In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask our experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics. In our July/August 2012 issue, we asked WebMD's mental health expert, Patricia Farrell, PhD, about diminishing road stress on long-distance car trips.
Q: I'm traveling cross-country this summer and anticipating long hours in the car. What can I do to stay safe and sane?
A: Driving long distance presents all sorts of potential hazards. The trick? Plan your trip carefully -- where and when you'll go, and how you'll take care of yourself on the road.
Don't get drowsy. A 2010 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that 16.5% of all fatal car accidents are caused by driver drowsiness. Get enough shut-eye before and during your trip. Watch for warning signs while you're driving: yawning repeatedly, having difficulty keeping your eyes open, or not being able to remember the past few miles. Find a safe place to take a nap if needed.
Back up your spine. To prevent lower-back pain on the road, use a lumbar support pillow. Make sure you're not sitting too far away from the pedals and steering wheel. Take lots of breaks from driving.
Breathe deep. Use "relaxation breathing" to counter stress. Simply breathe in through your nose, hold it for a count of five, and then breathe out through your mouth. Do this at least three times, drawing your attention to the position of your shoulders and ribs. If you still feel wound up, stop and rest.