Sunday, May 25, 2008

Road Rules: How to stay Happy and Healthy on the Road: Part 1


I recently took a 1000 mile road trip in order to move from Colorado back to my desert home in Tucson. I took two vehicles, one of which was a 10 ft moving truck, half loaded with all my belongings, and my bike on the rack attached to my car. We had planned to do the trip in about 48 hrs, but naturally, as these things go, it took a little bit longer than expected. But, while on the road I learned and reconfirmed some tips for staying healthy and happy while traveling, especially in a multi-day road trip.

Driving is one of the most stressful events we undertake almost every day. Extended periods of driving at high speeds is in my opinion, even more so. The act of driving requires immense amounts of concentration, focus, the ability to multi-task, take in information about surrounding conditions and occurrences, assimilate them and then act appropriately to keep the car moving in the direction intended in a safe manner. All the while we are hardly aware of it, but our adrenals are pumping out adrenaline and cortisol, along with other stress hormones, to keep us ready for anything: swerving around an item in the road, avoiding an accident, or dealing with bad weather.

On our little trip south on I-25, we were driving a small moving truck, which was significantly larger than the little car we are used to operating. Plus it was full of our belongings. First we had rush hour traffic to deal with in Denver as we left town. (Yah, rush hour, I know. We just wanted to get OUT of where we were, and put some miles behind us.) Then a low pressure weather system in the west, which caused tornadoes not far from where we were living, snow in NM in May, and a temperature drop of 40 degrees F in Tucson, where we were headed, also included extremely high winds, gusting at 50-60 mph pretty much the whole way south through New Mexico and west in Arizona. For me in my little car, it wasn't too big a deal, but I still was on hyper alert, as the wind was buffeting me pretty hard. Behind me though, the little moving truck was like a sail in the wind, and the driver, already unfamiliar with the large vehicle, said it felt like a little boat being tossed about on the waves of the ocean. White knuckled and sweat pouring out of every pore, he was DEFINITELY under the influence of adrenaline and cortisol and stressed out to the max. We couldn't change the weather, but here's what we did to deal with the stress during the drive.

To stay happy:

  1. Get plenty of rest!

    Driving stressed out, for long periods of time is extremely exhausting to both body and mind. There is no way you'll be able to drive safely and make quick judgment calls on the road if you aren't at your best. We didn't drive more than about 6-7 hours on any day of our journey. We stopped for breaks regularly, and made sure we got plenty of sleep at night. We ended up staying in hotels with soft, comfortable beds in order to assure a good nights rest. After one particularly trying day of winds, traffic, construction and windy mountain roads, we stopped in Albuquerque at 5 pm, to avoid rush hour traffic, and got a room and took a much needed nap. My sweetie had been running from a VERY BIG TIGER in that truck. His adrenaline pumping like mad for hours on end, sweat pouring out every inch of his body. He passed out almost immediately when he hit the bed, and slept for a good hour and a half. Sometimes the BEST thing you can do to recover from that sort of a situation is to rest. The body is designed to deal with short bursts of stress, as if you were running from a tiger in the woods, and then rest and recuperate once out of harms way. Make sure to get the sleep you need while on a road trip. Stop and take a nap if you feel sleepy.

This also goes a long way in keeping you happy and allows you to get along better with your traveling partners. Stressed out and tired people make for cranky friends and passengers, and can really ruin what was supposed to be a fun trip. We both got plenty of sleep, and stayed civil and sweet to each other, and realized when we slipped up and got a bit cranky at the end, that we were just tired and stressed out, and needed to get some more rest.

  1. Take Nervine Herbs

    One of the best things we did while driving was to make sure we were taking plenty of relaxing, but not sedative, herbs to deal with stress. Had I been planning, we also would have been taking some nice adaptogenic and adrenal supportive herbs as well. I found Motherwort, Milky Oats, and Wood Betony all very helpful for the stress and tension of being on the road, for both me and my sweetie. You could probably choose any of your favorite non sedative nervines like blue vervain, pedicularis, St Johns wort etc.

    In addition, I'd recommend eulethero, licorice, schizandra and nettle seeds both during and after the trip to restore and nourish the adrenals after dealing with lots of stress. Tossing in a liver herb or two to help the liver process and eliminate stress hormones isn't a bad idea either, my favorites are turmeric, St Johns wort and dandelion.

    I also used a LOT of Rescue Remedy, the five flower essence for stress and trauma. My sweetie got a lot of it after driving the truck, and we included it in almost all of our drinks and water along the way.

  2. Remember to breathe!

    Another good way to deal with the stress is to breathe. Yah, I know, it sounds obviously, but I was amazed to find how many times while driving I was holding my breath, breathing very shallow, or completely tensed up. Take a few moments every so often to physically relax your shoulders and arms (no white knuckles), and take deep breaths, in for a count of 4 and out through the nose, for a count of four. This helps to clear the mind, relax the body, and bring awareness back to the task at hand. You can do this while driving, but do this when you stop for gas, or bathroom breaks as well. If you are doing this while on a break, make sure to stretch out your body as well, or do a few jumping jacks or run around the parking lot to get the blood flowing.

  1. Plan your trip wisely.

Some of lessons learned on this trip were from mistakes we made. One of those is planning our driving times poorly. We ended up leaving the house at 4 pm. Just in time to hit rush hour traffic in a major metropolitan area. Mistake. It made for a very stressful start to the trip. Plan your days wisely. Try not to drive through major traffic at rush hour, stop for dinner then and let the traffic pass you by. Choose your route carefully, maybe driving through the mountainous scenic route would be nice, but perhaps not the best choice in winter, or when driving a big moving truck or another vehicle not appropriate for those type of roads. Check the weather before you leave, and during the trip. Are they forecasting high winds, hailstorms or tornadoes, or even just heavy rain or snow? Sometimes you are on a schedule and traveling at those times can't be helped, other times it would be more than prudent to stay overnight some place and wait out the bad weather, stop early, or wait until things clear up to start your journey.

5)Make sure your vehicle is in good traveling condition.

I took my car in for a routine oil change before we got on the road, and to get the brakes done. ( I had been told at my last oil change that the back breaks needed to be replaced, so I went ahead and planned for that before the trip down to Arizona). While my car was being worked on, the friendly mechanics pulled the wheels off and discovered that one tire was worn to the threads on the inside due to a bad strut. That tire likely would have blown out while on the 1000 mile journey south. Needless to say I wasn't happy about the unexpected expenses to take care of that before the trip, but I'm infinitely more grateful that I discovered it before I drove and blew a tire on a windy, mountain road. Overall, getting the car checked out before traveling saved me a lot of worry and unneeded stress. I suggest you do the same.

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