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The Stress-Busting Secrets of Off-Roading
For all walks of life, it’s been a stressful year dominated by uncertainty, grief, and the ever-present anxiety about whether we’ll ever get back to a semblance of life as we knew it before. In so many ways, life this year felt like it was on pause. But in many others, it plowed forward whether we were mentally ready for it or not. Work got done. Holidays passed. And the kids continued to grow up a little too fast.
During this time of unprecedented social distance, cars have been a source of stability and sanctuary. From the safety of our vehicles, we’ve been able to go to the movies, receive COVID tests, wish recent graduates well, keep some holiday traditions alive, and do some precious normal things like going out for ice cream after dinner. Cars have always been associated with feelings of freedom, control, and escape. They’re feelings we’re craving now more than ever.
Defined as “a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations,” mindfulness is commonly used as a preventative and therapeutic technique. But it’s one that most adults find difficult to get the hang of at first. It takes some practice. Or, perhaps just a driver’s license.
For most drivers, getting behind the wheel requires a similar state of calm and focus. To successfully drive a vehicle, you have to be aware of your surroundings in the present moment, while allowing your thoughts, feelings, and sensations to come and go, so as not to deter you from the task at hand. In the right conditions, driving can act as a shortcut to mindfulness. No practice, guides, or floor cushions required.
On the surface, mindfulness seems like too small a tool for handling life’s big problems. But its practice adds up and comes with big consequences, big benefits, and a big growing body of science backing it up as a tool worth keeping in anyone’s garage. All while scientists continue to grapple with how and how much it helps. No one can deny, it’s helping people across the world deal with the mental and physical stresses of daily modern life.
Over millennia, our minds and nervous systems evolved to make sense of the natural world. On an evolutionary scale, it was only very recently that screens and machines took over most of our day-to-day lives. When we spend time in nature, we re-enter the environment we were meant to be in. This has a world of indescribable benefits — and an emerging body of research attempting to make sense of them.
In addition to helping us feel good, time spent with nature is associated with bringing balance to our emotional regulation systems as well as the nervous system’s control over bodily functions and organs, including the heart. Greater life satisfaction, lower rates of anxiety, improved vitality, sense of calm and joy, increased creativity, and pro-social behaviors have also been tied to time spent in nature. Most of these benefits come with simple exposure to natural spaces and offer us another shortcut to more mindful living.
What do you get when you combine the stress-relieving powers of driving and nature? Off-roading. Off-roading is often done recreationally — to simply enjoy the open trail — but it also has a therapeutic side. This idea is by no means new. For years, off-roading has been explored as a non-clinical therapeutic activity for veterans recovering from injury and service-related psychological stress.
It’s a formula that could help anyone. Off-roading offers you the opportunity to distance yourself from the sources of your day-to-day stress. With distance comes a different perspective. Things feel bigger and more important when you’re cloistered inside with them all day. Getting away physically can help you get away mentally. When you get home, your problems will still be there. But the version of yourself that comes home can look at them with fresher, clearer eyes.
Prepare your vehicle. If you need to, clean out your car. Make it a comfortable place where you feel calm and safe. Make sure you’re running proper off-roading tires for tough terrain. You don’t want a flat messing with your zen. Find the ideal tires for any terrain right here.
Start Slow. Especially if you’re new to off-roading, start with basic trails without any tricky obstacles or crossings involved. Building up your skills over time is part of the journey and the fun.
Don’t get lost. A successful off-road trip requires a bit of planning beforehand. Finding the right trails and making sure you don’t veer off onto a landscape not meant for driving is vital. Information sources vary. The ideal off-roading trail map didn’t exist, so BFGoodrich® Tires built one.
Find a crew. Off-roading clubs are everywhere, and some of them are geared specifically towards the stress-busting, therapeutic nature of it. To find a group near you check out one of these club directories.
Take it in. To really soak in the natural benefits of your off-road day, remember to hop out of your vehicle for a while to take in the view, the sounds, and the fresh air.
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