Many people report commuting as a source of stress in their life. Triggers include heavy traffic, slow and/or aggressive drivers, weather conditions, red lights, etc. Here's the thing - many of these things are out of our control, but our reaction to them is completely within our control, it just takes a little bit of practice to break these habitual thought patterns.
Health Consequences: People with tendencies towards negative thinking and high reactivity (ex. experiencing a surge of anger when hitting a red light) are at greater risk of suffering from anxiety and depression. Reacting to triggers on your commute can activate an acute stress response - releasing cortisol which has immediate physiological consequences like increasing blood sugar levels, decreasing immunity, and decreasing testosterone. When experienced daily over time, this can lead to chronic stress which promotes abdominal adiposity, reduces thyroid function, impairs sleep, etc.
Steps to become less reactive: 1. Practice self-awareness. This involves physical and mental check-ins with yourself while driving. Are you tensing certain muscles? Are you taking quick/shallow breaths? Do you care if someone passes you?
Are you mad if you hit a red light? What's your mood like on your drive? The first step in addressing stress is realizing when you're affected.
2. When you find yourself reacting to yahoo drivers or red lights - take some deep breaths in and out through your nose. This is the fastest way we can shift from our sympathetic nervous system (involved in the stress response) and activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation.
3. Shifting mindset - Try to be less resentful towards other drivers and practice compassion. For example, if you feel frustrated that the car in front is driving slow, consider the possibility that maybe they’re nervous from being in a recent car accident. Or if someone is driving aggressively on your tail –think how sad it is to be in that much of a hurry to warrant making someone else feel uncomfortable. Give people the benefit of the doubt vs focusing on how it affects you.
4. Give yourself enough time in the morning. Rushing out the door = worrying and hurrying = stress response. Wake up earlier if you need to.
Need more support? In my practice I help people cope with stress using nutritional supplementation, functional foods, herbal medicine, cupping and acupuncture. To learn more, book a free 15min consultation.