Stress at the wheel - Introduction

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When you get stressed in a traffic jam, your heart rate goes up. This is because, although you’ve got nowhere to go, your prehistorically programmed body interprets your agitation as impending confrontation.
When you get stressed in a traffic jam, your heart rate goes up. This is because, although you’ve got nowhere to go, your prehistorically programmed body interprets your agitation as impending confrontation.

The heart-rate increase is to pump all the extra adrenaline and sugars released into your blood stream to help your ‘fight or flight’.

However, according to the British Heart Foundation, a heart-rate rise without exercise is not healthy. Research shows that stress may contribute to coronary heart disease, and driving plays a part for the five million people in Britain the Government estimates feel ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ stressed by their work.

The immediate danger is that we’ll drive aggressively or turn a minor disagreement into a full-on road-rage incident. But the flipside is that we actually need some tension to help us concentrate on the road. If we’re too relaxed we doze off more easily, which is why the estimated one-in-10 accident rate involving sleepy drivers drops to one in five on monotonous roads such as motorways.

Our heart rate is a very good indication of stress levels on the road, with 60-70bpm a reasonably healthy rate and 80-85bpm unduly stressed (although it varies from person to person).

With this in mind we fitted two very different business drivers with heart-rate monitors to find out how they coped with a typical day’s road and traffic situation.

We asked them about specific peaks and troughs seen in their resulting graphs and compared their results with those of an office worker. Then we asked the experts to suggest ways of making business driving less stressful.

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