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The mental health benefits of driving

10/18/2022

The mental health benefits of driving

The open road can have a lot of introspective and healing qualities. Take Neil Peart, the drummer of the rock band Rush.

In the late '90s, Peart drove throughout North and Central America. Over the course of 14 months and 55,000 miles, Peart contemplated his life after the sudden deaths of his wife and daughter. On the road, he found a certain solace and eventually wrote in his memoir:

"Travel has always been known as a soothing balm. I was so stirred up that my little baby soul would only be soothed by motion," Peart writes. "[I]t was landscapes, highways, and wildlife that revitalized me."

A lot of people have had similar experiences to Peart as they drive — driving has a certain therapeutic quality to it, but what are the specific benefits of being behind the wheel? Let's go over three standouts.

Driving provides a space to think alone
Researchers have found that driving is a beneficial place for introspection and quiet.

"It's long been [recognized] that the modern car is a sort of cocoon in which you can be alone with your thoughts," says Professor Lynne Pearce of Lancaster University.

This isolation, deliberate time spent alone, can help drivers focus on the present moment. Concentration on the road can help drivers feel more focused, at ease, and in tune with thoughts and emotions, and can lead to rejuvenation.

A chance to unplug from devices
In a world full of screens and radio waves, driving is a great opportunity to look at the physical world around us without the pressure of a missed notification on your smartphone. You can reconnect with the planet like Peart did by being present and undeterred by the demands of social media or phone calls, even if only for a few minutes.

Stress relief
If you're feeling overwhelmed, driving can provide a change of environment and separate you from your issues, like other mindful activities such as yoga, meditation, and running.

"Automotive psychologists have shown that the cognitive demands of driving preoccupy the brain in ways that calm anxieties," Pearce explains.

If you have been churning major decisions over in your mind, driving may help you reach a more definitive solution. Or you can get valuable time back to just relax.

Driving is a chance to connect again with yourself, outside of the stresses of life, and can help you sort out what you want out of your life after setbacks or challenges. Whether you're suffering or frustrated, getting behind the wheel in a professional capacity can help in these distinct ways.

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