The busy traffic can cause a lot of stress for taxi drivers. They can also be victims of burnout. Fortunately, there are many tips to reduce stress and prevent burnout. We talk to Nele De Meyere of Living by Being from Assebroek. She is a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist, relationship therapist and yoga teacher.

Taxi drivers often get stressed by traffic jams: how can they deal with this and reduce stress?

“A file is something you can’t do anything about. It is important to change the mindset from negative thoughts to acceptance when things are out of control. So: instead of feeding negative thoughts and thinking, for example: ‘I’m losing time, I’m going to be on the road too long, my boss (or the customer) is going to be annoying about this loss of time’, and so on. Think: ‘I can’t change this situation here and now, what can I do to make the best of this? Where is an advantage or an opportunity in this situation?’. You don’t always have influence on the situation, but you always have influence on how you deal with the situation.”

What can the taxi driver do during a traffic jam?

“See it as extra time to make it a meaningful, fun or relaxing moment. Think of it as an extra moment to have a chat with the customer, to put on some nice music and create some joy, to unwind and relax. Do a breathing exercise: inhale and exhale slowly and deeply, or exhale twice as long as you inhale. Sigh a few times. We can lower our stress level within 3 minutes by slowing our breathing!” How can taxi drivers learn to deal with stress?

“Apply stress-reducing techniques when there is a chance to do so: when waiting for a customer, in a traffic jam, before or after work. Listen to a meditation or do a relaxation exercise: YouTube is full of them, and there are also specific apps with stress-reducing techniques. Do a breathing exercise and exercise: walk around while you are waiting, do some small stretches, … “

Giving your customer a good experience is also very important say you. Can you explain this further?

“ All people need meaning in their lives, and in relation to others. Focus on the meaningfulness of the job! You help people to get somewhere. Make sure you are an ‘added value’ for your customers, by putting them at ease, being friendly, smiling, having a chat if they are open to that, creating a pleasant atmosphere along the way. You can make a difference for the customer in how they experience their ‘trip’! And that is meaningful! Provide a sounding board, someone with whom you can vent now and then.”

You say it is also important to check the tension in the body. Why?

“Check the tension in your body. Consciously relax your jaws, your shoulders, your hands. Smile! Smiling signals the brain to relax and produce joy hormones. Relaxation and rest is ‘contagious’, just as stress is. Don’t get ‘infected’ by the stress of your dispatcher or your customer. Make sure you stay relaxed and calm, that also has an effect on the stress level of the other person. And if you do experience inner unrest: ‘fake it till you make it’: behave relaxed, relax your posture, your face, smile, lower the tone of your voice. Your own brain and that of the other person picks up those signals, and in this way interprets the situation as ‘safe’, and secretes less stress hormones and more relaxation hormones!”

Taxi drivers are sometimes hounded by their passengers and their dispatchers. They are somewhat between two fires. How can they deal with that?

“Be aware of the limits of extensibility of time: if you are sure that something is not practically feasible (you cannot in half an hour drive from Brussels to Ostend and back…), don’t start it, you’ll be putting yourself under unnecessary stress if you ‘try’ anyway. Be aware of your own limits, get to know them and accept them. If you know that that one extra ride that day is going to cause you a lot of extra stress, don’t do it, take care of yourself every day! If you succumb to burnout due to an accumulation of a lot of ‘extra stress’ moments, your dispatcher and the customers are even further from home…”

You have to so every now and then dare to say ‘no’?

“Indeed. So make sure you dare to say “no”. This can save you a lot of time and reduce stress. Saying no is difficult for many people, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Make it a habit to ask for time to think: if you are surprised by a question or assignment, or when in doubt, never say yes immediately, but save time: “I’ll see if it’s possible and I’ll call you back within … minutes”.

“In the meantime, consider the feasibility of the assignment or question. Test it against the reality of your timetable, and against what extra work you can do that day. Say no when you’re at a border. Apply ‘The broken gramophone record method’ if the other person persists. You just keep repeating your “no” and why you say no (just like a gramophone record that gets stuck). In this way you will not be tempted to make unnecessary apologies or a discussion and therefore even more stress.”

How can taxi drivers prevent burnout? Do you have any tips for them?

“Make sure you have a good balance between stress and relaxation: alternate periods of activity and tension with periods of rest. Take rest in time, and don’t go to the extreme of your ability every time. Refuel where you can, so you don’t go over your limits, and don’t exhaust yourself to the bottom. Get enough sleep, eat on time and drink plenty of water. Do fun things outside of work. Things that calm you down or give you energy.” A lot also depends on the situation.

“Whether someone gets burned out depends on the person and the situation. In any case, the situation alone is not decisive. Just as important is the question of how someone views and deals with that situation. This has everything to do with personality: everyone reacts differently to situations that can potentially be stressful.”

What are the risk factors of burnout?

“Not expressing your feelings and emotional exhaustion. Difficult to ask for help. Having a hard time saying “no”. Being negative about your own performance. Cynicism about the work you do. The idea that what you do professionally is of little significance. Low self-esteem. Being a perfectionist. Feeling (too) strongly involved in your work. Be highly motivated and set high standards for yourself. Circumstances that come together: for example, both tensions in your home situation, and renovations, and a sick family member, and a roof that is leaking… Not having any influence on the situation you find yourself in, or having the idea that you have no influence on it. Have little control over the planning of the work. Solo jobs where there is little or no contact with colleagues to vent or share ‘frustrations’ with.”

Do you sometimes take a taxi yourself?

“I often take a taxi myself, usually abroad. What strikes me is the surliness at times, and often completely avoiding contact, which makes me not always feel at ease. It’s nice when there’s some kindness, and an effort to put me at ease. After all, you get into the car with a ‘stranger’… . I also notice that most taxi drivers are helpful, for example to put a suitcase in the car.”

Can you tell us something about yourself?

“I work in practice as a psychologist-psychotherapist, relationship therapist, body-oriented and movement therapist, and yoga teacher. Since 24 I have been guiding people individually and in various groups. I have been involved in bodywork, yoga, meditation, healing, dance, therapy, and women’s circles for years, and I am constantly inspired by my own growth in my work.”

What diplomas did you obtain?

“I am a Master in Psychology; recognized by the Psychologists Committee; licensed clinical psychologist; member of the Belgian Federation of Psychologists; member of the Flemish Association of Clinical Psychologists). I am an Aggregate for Education. I am a Relationship, Family and System Therapist. I followed additional courses in body-oriented work, autogenic training, relaxation therapy, dance, yoga and meditation, emotional bodywork, focusing, communication, Non Violent Communication, team counseling, addiction care. In addition to my independent practice, I have relevant experience in outpatient mental health care and residential psychiatry. I am a Certified Kundalini Yoga Teacher, recognized by the Kundalini Yoga Research Institute; member of the Belgian Kundalini Yoga Federation and the International Kundalini Yoga Teachers Association. I ensure quality through participation in supervision, intervision groups and continuous training.”

This article previously appeared on sister magazine TaxiPro.be.

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