The chaotic flow in large cities can impact your emotional health. Learn how to better preserve and deal with the situation
May 20, 2019 - Traffic Jams, a symphony of horns, pedestrians and drivers with their skin tight nerves. It is a routine scenario in the big cities that has spread from the infamous "rush hour" to an unpleasant surprise that can hit you at any corner. During the Yellow May Awareness month, the Brazilian movement to raise awareness about traffic safety, serenity in traffic cannot be left aside.
Psychologist Tatiane Dias Bacelar, a specialist in traffic psychology, explains that these experiences can be considered "stressful events", capable of aggravating disorders such as depression and anxiety, even if they are not the cause. "Even a person without diagnosed disorders may become anxious in this context", she explains. The exception is for those who work in their cars all day long, such as app and taxi drivers: in these cases, stressful situations in traffic can trigger disturbances.
With that in mind, we've put together eight tips on how to maintain your serenity in traffic. While the future with fully autonomous cars is not yet here, the solution is to adopt measures that minimize our anguish on urban roads. So here we go.
1. Don't neglect your mental health
Tranquility in traffic goes far beyond that space, and problems of anxiety, anguish, and restlessness can have deep roots. Mental health, according to Tatiane, can be hereditary or due to a person's upbringing and the context in which he/she is inserted. "The most important aspect is to pay attention to self-control, that is, to your ability to perceive and manage your own behaviors", she says. So if you rationally know that you need to behave in a certain way — such as not fidgeting on your cell phone while driving — and you cannot stop, there's a problem.
Some cases need to be examined carefully, such as when a person feels very distressed in traffic even after the adaptation phase of learning how to drive. "Tension, due to having acquired your driver's license recently or getting used to a new car, for example, is normal", she explains, "but if that discomfort persists, you need to have it checked with a professional".
2. Taking care of your body also means taking care of your mind
Bacelar explains that a healthy body with a balanced diet and exercise can better deal with stressful events. "When someone eats the wrong foods and is not active, these tense situations take on greater proportions because the body is already weakened". Facing long periods in traffic jams causes physical discomfort, which is aggravated with the situation as a whole. Therefore, caring for the body also means choosing comfortable clothes and shoes to drive in so that you don't feel tight and in pain.
3. Plan Your Routine
An organized routine is less likely to burden your mental health. Delays only increase the feeling of frustration and dissatisfaction with traffic, but often, as the psychologist warns, the reality is that it's impossible to go on certain streets at the time that we would like. "We need to be aware that we can't account for everything. We have to define what our priorities are", she says.
The specialist cites a feeling you have probably experienced related to this overload: "If you have several things to do and you don't define what is most urgent, you reach the end of the week without doing what was most important or taking time for yourself". Understanding our limitations and making choices is an important key to our well-being.
4. Understand what bothers you in traffic
Bacelar believes that self-understanding in traffic is essential to making the experience less stressful. "And this is very particular to each individual, so there is no real formula", she explains, reminding us that there are those who become agitated while driving with loud music and some feel inspired. "If a crowded car with lots of people talking bothers those who drive, it's important to pay attention to that and set limits on the passengers", she says. The priority should be the well-being of those behind the wheel.
5. Create a comfortable environment in the car
Understand what bothers you and try to create a more comfortable and cozy environment in your car; it will make the experience more enjoyable. Sometimes comfort can come from a song that has an affective value, or having a bottle of fresh water at your disposal. For some people, listening to podcasts on a topic of interest can help time pass more lightly. It is recommended to avoid topics that are too dense or that cause indignation. "Otherwise, the person stops being informed and becomes stressed", jokes the psychologist. The same is true for agitated music that stimulates the central nervous system: "When you can’t respond properly to that stimulus, and you step on the accelerator for instance, the feeling of frustration is immediate."
6. Don’t drive while feeling hungry or sleepy
Tatiane warns us that feeling hungry and sleepy may increase our irritability, and a small situation in traffic can be seen as if through a "magnifying glass." So for the first problem, it's always better to have a cereal bar or a quick snack.
As for feeling sleepy, the specialist is emphatic in pointing out that it greatly diminishes our reflexes and puts our safety at risk. "If you’ve had a long day, it is preferable to use public transportation, get a ride app or ask someone to give you a ride," she says. She adds that shared rides offer great prices.
7. Deal with the moment and idealize less
In order to maintain your serenity whilst in traffic, it’s important to understand that despite having the resources to make the experience less stressful, there are several factors that we cannot control. For this, it is necessary to idealize less the situation and deal with the reality that’s in front of us. "The ideal situation is not part of what is human, and getting away from idealization avoids frustration", she explains.
Some complain so much about the situation that they no longer perceive the beauty of their surroundings, such as an incredible sunset on the way home. This does not mean that you should ignore the problems, "but that the focus should not be on the problem, but in the possibilities," she suggests. Creating strategies to cope with traffic is also important for those who are not behind the wheel. Having an interesting book to read while the bus is not moving, for example, makes all the difference.
8. Don’t use your car as your armor
"In a world where people are chained to social networks and virtual relationships, we have difficulties in dealing with real relationships", says the psychologist. This barrier of coexistence is one of the factors that contribute to the hostility of the people in traffic, often with gratuitous curses.
Tatiane considers that the car is commonly used as armor. "Often times a certain behavior repressed at work or with the family gives way to irritability", she says. With the armor, the individual feels protected and entitled to enforce the "eye for an eye rule" law. The result of this does not benefit anyone: if our mental health responds to traffic, traffic also responds to our mental health.
Words: Bárbara Caldeira
Art: Fabrício Moura
This content is part of the participation of our FCA Latam Stories’ website for the Yellow May Awareness month of 2019. The Yellow May Awareness month is a global movement among governments, business entities and the civil society, to draw attention to the importance of traffic safety. Check out the other contents here and here.