, staying calm and following logical reasoning can help you take appropriate action, and increase the likelihood of getting the compensation you deserve.
The question is, how can you stay calm even under the most stressful conditions?
The Importance of Staying Calm
Remaining calm can help you in several distinct ways:
- Avoiding road rage. Road rage is incredibly dangerous, yet it’s distressingly common. When someone unexpectedly cuts you off, or nearly hits you because they were speeding, it’s natural to get riled up. But when you’re operating a massive vehicle at high speeds, even minor changes to your driving patterns can put you (and other drivers) at much higher risk of an accident. Aggressively following the driver, or attempting to get them back, could result in losing control of the vehicle.
- Resisting the urge to overcorrect. One of the most common causes of accidents, especially during periods of inclement weather, is overcorrection. Something small interferes with your normal driving experience, such as a minor slip or skid. Then, instead of responding appropriately, you panic, steering too hard or braking too fast, which results in a collision. In these cases, it’s almost always better to remain levelheaded.
- Staying focused on the road. Staying calm helps you stay focused. Rather than wrestling with distracting thoughts or letting your emotions control where you look, you’ll stay fixated on the details that matter.
- Thinking logically and staying safe. During and after an accident, thinking clearly can be of enormous help. You may be tempted to react immediately, but if you stay calm, you’ll think through your decisions and generally, take a safer course of action.
- Acting and speaking coherently. After an accident, tempers can flare, but it’s important you remain calm and speak politely and coherently. This can keep other drivers involved in a calm state of mind, and will make you look more sensible and reliable when you inevitably file a police report.
How to Stay Calm
These benefits are uncontroversial, but most people can’t simply flip and internal switch and suddenly become calm. So what strategies can you use to stay calmer in intense situations while you’re driving?
- Take deep breaths. Taking deep breaths is a useful strategy in the moment, and for multiple reasons. First, it demands your attention, helping you stave off distracting thoughts or emotional urges. It also forces you to flood your brain with oxygen, which can be both soothing and more conducive to rational thought. It’s tough to remember to take deep breaths when you’re slipping on ice or when someone rear-ends you, but if you can do it, you’ll be much more likely to take control of the situation.
- Use counting exercises. Similarly, you can use counting exercise to pull your mind away from problematic thoughts and emotions. Simply count, in your head or out loud, from 1 to 10 (and beyond if you need to). By the time you finish, you’ll forget whatever was upsetting you or causing you to panic.
- Practice mindfulness meditation. This one takes more consistent work, but it’s worth it. Practicing mindfulness meditation is all about focusing on the present moment, ignoring and/or letting go of all other thoughts in that moment. It’s tricky to get the hang of it, especially if you’ve never tried it before, but 15 minutes a day, when done consistently, can help you achieve a new frame of mind. If you practice consistently enough, you’ll have far greater emotional and cognitive resilience, which will help you stay calm whenever you drive.
- Avoid problematic times and areas. If you notice particular trigger points or problematic situations while driving, try your best to avoid them. For example, if rush hour always causes you to lose your temper, consider staying at work a bit longer and leaving during a calmer period. If you’re scared of driving in winter weather, try to find an alternative means of travel during major storms.
- Create a more pleasant atmosphere. You can also work to create a more enjoyable atmosphere inside your car, calming yourself naturally. For example, you may play easygoing music at a low volume instead of loud, aggressive music, or you may install an air freshener with your favorite scent.
If you follow these strategies, you should be able to remain calmer and more focused while driving. It may take some practice to learn how to calm your anxieties or manage building frustrations from traffic, but with time, you’ll perfect the art.