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Mental health benefits of driving and being behind the wheel

Driving has many benefits, giving a sense of independence, freedom and much-needed thinking space

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Driving can be great for the mind and a therapeutic escape, helping you unwind and gather your thoughts.

Being behind the wheel can help provide a sense of freedom, you won't be shocked to hear 62% of UK motorists say that they get behind the wheel just for fun.

We look at how being in the driving seat can improve your happiness levels and mental wellbeing.

Favours independence

One of the most obvious benefits of driving a car is that it provides you with an innate feeling of freedom.

Whether it be a soft-top coupé, a family SUV or a hybrid estate car, you can revel in the sheer pleasure of cruising through country roads and city streets, with the liberty to come and go as you please.

And when it comes to boosting your wellbeing, the advantages of being able to make your own choices of when and where to travel to shouldn’t be underestimated.

People who enjoy a sense of independence are less likely to experience stress or anxiety. This is because it allows them to feel in control and equipped to deal with challenges, which in turn can spark sentiments of self-belief and self-worth.

In fact, driving offers you the chance to help others too. With a car, you can easily take care of errands for family members or chauffeur your loved ones to school, parties or medical appointments.

Mental health expert Raf Hamaizia says: "Having a reliable and sustainable vehicle aids wellbeing by supporting people in doing what they want to do, as well as maintaining contact with friends and loved ones.”

Allows for thinking space

Many people find cooking, exercising, drawing and cleaning a way to free your headspace and unwind, and driving can have the same affect.

When our brain is busy performing a straightforward task, it’s often at its most creative, helping you devise new plans and ideas. This can help you reflect differently about things that have been on your mind for a while without distractions or interruptions.

As you drive, the brain’s central executive stays alert throughout, safely allowing for ample thinking time.

When you encounter a more challenging situation, such as congestion, a random object on the road or bad weather conditions, your brain will redirect your attention to the road in an instant.

Wellness expert Amanda Strowbridge says: "Sometimes when we are driving, especially on the motorway or on a route that we have driven many times before, we can go into what is known as an alpha state.

"This state of mind is when we are relaxed and thinking but not actively solving a problem. This is also the same as when we are hypnotised. We are totally relaxed but would very quickly become aware if there was a dangerous situation that needed our attention.”

Being at the wheel also provides a change of scenery, which can be refreshing and inspiring. The passing views and an open road can clear your mind, helping you find a new perspective on things.

Raf adds: “Particularly in more urban environments, having a vehicle enables the exploration of more rural communities and nature more generally, which research shows can protect against depression.

“Nature is so important to mental health that even watching documentaries on it can boost our mood, which is why it always feels so good taking the scenic route."

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Tackles loneliness

Driving can also be a good antidote to loneliness. If you live in an area with limited public transport, jumping in the driving seat of your own car can pave the way to social interaction.

Driving around enables you to get out and about easily, allowing you to attend social events, take part in community activities and visit friends and family.

Humans are social beings, so spending time with other people has a huge impact on your mental health. Social connectedness can bolster intellectual and emotional functions while also lifting your mood.

Not only that, but face-to-face contact favours the release of a mix of neurotransmitters that regulate feelings of unhappiness, stress and anxiety.