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It’s true that sometimes, driving on urban roads in peak traffic can bring on negative thoughts and feelings such as stress, anxiety, frustration, and rage. The pressure we experience on busy roads is because we have so many factors to deal with besides driving. We’re on the clock, we’re rushed, there are so many places to get to, so many other people and other vehicles on the road, so many distractions inside your car… Yes, it’s understandable why driving is often associated with stress. But take that car out on the open road to an unplanned destination, and things change up substantially.
Why driving on the open road is relaxing
Psychologists and researchers say that driving alone for the sake of driving to nowhere in particular can help a person to relax. If you’ve ever driven a lengthy distance alone, you may have experienced it for yourself, and there are many reasons why.
- Contemplation – Left alone with your own thoughts with hardly another vehicle in sight for miles and miles, this ‘me-time’ is a time to unblock some creative juices.
- Change of scenery – Getting away from your usual environment and the humdrum of everyday activities is invigorating, and allows you to separate yourself from the things that cause you stress and anxiety.
- Mindfulness – Silent, solo driving can help you achieve a state of being, where, in the present moment, you are fully aware of your surroundings, yourself, and your actions, and allow yourself to acknowledge and accept. This practice helps clear your mind of clutter and can be a powerful relaxation technique.
“My car is my therapist, the drive my therapy.”
Why driving on the open road is good for the mind
In her book "Drivetime: Literary Excursions in Automotive Consciousness", the author, Lynne Pearce, explores the sorts of things we think about while driving and says that what we think about when we're driving is "nuanced, complex, and often highly personal" and that different types of driving inspire and promote different kinds of thought. For example, speed brings exhilaration and euphoria while cruising enables problem-solving.
There are several ways driving is good for mental health:
- Productivity – She also explains that the act of driving, besides being a complex, everyday task, also frees up parts of our brain to think productively. We allow ourselves to reflect and in turn we come out with useful insights.
- Mental distress – Driving can help alleviate mental distress because it gives the brain something else to focus on.
- Makes you smarter – Driving cultivates various skills such as the ability to focus, which helps to grow the brain’s grey matter. Performance depends on the ability to focus on one task at a time though, all the more reason to pay full attention to the road ahead – without distractions.
- Helps us think and problem-solve – Pearce says that by pre-occupying one part of the brain, driving helps to calm us down and think more calmly about our problems. This is why for many of us, driving is such a great ‘time-out’ for problem solving.
- Combats aging – Driving can boost cognitive function (perception, attention, memory, decision-making), stave off dementia, and according to a Columbia University study, may also halt the process of aging.
Alone time gives you the chance to think and recharge, and a long, peaceful cruise is one of the best ways to experience the pleasures of slowing down. So switch on the ignition, get on the open road, and just go cruising.
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