Stress, Distracted Driving, and Frontline Workers

Vanessa Jerusalimiec
Vanessa Jerusalimiec

There are many factors that are used to determine your car insurance premium, including your age, where you live, the type of vehicle you drive, and your driving record. Your profession also affects your car insurance premiums. Professionals who work in high-stress environments, such as health care workers and first responders, make more insurance claims than the average driver and may have higher insurance premiums. Frontline workers spend their days in chaotic work environments and often get behind the wheel feeling stressed. This distracted driving causes more at-fault accidents, causing car insurance premiums to go up. Reducing at-fault accidents not only prevents post-accident rate hikes but can lead to safe driver discounts.

Health care workers and first responders are under a lot of stress as they battle to save lives every day, but especially so during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re a frontline worker, stress management is more important than ever before, especially when it comes to safe driving. Doctors, surgeons, and other health care workers are twice as likely to make an at-fault insurance claim than the general population, and distracted driving plays a big part in this high rate of accidents. Reducing stress levels during the day can help you stay focused and avoid distractions at all costs. 

How to Reduce Stress

For health care workers, stress management can be a crucial strategy for handling emergencies. A recent study found that frontline workers providing care to suspected COVID-19 patients have a high risk of experiencing mental health outcomes like anxiety, distress, and depression. While some of these tips may seem obvious, it can be hard to practice self-care in the face of so many external pressures. But incorporating them into one’s routine can benefit more than just your stress levels. 

Self-Care Basics

  • Nutrition: When you’re stressed and tired, it’s easy to reach for an energy drink, or skip a meal altogether. Take the time to eat healthy meals with a variety of vegetables, grains, and lean meats. You’ll feel better, have more energy, and work more effectively.
  • Rest: Getting adequate rest is a self-care basic that often gets overlooked. A good night’s sleep of seven to nine hours will improve energy, and give you more mental clarity at work. Prioritize sleep, and find ways to calm your mind before going to bed. Whether you take some deep breaths, meditate, or listen to calming music, find an evening routine that will help you achieve peaceful slumber.  
  • Stay active: Many health care workers and first responders lead very active lives and need to prioritize rest when not at work. However, if you’re a first responder with a stressful desk job, it’s important to stay active, and get up and move, especially if you work 12-plus-hour shifts at your desk. Find time for physical activity by stretching during your work breaks, or taking the stairs at least once a day.
  • Talk it out: As a health care worker, you might spend hours of your day listening to others’ needs, but it’s equally important for you to take the time to talk to someone else about what’s on your mind. This stress management technique can help you release pent-up frustration, fear, and anxiety. Prioritize regular check-ins with your therapist,  a supervisor or mentor, with trusted family and friends, or through your faith.

Starting the Day Prepared

Effective stress management can begin the moment you wake up. Before you open your eyes, you may be thinking about the stressful day ahead, as well as concerns about your patients. This mental strain can wear you down before you reach work, so we’ve compiled stress management tips you can incorporate in the early hours of the day. 

  • Exercise: Whether you do a full workout, a quick yoga routine, or go for a walk around the block, start the day with some form of movement. Physical activity reduces the body’s stress hormones, so even a low-impact routine will be beneficial to your mental health. 
  • Proper nutrition: After exercising, consider preparing a hearty breakfast, even if you’re not feeling hungry. A quick coffee fix won’t give you enough energy to tackle the day, so be preemptive in your stress management. 
  • Getting to work: Do you drive to work every day? If traffic gets you stressed, or you find yourself driving while distracted, take this into consideration when you plan your commute. Ask for a ride, or try to give yourself extra time to reach work.
  • Shift planning: Before you leave the house, take some time to plan your shift. Identify the main stressors of the day, and mentally prepare for them. Make sure you can also set realistic expectations for yourself to avoid burnouts. 
  • Consumption of media: If reading the news or scrolling through social media sites is making you feel stress, try to balance your consumption. Set aside a specific time to read the news and tune them out for the rest of the day once you’re done. 

Managing Stress During the Day

Learning how to manage stress during the day is critical for frontline workers. Each demanding shift goes by in a blur, with constant demands on time, energy, and headspace that can increase stress and anxiety.

  • Keep a clear perspective: When you go through a stressful day, reflect on why you became a health care worker, and don’t lose sight of how essential your role is during the pandemic. Remember that through your efforts, lives are being saved. 
  • Lean on coworkers: Seek out coworkers you connect with and let your team be a source of social support. You can lean on coworkers when you’re feeling overwhelmed, for example, and take a break to engage with them. 
  • Express appreciation: Don’t forget to celebrate successes. Take some time to express appreciation for a coworker who’s working through the unpredictability of the job at hand. And at the end of your shift, reflect on something positive that happened during the day.
  • Take breaks: It’s impossible to manage stress if you never stop working. Take breaks when you need to and remember that making time to destress allows you to stay focused at work.  
  • Relaxation techniques: You can still do some short mindfulness exercises or relaxation techniques when you’re in the trenches. Whether you pause a moment to take a deep breath, or practice meditation during your break, use relaxation on the job to lower your stress and stay calm at work.

Reducing Stress Before Driving

If you get behind the wheel while stressed, you could increase the chance of driving while distracted, getting into an accident, and filing an at-fault insurance claim. So here are a few practices that can help alleviate stress before you turn on the car. 

  • Structured breathing: Find a quiet spot to sit, such as the break room, or the back seat of your car. Spend a few minutes listening to a guided meditation, or practice diaphragmatic breathing. Sit in an upright posture, with both your feet on the ground. Breathe in deeply over four counts, then breathe out over eight counts. As your breathing becomes deeper, your heart rate will slow, your mind will calm, and you’ll be able to focus on driving.
  • Brain dump: If your mind is racing with things that happened during your shift, journal for five minutes before driving. You can write down, or type on your phone, anything that comes to mind, and don’t worry if your sentences jump between topics. This exercise can help you not overthink while you’re driving. 
  • Quick burst exercise: Another great five-minute stress management technique is a quick burst of exercise to release stress and calm your mind. Run up the stairs at the end of your shift, do a few push-ups before changing out of your work clothes, or try doing some jumping jacks in the parking lot to get rid of stressful energy. 

Reducing Stress While Driving

It’s easy for stressful thoughts to creep back in while you’re driving. If you’re heading home during rush hour traffic, other drivers on the road may cause your cortisol levels to spike. Whether you’re on a crowded interstate or in stop-and-go traffic in the congested downtown core, don’t drive distracted, and practice these stress management techniques while driving.

  • Commute time: Planning ahead can save you a lot of stress. Try to leave the house early to avoid worrying about time or identify less congested routes to work. Long commutes can be uncomfortable, so wear light-weight, breathable clothes when driving, and keep the temperature cool to reduce stress.
  • Cautious driving: If you feel your stress levels rising, pull off to the side of the road and practice some stress management techniques. Once you’ve calmed down, you’ll be more aware of dangers on the road and will predict the movement of the cars around you. 
  • Choose the right soundtrack: A great way to reduce stress while driving is to listen to something you enjoy, like soothing music, or a podcast that brings a smile to your face. But avoid turning up the volume too loud, since this could make it harder to hear a vehicle honking, or an emergency siren coming towards you.

The Bottom Line

With the novel coronavirus the demand for health care is rampant. Frontline workers are working longer shifts and are being exposed to health risks every day. As health care professionals battle the pandemic, practicing stress management before driving to or from work, is more important than ever. We should all do our part in helping frontline workers reduce their stress levels by showing them gratitude for their continued efforts in the face of this global pandemic. Also, help keep your loved one safe by following social distancing guidelines and wearing protective equipment whenever possible to slow down the spread of COVID-19.