What is stress?
The word stress has become part of our everyday language with people using it to describe themselves, work or modern life. We often see different reports telling us stress is bad for us or that some stress is good for us. Different people seem to experience varying levels of stress in the same situations, making it confusing to work out what triggers a stress response and what feeling stressed means for different people.
Stress is experienced when a person perceives that they are not able to cope with the demands of a situation or task that is important to them and has four different stages.
1. Situation or task - let's take a learner driver negotiating their first roundabout as an example. The driver has to learn how to approach the roundabout safely, be aware of other road users, position the car correctly, judge the correct speed, mirrors, signals, brakes, clutch control, steering etc. It can be a lot to learn and remember!
2. Perception - the learner driver will perceive whether there is a gap or not between their own ability and the demand required to complete the task.
3. Stress - if the learner driver does perceive a gap, and that the gap is threatening, they will begin to experience signs and symptoms of stress. These may be physical signs such as sweaty palms, shaking, butterflies in the stomach and/or they may be mental signs such as overthinking or negative thinking.
4. Behavioural consequences - if the learner driver experiences a level of stress which is manageable then this may increase their attention and effort, thus improving their driving performance in successfully negotiating their first roundabout. However, if the perceived gap was over threatening, leading to high levels of stress symptoms, their driving performance is likely to decline and they may have a negative first experience of negotiating roundabouts.
The learner drivers experience and resulting behaviour and performance will then influence their self-confidence and future perceptions the next time they experience the same situation.
Understanding more about stress, how it can influence learning and how to manage the signs and symptoms of stress can all help to reduce the impact of stress on driving behaviour, helping to create safer drivers.