Woosah on the 405
I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time in my car. Driving to and from work in our Southern California and Kern County offices, other appointments, errands, etc., I often find myself sitting on the road. This being the L.A. area, sitting in traffic is unavoidable. Just uttering the words 405 brings terror to the ears of commuters like myself. Like many, I would often be frustrated, irritated, and even angry at the constant barrage of traffic and perceived loss of valuable and productive time. I tried readjusting the times I would drive and routes I would take, but unless I was willing to leave at unearthly hours, traffic was to be my reality. In accepting this reality of unavoidable traffic, I set on altering my perception. Here are some strategies and tips that I found helpful in managing my traffic-related angst and efforts in utilizing my commutes to be productive. Of note, the following suggestions are not intended to encourage full relaxation. It is important to maintain alertness at all times while driving; safety first! These strategies assist in decreasing tensions levels; full relaxation strategies should be done while not operating any vehicles.
- Calming music. If I’m feeling particularly stressed, I will put on some soft music which I find pleasant. I might also take a couple deep breaths, utilizing diaphragm breathing (breathing slowly through my nose into my diaphragm so my stomach protrudes, holding the breath for a couple of seconds, and then slowly releasing it out). This helps to increase oxygen flow and decreasing tension.
- Find something pretty to look at. I also utilize visual cues to promote momentary mindfulness. If traffic is at a standstill, or while at a light, I can briefly focus on something visually appealing and appreciate its beauty or uniqueness. Take a moment to appreciate a gorgeous sunset, interesting building, or unique landscape.
- Make it socially productive. Driving time is often my phone time. This came from recognizing that I’m not the only one sitting in traffic! Many of my family, friends, colleagues, etc. also endure commutes, and I found that utilizing the time we are both sitting in traffic can be a great time to catch up and connect via phone. Talking with them in the morning can be a great start to the day, as well as a great support at the end of a rough day. Both can help promote a positive mood when I’m getting to work or getting home. Utilization of hands-free communication is a must! I utilize my built-in car Bluetooth.
- Car karaoke fun. I don’t karaoke, with one exception- in my car. I love listening to music, and there is something freeing about being enclosed in your own space and being able to sing (albeit for me, badly) to your favorite tunes. If I hear a meaningful or powerful song, I can belt it out, have some fun, and relieve a little stress at the same time. Keep your favorite songs cued up so whenever you need a music pick-me-up, you are all set.
- Self-talk to manage road rage. We’ve all seen them- the bad drivers that weave in and out of lanes, tailgaters, unnecessary honkers, those that don’t seem to be paying any attention to what is going on in front of them, and let me tell you, they irritate me! BUT, I decide whether or not to let them impact me negatively. Sure, I might have the same initial reactions of frustration and annoyance, but I try to stop it there. Focusing on my thoughts, I can change my perspective and mood. I remind myself not to take it personally; after all, we are all trying to get somewhere as quickly as we can. Furthermore, if they are bad drivers, I’m better off staying away from them to promote my own safety and avoid potential accidents. I might try to laugh it off and make a joke about it (e.g. funny comment like ‘go ahead speed racer’). At the end of the day, I realize that their erratic driving might only gain them a couple of minutes. In the grand scheme of things, it is most important for me to make it safely to my destination.
- Audiobooks. I’m not the biggest fan of reading and it’s up there on my list of “should be doing” or “would like to be doing.” However, limited time and Netflix seem to impede my reading resurgence. Enter audiobooks! Especially for auditory learners like myself, audiobooks are a great way to spend traffic time learning and/or being entertained with a favorite book.
These are just a few of the things that I have found most helpful in making my commute more bearable and productive. I hope there is at least one thing that can be helpful to my fellow commuters who share in the struggle of living in high-traffic areas. If you have any strategies or tips that could be helpful, please feel free to share via comments!