Mindful Driving: Simple Intentions for Coping with Stress on the Road

[Written by contributing writer Amy Tarczynski.]

Mindfulness. Perhaps you know about it, or maybe it’s that term you have heard thrown around in your yoga class. If you’re not yet familiar, it’s a simple concept. Basically, it’s about bringing your attention to the current moment and simply recognizing what is going on around you and in your mind.

A young woman practicing mindful driving behind the wheel.

Mindful driving: focused on the driving task, the environment, and the driver’s own reactions.

Anyone who wants to learn about the practice, or realize some of the holistic health benefits that come with it, could read books full of 8-week plans, enroll in a class, or take up meditation as a daily routine. But ever since I learned about mindfulness, I have wondered if there’s a shortcut application—a way I can leverage some of the beneficial aspects of mindfulness in my own life without having to think about it all the time. It turns out that’s the great thing about the practice—you can do it anytime, anyplace. All it requires is awareness.

I discovered that driving is the perfect setting for practicing mindfulness. It started when just a few months into getting my license, I was in a car accident–with a parked car. Rushing to a job interview, I tried to parallel park by pulling FORWARDS into a spot, inevitably bumping into the innocent car next to me. Oops. I was able to leave a note for the driver and speak to her when I returned after my meeting, but my mistake still weighed on me. Later on, I realized that the stress of rushing to the interview and frantically searching for parking had demanded so much of my attention that it had clouded my driving ability.

We deal with stress each day while driving. Most of the time, pressures like traffic, bad drivers, and even parked cars present unavoidable little tests to our abilities. The question is, how can we respond to these challenges without becoming blind to our own mental strain?

My response has been to become more aware of my own natural response to everyday troubles on the road. Again, mindful driving is such a simple intention that you could almost call it “mindfulness-lite.” I am merely making a point to take conscious notice of my automatic reactions. Granted, I may be more of a worrywart than most. But take it from someone who constantly gets nervous on the road—simply noticing your own stress when it arises helps you prevent it from getting the better of you (and in case you saw my last post, it helps you avoid texting and driving too).

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