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When Stress Levels Get Too High, Leave the City and Go Off-Road!

When Stress Levels Get Too High, Leave the City and Go Off-Road!
  • Cape Town and Johannesburg rank among the 100 busiest cities in the world for motorists
  • Driving stresses can cause health complications, tension and poor judgement
  • Ford uses International Stress Awareness Day to recommend off-roading as a means to alleviate stress

The link between traffic congestion and increased stress levels has long been established and reported in studies like the IBM Commuter Pain Index. Despite traditional methods that can be recommended to combat the stress linked to traffic congestion, it’s on this International Stress Awareness Day, 4 November, that Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa (FMCSA) wants to suggest an alternative to effective stress management – an off-road adventure!

Even the shortest, most routine journey on South Africa’s often chaotic roads can cause an increase in stress levels. The inability to control the situation or the actions of other drivers can often manifest in a number of symptoms, according to The American Institute of Stress, including rapid pulse, forgetfulness, frustration and general aches and pains. If this stress is not managed correctly, it can quickly result in accidents from poor judgement, road rage from tension and panic attacks that can have other health complications.

South Africa’s road network and infrastructure is simply overwhelmed by the volume of vehicles that use it, particularly during peak traffic hours. Adding to these stress triggers are well-known external factors like rain storms which not only make the drive more dangerous by reducing visibility but can damage the surface of the road and leave enormous potholes that can cause tyre damage. Loadshedding and power outages that affect the functioning of traffic lights can also push one’s level of patience to boiling point.

The latest data by Inrix shows that Johannesburg is currently the 71st busiest city in the world for motorists, placing behind Cape Town, which ranks 29th globally. With these worrying trends that show no signs of improving, it has become increasingly difficult to arrive at your destination feeling relaxed. Instead, stress from the commute is often carried into the work environment and personal lives where it has undesired outcomes on one’s own performance, health and social interactions.

While the COVID-19 lockdown travel restrictions provided a slight respite from these stressful situations, as many companies allowed their employees to work from home, many would agree that the added pressure to revive economic business has made drivers even less patient and more willing to break the rules of the road.

Ford’s latest models are equipped with modern technologies to help soothe these common causes of stress. In bumper-to-bumper traffic, an automatic gearbox eliminates the physical effort needed to engage and release the clutch – particularly in congested, stop-start traffic, and allows for a more relaxed and comfortable driving experience.

Ford’s embedded navigation, available on models with Ford’s SYNC®3 infotainment system, can calculate the best route for you. Alternately, with its seamless smartphone integration, SYNC®3 is able to provide direct access to your phone’s live mapping apps such as Google Maps and Waze

Reverse cameras and sensors, as well as Ford’s semi-autonomous parking aid on selected range-topping models, take the stress out of most parking maneuvers, while intelligent active safety systems, using a number of radar and camera sensors, can provide reassuring support when the driver doesn’t react fast enough.

In South Africa we are extremely fortunate that getting outdoors and off the beaten track is relatively simple and can almost be done on the spur of the moment. One doesn’t need to drive far out of the city in order to surround oneself with open spaces and general peacefulness.

Off-roading is also a great form of therapy for prioritising what’s important and concentrating only on the task ahead. Taking control as your 4x4 vehicle climbs, straddles, and splashes its way through an off-road obstacle course can release endorphins, dopamine and serotine chemicals in the brain. These instantly elevate your mood, make you feel more alert and bring balance to the body’s nervous system.

Ford’s range of lifestyle vehicles all feature increased ride height and body protection but it’s the four-wheel drive system in the Ranger and Everest that are essential when the going gets tough. Incorporating the latest technology, Ford’s capable Ranger pickup and Everest seven-seater sport utility vehicle (SUV) allow even novice drivers to experience the thrill that off-road driving has in spades.

Thanks to Ford’s electronically selected four-wheel drive system on the Ranger, or the innovative Terrain Response System used in the Everest, selecting the right mode for the obstacle ahead can be done in a matter of seconds, and without needing to get out the vehicle. The capable electronics and Built Ford Tough drivetrain will optimise traction by sending power to the wheels with the most grip.

Gideo Basson, FMCSA’s off-road chief instructor for the Ford Adventure Club, agrees that off-road driving can provide a mental and physical escape from stress and puts it down to a few reasons. “I’ve seen the profound effect that our off-road course has on people who lead busy lives stuck inside this relentless traffic cycle. Besides leaving that claustrophobic space, off-road driving demands great precision and attention to detail. It clears your thoughts and allows you to get mentally offline and off the grid.

“There is no time to look at a cellphone, for instance. Even though the Ford Everest and Ranger are equipped with systems you can trust, there is always a feeling of adrenaline that flows through your veins after completing each challenge. This leaves a lasting effect that will make tomorrow’s drive in the city that much more enjoyable,” Basson concludes.