Blaring horns, bumpy rides, law-breakers and skirmishes…Are road-related anxieties driving us nuts, asks SUDHA UMASHANKER

Our city roads are anything but pleasant freeways meant to take us safely to our destination. Irate and impatient drivers always-in-a-hurry road-users, deafening air horns, motorists and two-wheeler riders who engage in acts of dare-devilry, flouting rules without a qualm, make driving in the city stressful. Talking about stress caused by our chaotic roads, Dr. U. Gauthamadas, Professor of Psychiatry and Senior Consultant, Neuro Behavioural Medicine, Apollo Hospitals, says, “‘Fuzzy logic' driving is not the only stress-inducing factor. Stress is also caused by the sheer numbers of vehicles and a host of traffic violations. It takes a toll on health as you are at risk of developing cardio vascular disorders, hyperacidity and ulcers, asthma, suffering cognitive impairment (decreased power of attention and concentration), anxiety disorders and even reactive depression leading to decline in work performance.”

Dr. K. Latchumanadas, Senior Consultant Cardiologist, Madras Medical Mission, says, “There is no dearth of stressors on our roads — visual stressors (vehicles coming head-on with blinding lights), tactile stressors (potholes, ditches, damaged roads), and auditory stressors (honking vehicles). All these create tension.”

Impact on hearing

“Noisy traffic (honking in particular), called impact noise, can affect hearing,” says Dr. Mohan Kameswaran, Managing Director, Madras ENT Research Foundation. “It has a cumulative effect and over a few years could result in substantial damage. We must observe one day in a year as a ‘No Horn' day to create public awareness of how noise can damage hearing,” he feels. Points out Md. Shakheel Akhter, IPS, Additional Commissioner, Traffic, “The culture of honking is unique to India. Always remember that the person in front is as much in need of continuing his journey as you are; so, be patient.”

Environmental factors

Besides noise caused by traffic, there are other environmental factors that pile on stress. Take the summer heat, for example. The hotter it gets, the more aggressive those who endure it become. Overcrowded roads too can impose stress. Observes Dr. Gauthamadas, “Individuals often view their vehicles as an extension of their homes, and brook no intrusion into that private space.”

Many road users also use the roads to settle scores, often resorting to aggressive driving (competitive driving or showing off, excessive speed, prolonged and persistent bad driving and flouting the rules). Such aggression can have disastrous consequences.

Quoting a study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry on fatal accidents, Dr. Gauthamadas says it showed that in 20 per cent of the cases, the drivers had been involved in altercations within a six-hour period before their deaths.

Finally, what compounds stress is that almost everybody seems to be in a rush to reach their destination. While the count-down timers at intersections indicate that one should wait, impatient motorists drumming on the steering wheel or the driver in front whose gear doesn't engage or unexpected detours make the situation worse.

Keep your cool

Plan your trip

Start early to beat the rush-hour traffic

Practising deep breathing while on the road can help oxygenate the blood and release tension

Alternatively practise progressive muscular relaxation.

Regular meditation has a positive effect on the way you react to stress. As opposed to completely losing your cool when someone is honking you are more likely to be able to address the problem in a balanced frame of mind.

If you are playing music in the car, opt for soothing instrumentals, not stimulating music like rap or rock.

Cultivate patience while at the wheel.

Make sure you have had adequate sleep and are well rested before you hit the road.

Concentrate on the wheel.

Car pooling helps reduce the number of cars on the roads.

Educate people to follow rules and good driving habits.

Playing mental games such as counting the number of idiots on the road. It can reduce stress precipitated by their rude manoeuvres.