Here in the Detroit area, we’ve got a saying: “There are only two seasons in Michigan, winter and road-construction season.” And both, of course, have a way of causing some notably nasty traffic jams. Just ask my daughter. Thanks to recent road closures, taking her to afternoon dance class has gone from a five-minute fandango to a miles-long conga line of barely moving cars.
But there’s a benefit to this frustrating experience: I have a chance to both think about—and put into practice—some great ways to keep calm when I’m stuck in traffic.
Prepare for the Worst
One of the most important things I do happens before I even get into the car: prepare for my journey. I give myself plenty of time to get to where I’m going, especially if I know I could be facing high-traffic conditions on my route. To help deal with our daily dance-class traffic jams, my daughter and I have built some extra time into the “get ready” process.
Parents will also know this next one: be sure to go to the bathroom before getting started. After all, there’s not much worse than being in a dead stop on the highway when you really have to go. I also make sure to know where I’m going beforehand, directions-wise, to lower the tension levels that could come with getting lost.
Make a Human Connection
The silver lining to the traffic jams I sit in on the way to dance class is that it allows for some quality father-daughter time. Instead of getting fed up with the brake lights in my view, I can take some uninterrupted time to touch base with her and talk about what’s going on in her world. With the constant go, go, go of everyday life, it’s a nice chance to sit in the moment and connect.
If you’re driving alone, you can take advantage of Bluetooth technology and call a friend or family member to touch base about your day. You’d be surprised how much shorter the ride seems when you’re engaged in conversation.
Cue Up the Entertainment
One of the best ways to tune out the traffic is to tune into something else much more interesting. For me, when I’m not with my daughter, that means catching up on my “reading” by listening to an audio-book. It can be a chance to worry about whether when they’ll ever catch the killer, instead of when traffic will start moving again. There is no shortage of audio entertainment between books, podcasts and educational courses.
Meanwhile, music lovers can spend their traffic jams listening to their favorite jams, to take advantage of the calming effects of music. That doesn’t necessarily mean we have to listen to Beethoven or Bach either: at least one recent study showed that even “extreme” music can help its fans relax and stay calm.
Find a Mantra on the Motorway
Even more soothing than music can be the sounds of nature, like falling rain or ocean waves or natural noises mixed with relaxing music. Better yet, silence can be the most calming sound of all. This also helps create a peaceful environment for some in-car meditation of sorts. (Note: don’t actually close your eyes and meditate while driving.) Indeed, in today’s hectic world, a traffic jam may be one of the few places we can be by ourselves for more than a few minutes without interruption.
Think of a simple word or phrase to repeat silently during some of that time, and you could be surprised at the results. As explained by Psychology Today, the constant repetition of a mantra, as it’s called, can help turn down the volume on parts of the brain and “quiet internal thoughts.” We can try other mindfulness exercises as well, concentrating on the sounds of our breathing and the individual bodily sensations that we feel all the time yet usually ignore.
Try Seated Exercises
No, a traffic jam isn’t the place for full-body yoga positions, but we can do small movements while we’re driving to help us release tension. Do simple exercises: roll your head side to side, gently squeeze your shoulder blades or slightly twist at the waist. Even smaller gestures can help promote relaxation, such as a yoga mudra. (According to the Art of Living, mudra translates to a “gesture or attitude.”) The yoga mudra practice can involve the whole body, but there also are mudras just for the hands, and using them in combination with breathing exercises can help to rebalance negative energy and achieve a sense of calm.
Here’s one to try right now: Touch the tip of the thumb to where your pinky meets your hand, then curl your fingers to form a gentle fist. Turn your palm upward, rest your hand on the top of your thigh, and breathe deeply and slowly. Congratulations, you’ve just learned the Adi Mudra. (Of course, when you’re driving, just remember to use only one hand at a time, with the other on the wheel.)
Consider Public Transportation
When all else fails, let someone else do the driving. I’ve spent my fair share of commutes packed onto Chicago’s “L” trains, so I understand that public transportation won’t have a calming effect on everyone. And many cities don’t provide much in the way of mass transit at all. Yet there are some massive benefits to choosing this mode of transportation if it’s available. Without the responsibility of paying attention to the road, I could lose myself in a book, in music or in my thoughts. The constant stop and go of bumper to bumper traffic wasn’t even on my radar, and the stress of staying alert to vehicles weaving in and out of lanes was far from my mind. Another benefit of skipping the driving duties: Taking public transportation helps reduce oil consumption and air pollution. Not to mention, walking to and from the transit stations is a great way to get in some physical activity every day.
So when I’m staring at that long line of brake lights on the way to dance class, I look at it as an opportunity to take some time with my daughter, my thoughts or my favorite book, and let the rest fall by the roadside.
Author: Charles Krome
Editors: Emily Bartran; Yoli Ramazzina