Nervous about the post-holiday commute? Here’s how to make your drive easier

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The holidays are over and it’s back to work for most Canadians on Monday.

And for many, that means braving congested roads, snowy weather, construction and of course – other drivers.

It’s “very common” for people to feel stressed about driving, said Christine Wickens, an independent scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health who studies driver behaviour. According to research, things like having a neurotic or aggressive personality, driving on an urban road instead of a country highway, and traffic can influence driving behaviour.

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Angelo DiCicco, director of operations at Young Drivers of Canada’s advanced driving centre, said that holiday driving – with its quiet roads and mall parking lots – is different from the regular commute, and getting back into driving after a break can be rough. “Once you go back, that first week back is crazy because people have either forgotten or are a lot more rusty.”

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Here’s how to prepare.

Leave yourself lots of time

Time is one of the biggest factors that lead to stress about driving or even aggressive driving behaviour, Wickens said.

“When people are trying to get to their destination on time that can make what would really be a very minor annoyance into something that’s quite extreme and quite anger-provoking.”

Similarly, encountering unexpected congestion or an accident that stops you from reaching your goal is frustrating, she said.

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While you can’t predict everything, one solution is simple: leave yourself plenty of time to get to work.

“One of the recommendations I always make to people is really give yourself as much time as you can. Because that will help to minimize minor things becoming big things.”

Pay attention to your mood

Lots of things affect how you drive, but your mood is one of the big ones, Wickens said. “A lot of the experiences or frustrations or stresses that you have in other parts of your life can transfer from one environment to another.

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“So if you had a conflict with somebody at home, if you’ve got a frustration at home, that easily can impact how you experience your commute.”

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Thinking about work doesn’t help, according to DiCicco.

“You know that there’s two reports waiting on your desk that you didn’t finish before vacation started. You know they’re waiting there for you. Half of your brain is on that.”

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That anxiety about work will transfer to your driving and influence your actions and how you perceive your fellow commuters, he said.

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“People tend to forget that driving is an actual physical expression of the way you’re seeing the world right now at this moment.”

DiCicco’s solution is mindfulness. “I see driving as meditation.”

If you’re paying attention to driving and everything around you, you shouldn’t have room for stress, he said. “Being in the moment, being 100 per cent present, you can’t be anxious.”

Wickens thinks that relaxation techniques – like deep breathing – that help you de-stress in your day-to-day life can also help behind the wheel. Putting on relaxing music or songs you know you will enjoy can help to improve your mood, she said.

Develop a routine

Having a routine that you do every time you drive can help you prepare mentally for the commute, DiCicco said. He recommends doing a “circle check” every time before you get into the car, to check for hazards like animals or toys under the wheels.

It’s not just about finding hazards, it’s about getting into the right frame of mind, he said. “It’s that respectful entrance into an environment of peace and tranquility.”

Circle check, brush off the snow, get into the car and buckle up, he said, and this will help you set your attention for the drive.

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“It’s so important to live in the present moment when you’re driving. It’s like Zen. It’s like meditation. Be here now, go with the flow. That’s what makes driving relaxing.”

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