I originally wrote this post in May 2014, when I was still newly driving in a new “driving culture”, and in a city with extremely limited public transportation. While I’m comfortably back in the driving scene of the Boston area (which has a terrible reputation but I fit right in), I feel this is a useful post for anyone who feels stressed out while driving. -KP
When I moved to Austin a few months ago, a local friend warned me about the traffic here. Being from Boston–where over the course of the past 13 years I honed my wicked Massholian driving skills–I casually brushed off his warnings much like I’d flick away a buzzing insect. Now, 5 months into adjusting to life in Texas, I will say that I’m still quite puzzled by how people drive here. I honestly don’t get it, and I’m pretty confident that it’s a large contributor to the traffic issue. But, I digress.
There have been times when I have felt stressed while in traffic; several local clients of mine have also expressed that driving is a source of lots of stress and tension for them (especially if they’re Yankees like me). So, here is some advice about how not to lose your s**t while driving, regardless of where you’re commuting to or from!
- Find ways to experience pleasure / fun: this is actually my favorite strategy, which is why I list it first. An example of a safe way to do this while driving (or rather sitting in a parking lot that should be a highway) is to put on some awesome music. I prefer the up-beat, old-school, belt-it-out variety, but you may prefer more relaxing, new-age, meditative tunes, or listening to that book you’d never have time to sit down and really read. (Since moving back home, you’ll usually find me listening to Matty in the Morning, which is a hysterical radio show available nationwide on IHeartRadio. -KP)
- Generate compassion for other drivers: this may be the most difficult, and also the most rewarding technique. Instead of thinking of what “that guy/gal” isn’t doing right, try to imagine all the ways they are just like you. Maybe they’re tired, hungry, or just had a fight with their partner. Maybe their minds are on their jobs, or thinking about doing something more fun. Another way of doing this is recognizing that it’s not THEY who are traffic; to them, YOU are traffic!
- Practice breathing: so many of us breathe shallowly throughout the day, and we are more prone to it when feeling stressed out. Breathing deeply engages the parasympathetic nervous system, increasing our oxygen intake and helping us feel calm and centered. Yet, we don’t often have time to sit down and focus on our breath in a formal meditation. As part of your daily self-care, use the fact that you’re sitting (especially when you’re not moving) to try a simple breathing exercise like counting breath: e.g. “one”, “two”, “three” on your inhale; “one”, “two”, “three” on your exhale. Don’t force, just notice how long your breath is naturally. Then see if you can start to lengthen your exhale just by one. If it’s possible, lengthen your exhale by one count each time until it’s 2x your inhale (e.g. if your inhale takes 3 counts, your exhale takes 6). Then sustain this rhythm. (Note: you never want to feel lightheaded or overly distracted so never strain while breathing in your car!)
- Create a mental gratitude list: we often read that listing things we’re grateful for can help improve our mood and improve our relationships, among other benefits. But taking time to do this in a journal (at least for me) rarely happens. So, why not use the time in traffic to start listing off all the things you’re grateful for? You can start with your current day, or look to your past, or even run through your intended future plans. Or you can think about people, places, or things. For more ideas, check out 60 Things to Be Grateful For in Life.
Do you have a unique way of reducing stress when you have to drive or deal with traffic? What about commuting via public transportation? Reply and let me know!