Mindfulness behind the wheel

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving claimed 3,477 lives in 2015. In addition, there were 620 gun-related road rage incidents in 2016. The statistics are sobering, even frightening, but according to Dave Johnson, PhD, RN, LMFT, employee assistance specialist, the solution could be as simple as coming to our senses.

Mindfulness means turning to our intentional, attentional, sensory awareness. It’s about tuning into how we’re feeling and witnessing what’s happening in the moment. It’s about coming off of autopilot. How many times have you arrived at your destination and not been able to recall the drive there? That’s because you were in your thinking/over-thinking brain. You weren’t present.

The cues to tune in are all around us when we drive. When you hear the start of the engine, pause and set your intention, to arrive safely and be kind to other drivers. Turn you phone off. Turn your radio off. Take a moment to adjust your mirrors. Cue into your senses; How does the steering wheel feel under your fingers? What does the car smell like? Crack the window. Do you feel a gentle breeze or the crisp fall air?

Tune into yourself as you drive, as well. Are you speeding up? Going into a daze? Notice that quickening. Be cognizant of your physical reactions and how they distract you from your intention to arrive safely. Coming to your senses in this way sets off a cascade of awareness and eliminates stress and that primitive “fight” response. It allows you to go to curiosity instead of anger.

The anonymity of other drivers – the fact that there are vehicles between you and you can’t see into their eyes – allows us to react to them in ways we wouldn’t in normal circumstances. Turn to compassion, instead. Wave to thank people, let them out on a busy traffic day. Practice your response and leave the car feeling refreshed. Exploring this practice will improve your emotional intelligence and goodwill on the road.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction practice has been extensively researched and proven helpful for coping with changes, grief, healthy eating patterns, pain, anxiety, depression and many other chronic disease and autoimmune disorders. For more on stress management programs or 1:1 stress coaching with Dr. Dave, contact the Parkview Center for Healthy Living at (260) 672-6500. He also provides on-site guidance for team-building, emotional intelligence, and transformational leadership, among other topics. To learn more about Employees Assistance Programs for your company, or enroll in our upcoming seminar, Leadership During Crazy Times: The Zen of Renewal through Mindfulness, call Parkview Business Development at (260) 373-9013.

Read more from Dr. Dave:
The power of walking meditation
Bringing mindfulness into your home
How to make meal time an exercise in mindfulness

Follow Dr. Dave.
Facebook: Invisible Inklings
Twitter: @davejohnson2

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