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If we’re going for understatement of the year, we’d say the last few months have been stressful for us all. But even before these unprecedented times, stress was a constant in most people’s daily lives.

The average adult claims to spend 12 hours 35 minutes feeling under stress over the course of a week. This equates to 655 hours over a year, which is approximately 27 days or almost an entire month of the year feeling stressed out.

In our latest report, we look at how time behind the wheel can alleviate stress and improve wellbeing, alongside other stress-busting techniques like exercise and digital detoxes. Download our latest report here
Our report was put together with Dr Sandi Mann, Chartered Psychologist and author of The Science of Boredom, and uses the findings of a nationally representative survey of 2,023 UK drivers (July 2020).

In the report, Dr Mann covers some of the preferred methods of effective stress management – including the positive benefits of driving, getting organised, avoiding social media and more. Download a free copy here.

Here, we take a closer look at how driving can help people manage stress.

Spotlight: Brits spend 12.5 hours per week feeling stressed

Our research looked at the top causes of stress in modern society, with lack of sleep (39%), financial struggles (32%) and issues with weight and fitness (27%) topping the list. Meanwhile, more than 1 in 4 (23%) say that mental health struggles cause them to feel stressed, whilst 22% say they struggle with social anxiety.

The Good Carma report shows the top ways in which adults choose to relieve stress, with nearly half (48%) saying they go for a walk, 32% turning to exercise, and 30% saying that listening to music or a podcast helps them to relax. The survey also found that as many as 59% of UK drivers would consider going out for a drive in order to reduce their stress levels and feel more relaxed, with 41% of these saying they have already used this stress-relieving technique in the past.

Driving can be a brilliant way to relieve stress and anxiety: it provides a form of escapism from real life, so people can clear their minds and simply focus on where they are heading to next, not what they are driving away from. So it’s no surprise that we’ve continued to see such high volumes of searches for on Auto Trader, particularly in the wake of lockdown, as people look to take back control and seek the benefits of driving.

Key findings

Being in the driving seat
Lockdown has caged some of our basic freedoms in a lot of ways. We’ve had to significantly change or entirely drop our routines to stay safe. And beyond that, we’ve been unsure of when, or if our businesses would re-open, when we’d see our loved ones again and face other equally significant stresses on top of the daily stress we’re used to.

Lockdown is starting to lift, but it’s not clear whether we’ll be going back – locally or more widely – and for how long.

As such, we have to find new ways of exerting a sense of control and feeling like we’re in charge of our own destiny, and driving is a great way to do that (and in a socially distant way).

Behind the wheel of a car, we can pick where we are going and when. We can control the speed of the car and decide when to stop and have a break. We can pick the music, set the temperature. We can sing at the top of our voices, or just watch the world zip by through the windscreen.

Normally, time spent in the car gives us transition time to process what has happened and prepare us for what is coming next.

As most of us work from home, and the rush from meetings to the (home) gym and into our evenings are reduced to a couple of rooms, getting out for a while and taking the time to decompress, process daily life and recharge ready for tomorrow makes that driving time more valuable than ever.
Owning our own space
A change of scenery is great for our sense of wellbeing, so it’s important this scenery is set up in the right way.

A clutter-free environment is far calmer than a busy one. When things are out of place and messy, this can transfer to how we feel about our lives – disordered and confusing.

And remembering you still have to tidy out the back seats and chuck those empty bottles and sandwich wrappers out every time you get in the car can quickly become a blocker to relaxing into your controlled environment.

Smells can be very evocative, so maintain that ‘showroom-fresh’ scent to remind yourself of the excitement of that new-car feeling.

Choose your music carefully and have a selection of genres for different moods. Many studies have proven the scientific benefits of music on stress so make the most of this when driving in your car.

Get the stress out on your terms – your car is your space, no-one else’s. If you want to scream out to some heavy metal, turn the volume up. If you want to simmer down to some classical music, pick a familiar route and relax your shoulders.

You can make the most of the outdoor environment too: coasting along at sunrise or sunset can bring a real feel-good factor, similar to driving with the top down or windows open in good weather.

In our survey, we asked about people’s preferred driving environments and, perhaps unsurprisingly, more natural landscapes took the top spots, including the countryside (48%), the coast (38%), forested areas (23%) and riverside roads (22%). Only 4% of drivers claimed to find city driving relaxing.
Relaxing in a familiar environment
There’s a benefit to taking familiar routes. We are primed to seek out novelty, and get a dopamine hit in our brains when we see or experience something new. But dopamine is addictive and the more we get, the more we crave. This means that we’re constantly seeking more novelty, which means that we feel bored with a slower pace of life.

We can get out of this pattern by introducing less novelty and lessening our need for a dopamine hit.

Taking a familiar drive, slowing down the pace of life, makes it easier to cope without constant stimulation – which in turns means you won’t get bored as easily. The less you need stimulation and dopamine, the less likely you are to get bored and restless.

For more insights into how you can break out of your bad habits and reduce stress and boredom levels,

Download our free report into the psychology of driving.