Mind-Wandering, Depression, & the Risks of Driving

There has been a great deal of research regarding the huge amount of time people experience “mind-wandering” and how the thoughts that occur during mind-wandering are most often negative thoughts unrelated to what the person is doing at the present moment.  “Killingsworth and Gilbert (of Harvard University) concluded that people spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy.” (Is Mind-Wandering a Good or Bad Thing-Psychology Today). I believe that this is a large part of the reason that mindfulness has become such a hot topic in our society these days.  If we are able to maintain focus on the task with which we are doing, our mind is less likely to wander and therefore our negative thoughts are reduced.

I believe that people battling depression need to pay special attention while driving a vehicle.  While I was battling through a major depressive episode, I found that my mind would wander often…and the thoughts were always negative. I particularly noticed my mind wandering while I was driving. There were several times in which my wife had to get my attention because there was a car in the lane I was about to move into or to remind me that we needed to turn at an upcoming nearby intersection.  At one point, I got lost driving with my eldest daughter as we were picking up a friend in our carpool who lived less than a mile away. We had been to the house several times. I found myself disoriented and had to pull over to get my bearings with the help of a map on my phone.  Pulling out the map on my phone became a regular occurrence throughout my depression, even for very short and familiar drives.

I believe that the struggles of driving while suffering from depression should be reiterated by health professionals. While attending a partial hospitalization program for recovery from my depression, the risks of driving were never mentioned.  However, there was one day when, rather than finding one of our fellow patients in group, we found her during lunch in a wheelchair with a large brace on her leg sitting in the hospital cafeteria.  She explained to us that she had unintentionally driven through a red light, causing a multi-car accident. I was not at all surprised, recounting the number of times my mind had wandered while driving. Please try to pay extra close attention to the roads if you are driving while struggling with depression. Not only could an accident impact the lives of others, but it would also most likely impact your path to recovery. Be safe!

As always, I encourage comments to any of my blog postings. Thank you.

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