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Navigating Through Traffic-Related Stress


By Dr. Donna Ferguson, Psychologist with the WSIB Psychological Trauma Program

Coping with traffic-related stress is not always easy. With the Pan Am Games underway, there was concern that addition of or changes to existing HOV lanes would further increase the amount traffic on the roads. And while recent surveys suggest that only ten per cent of drivers are experiencing a serious disruption due to the games, it can still be challenging for those who drive long distances. So how do we deal with all of this additional stress?

Reframing how we think about traffic
Most times, it is not the stressful situation that is necessarily the problem, but rather, the way we deal or cope with the stress. If we are able to find ways to reframe how we think about the traffic situation, then we can redirect that anger and channel it in a positive way. Instead of focusing on the traffic situation that we can’t change, we can consider how the extra commuting time can be used productively. Perhaps it gives us some needed reflection time, or a way to catch up on music and news. Maybe it’s finally time to listen to those podcasts people are talking about, or stay updated on how Team Canada is doing at the Pan Am Games. There’s a positive to be found, and sometimes a little bit of patience and understanding can help us uncover those silver linings.

How do we manage stress?
There are several ways that one can manage stress in any situation and more specifically when dealing with traffic. It is important to take a time out from being angry and utilize relaxation techniques such as breathing in order to calm down. Breathing can help the body and mind to be in a calmer state so that you can think clearer and be less focused on the stressful situation around you. It is also important to use relaxation techniques prior to getting into the car so that you are already at a calm state which will make it even harder to become angry.

Being preventative and proactive about stress
It is also important to find time to relax on a whole and practice self-care and work/life balance so that situations such as being in traffic does not automatically trigger stress and accompanying anger.  Using preventative techniques to manage stress or always helpful such as; proper diet, exercise, proper sleep hygiene, friends and family support, better time management and reframing problems.

Being able to identify early warning signs and using tools and support is one of the most important ways to prevent problems from becoming worse. If things do become chronic it is important to seek out help from your family doctor, a counselor, psychologist and/or psychiatrist, or ConnexOntario, distress line and/or a trusted friend or family member.

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