Stay calm in traffic

Commuting long distances seems to be a fact of life for many professionals.

The average American spends 50 minutes commuting to work, and the average worker in the United Kingdom spends roughly an hour, according to a study from the University of West England.

Researchers in England found that adding an additional 20 minutes of commuting per day has the same negative effect on job satisfaction as receiving a 19 percent pay cut.

Commuters can sometimes control their commutes to prevent such dissatisfaction, but other times factors beyond their control may be adversely affecting commuters’ quality of life.

For example, researchers with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute determined that rush-hour commuters in the United States lose an average of 42 hours per year to traffic delays.

On the nation’s 10 most gridlocked roads, that number doubles to 84 hours. That equates to three and a half days per year of sitting in traffic jams. Spending time in traffic is no picnic, and it’s easy to get frazzled when doing so day in and day out.

Following a few tips can help commuters keep their stress in check when traffic slows down.

• Leave plenty of time. Traffic can seem especially troublesome when you’re racing the clock to get somewhere on time. Feeling anxious about missing a meeting or arriving to work late only exacerbates commuting-related stress. Check traffic maps before heading out and leave ample time to get where you need to be.

• Keep audiobooks at the ready. Listening to an engaging story on the way to work can direct attention away from traffic. In fact, you may not mind traffic at all if you’re at a climactic point in the story.

• Cue up your favorite music playlists. Get lost in jams you love, as music can help soothe the stress of traffic.

• Explore alternate routes. In your spare time, figure out if there are less-traveled roads that can make a commute more predictable and enjoyable. While they may be slightly longer in mileage, moving along instead of being in stop-and-go traffic can be a relief.

• Smile even if you don’t feel like it. Psychology Today says that research suggests going through the motions of smiling may reduce the intensity of your body’s stress response, even while sitting in traffic.

• Take deep breaths. Practice mindful breathing exercises that can reduce tension. Commuters contend with traffic jams every day, but there are various coping mechanisms that can relieve stress when stuck in gridlock. 

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