“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
― George Bernard Shaw
Rush Hour Traffic—I don’t know the exact figure but I reckon 9 out of 10 of us hate it.
I sure as hell did. I absolutely loathed it.
Having spent God only knows how many hours in rush hour in my former life as an ‘on-road’ sales manager, I know a thing or two about it. In fact you might even say I am a rush hour expert. I’ve even coined the phrase Rush Hour Syndrome (RHTS). Symptoms may include:
- Paranoia (that clicking noise is a sure sign your car is going to break down at any moment)
- Asthma flare up
I think it’s safe to say many of us experience some, if not all, of those symptoms every time we drive to and from work, on school runs, or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, so to speak.
External factors such as insufferable heat, Biblical sized down pours, can’t-see-a–thing-in front of-you sun-glare, reckless motorists trying to run you off the road, or cutting you off, and the big one—screaming, fighting, touching-everything-just-to-annoy-you kids—worsen RHTS to the point of wanting to pull your hair out (I actually saw someone trying to do this once) or punch someone in the face. I definitely don’t recommend this.
I can’t speak for everyone, but the short and long term side effects of RHTS for me included:
- High blood pressure
- Body aches and tension
- Weakened immune system
I remember the day I was stuck in rush hour for over three hours and thinking “That’s it. I can’t handle this anymore.”
That night I typed up my resignation letter and emailed it to my boss. I knew my actions would have consequences (I didn’t have another job to go to) but at that moment I didn’t care.
I had had enough.
Things worked out in the end (I knew they would) and I am now doing what I was put here to do—helping people reach their full potential. Part of that involves working with young people as a casual youth worker. In the beginning I got to start my new job late and finish early—avoiding rush hour altogether.
I was living the dream
…or so I thought.
Lately I’ve been driving young people in foster care to and from school.
Yep, you guessed it. I’m in the depths of rush hour traffic once more.
But this time, I’m OK with it. Rush hour and I now have a very healthy relationship.
The turning point came when I got stuck in traffic for over three hours… again. It was a stinking hot day, and to make things worse the young person I was driving home was pouring their drink all over my car. And when he wasn’t speaking to me in a high pitch voice, he was screaming at motorists either side of me. If that wasn’t enough my phone battery died (I don’t have built in GPS) and we got lost.
As the young person was only 7 he couldn’t remember how to get where he was staying.
I appeared calm on the outside but I can assure I was freaking out on the inside. In my panicked state, I drove around in circles for what seemed like forever trying to find the young person’s address, even though I knew the odds of finding it were greater than finding a needle in a haystack.
In the end I managed to gather my thoughts and got directions from a nearby service station.
“That’s it, I told myself. I refuse to let rush hour control me anymore. I accept I need to do something about it and will do whatever it takes.”
The first, and by far the most important thing I did, was get my thinking right. I wrote the following message on a note and stuck it to the glove box of my car:
Rather than seeing rush hour traffic as an ‘oh no, here we go again’ moment I will see it as another way to become better at remaining calm in a stressful situation. When I’m in rush hour traffic I will tell myself over and over that I am cool, calm and in control. I can handle this.
Make The Most Of Bad Situation
In the past, whenever rush hour traffic came to a stop for lengthy periods, I would either get really angry, or anxious, or have mild panic attacks. Now, I put myself in a meditative state by focusing on the sounds around me, checking in with my how my body’s feeling, and do correct breathing exercises. I then use the ‘downtime’ to catch up on my favorite personal development podcasts or audio books. .
Laugh Out Loud
To keep things interesting I sometimes record myself having a pretend conversation between me and a co-worker, or act out one of my favorite James Bond scenes—I always have a good chuckle every time I play back what I’ve recorded. As the saying goes, laughter is the best medicine, and I definitely find it helps take my mind off being stuck in traffic and remain in control.
Bonus: the look on some motorists’ faces when they see me re-enacting the opening scene from Diamonds Are Forever is priceless!
I still punch the steering wheel, huff and puff, and curse (under my breath) from time to time when I’m in rush hour traffic, and I’m OK with that. Mastering anything new takes time. Besides, letting off steam is therapeutic. Ditto being authentic with how you feel. I don’t deny driving in rush hour traffic makes me angry, isn’t stressful, frustrating, or tell myself it’s something I enjoy.
I can’t control external factors like the weather, reckless motorists, and I can’t make the traffic move faster or disappear, but I can control my emotions and how I respond to what’s going on—critical ingredients in any healthy relationship.
How’s your relationship with rush hour traffic? What things have you done to regain control or make driving in rush hour less stressful?
Michael Riley is a father, youth worker, blogger, poet, confidence coach and creator of Next Level Comfort Zone Challenges.