Scientists discovered that not only could rats be taught how to drive tiny rodent operated vehicles (ROVs), but through the learning process the fur-faced participants actually experienced lowered stress levels.
The study, which was carried out by researchers from the Department of Psychology at the University of Richmond in Virginia, USA, revealed a healthier stress hormone balance across all participants, in a pattern consistent with an improvement in self-efficacy and emotional resilience.
It is fitting that the theme for International Stress Awareness Week 2019 is ‘Resilience: the power to succeed’, with the International Stress Management Association highlighting the need to cultivate the skills to succeed through ongoing challenges.
How then can we apply the findings of the above-mentioned study to our human experience, to help us cultivate the skills we need to get a handle on our reaction to and engagement with real-life challenges on real-world roads?
Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa offers the following tips and advice:
Change your mindset
Stressing about the unavoidable, the inevitable, and all the things which are out of your control – like rush hour traffic, congestion caused by accidents, faulty traffic lights, or bad weather – is a waste of energy.
Instead of expending all that valuable energy on futile anger and frustration, change your perspective, and learn to channel your focus on things that relax or energise you instead.
Remember, it’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.
Breathing exercises can help you stay focused and feeling calm. The one-to-one technique – breathing in and out for the same count with the same intensity – can be very effective. Deep, measured breaths facilitate full oxygen exchange, helping to slow down the rate of your heartbeat and stabilise blood pressure, as opposed to shallow breathing, which doesn’t send enough air to the lowest part of your lungs, causing you to feel anxious and short of breath.
Just always keep your eyes on the road, and take care to ensure you’re not so busy counting breaths that your concentration is compromised.
Theatre of the mind
Being stuck in traffic usually aggravates us because it feels like a huge waste of time. But like a wise man once said, time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. Listening to an audiobook or a podcast can not only be entertaining, but also educational, which is a brilliant use of your time.
If you think of your car as a ‘learning lab’, a mobile university of sorts, and your time spent inside as a way to exercise your brain and grow intellectually, you may even find yourself wishing for a traffic jam so you have an excuse to carry on listening.
“Semi-autonomous and driver assist technology are designed to make the time we spend on the road safer and less stressful,” says Kuda Takura, smart mobility specialist at Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa. “Ford uses human-centric design to deliver vehicles that are inviting, accommodating, and intuitive.”
“For example, our SYNC 3 infotainment system offers nifty, hands-free functions, like allowing drivers to listen to their text messages, change music or climate settings, and make phone calls easily with voice control,” he says. “And our range of in-built tech features, like Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection, and Semi-Auto Active Park Assist make a huge difference to a driver’s sense of confidence as they often have to navigate less than ideal conditions on the roads.”
Ford is fully aware of the increasing demands of our fast-paced modern world, and the need for greater personal health, wellness, and lifestyle support.
Life EHS, which runs the automaker’s employee wellness programme, assists its workers, at all levels, in dealing with personal and work-related matters. Everyone has access to an on-site therapist, as well as a 24/7 care centre which offers psychosocial counselling, and financial, legal, and health advice. There are also stress management plans, coaching, and wellness training designed to equip employees with the skills they need to effect meaningful change and improve their lives.
Similar but different
It is important to understand that poor mental health and mental illness are not the same thing. Just because you’re experiencing poor mental health, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a mental illness, and vice versa.
It is also important to understand that mental and physical health are linked. When your mental health is affected, often as a result of too much or prolonged stress, it generally affects your physical health as well, and this can become a vicious circle.
Symptoms of poor mental health can manifest in many ways, including psychological, emotional, and behavioural.
The good news is that poor mental health (and mental illness) can be managed and treated, and you can still strive for wellness, even if you are experiencing stress in your life. If you or a loved one are feeling overwhelmed and struggling to cope, please seek professional help.