How to avoid getting stressed when stuck in traffic

Several years ago we reported that men got more stressed than women when stuck in a traffic jam. A study found that women’s stress levels increased by 8.7% whereas men’s stress levels increased by 60% when faced with a traffic jam.

Regardless of who gets more stressed, getting stuck in traffic is tedious, stressful and can ruin a perfectly good journey. It can put you in a bad mood before or after work and can ruin your day if you let it.

However, getting stressed isn’t the way forward when getting stuck in traffic. Stress can put pressure on your heart and cause dizziness and breathing problems and can make you do reckless or irresponsible things.

There are ways to prevent yourself getting stressed when stuck in traffic and with some practice, you can soon be stress free when sitting on the motorway.

In this article, we look at how to avoid getting stressed when stuck in traffic.

Top tips for reducing stress when stuck in traffic

Learn breathing techniques

Breathing is key when it comes to combating stress and if you learn some calming breathing techniques then these will help you prevent stress when stuck in traffic.

Here’s a technique you might want to use that helps you with relaxation and will curtail stress when on the road;

  • Put one hand on your stomach just below your ribs and another hand on your chest
  • Take a deep breath in through your nose, let your stomach push your hand out. Your chest shouldn’t move
  • Breathe out through pursed lips, almost as if you were whistling. Feel the hand on your stomach go in and use it to push the air out.
  • Do this 3-10 times taking your time with each breath
woman in the car pinching the bridge of her nose in frustration

This will help you keep calm and will stop you feeling stressed when at the wheel.

Keep a stress buster in your car

Keeping a stress ball or similar in your car will help you relieve some frustration. This can also come in handy in other situations such as another driver behaving recklessly or if you’ve had a stressful day at work.

It also prevents your hands from getting stiff and tense. When you are driving both hands must be on the steering wheel but they can often get stiff when you are stuck in traffic. If you have a stress buster then this releases tension in your hands and circulates blood flow. You should also rotate your feet occasionally to ensure that they don’t get stiff or achy.

Stock up on your favourite albums, podcasts and audiobooks

Try and think positively and see being stuck in traffic as the perfect time for you to listen to your favourite albums again, or catch up on podcasts or audiobooks. Be grateful for the extra time you have to listen to these things.

And don’t be afraid to sing loudly or laugh along with the podcast, others would do the same and are probably doing the same a few cars over. This will put you in a better mood and will calm you down, especially if you are listening to a funny podcast or audiobook, it’s a sure-fire way to put you in a better mood.

Keep an emergency traffic jam kit

It’s not just being stationary in your car that can make you stressed. It’s not having anything to eat or drink or your phone running out of charge.

Make up an emergency traffic jam kit in your car. This could contain some non-perishable food and that you have some water as well as a portable phone charger that is fully charged. You could include CD’s (yes they still exist) or ideas for games if you have kids in the car.

person charging their phone with a portable charger in their car

Catch up on phone calls

Being stuck in traffic is a great time to call a loved one and see how they are. Obviously, you should only do this if you have a hands free set as you shouldn’t be on your phone when in the car even if you are stationary.

Play some games

If you are stuck in traffic with your kids, it can make things slightly more stressful. Kids aren’t as patient as adults and after the tenth ‘are we nearly there yet’ you could end up getting a lot more stressed than if you were on your own.

Occupy yourself with some games. There are lots of games you can play when on the road, even if you are stationary. For example;

  • 20 Questions
  • The animal game
    • One person names an animal, such as a Sheep. The next person has to think of an animal beginning with the last letter of the previous animal. In this case, Platypus, for example. This continues until someone cannot name an animal and then they are out. The winner is the only one left.
  • The but/so game
    • This is a game that can get very funny very quickly. Someone starts by making a statement such as “a baby rabbit wanted to leave its hutch” and then the next person has to start the next line with the word ‘but’ so for example, “but he couldn’t escape” and then the next person starts the next line with the word ‘so’, “…so he built a ladder”
    • The game finishes when someone can’t think of another line or the story finishes
family in a car smiling
  • I went to the shop and bought…
    • This can be done in several variations and is a car journey favourite.
    • The first person says “I went to the shop and bought a pineapple” then the next person has to say the same and add their own, so “I went to the shop and bought a pineapple and an orange…” and so on. When someone forgets what they bought they are out. This continues until only one person remains.
    • You can do this with supermarkets, clothes shops or variations such as going to the beach or on holiday and so on.

There are plenty of other games that you can play and you can always invent your own. These will make the time go quicker and will distract both you and your children.

Safety is imperative therefore we recommend you check OSV's  comprehensive guide for driver road safety here today

Notice and accept that you are angry

You won’t eliminate every negative thought that you have while stuck in traffic. However, accepting that you are feeling that way in that present moment and then moving on will help you combat stress.

Dwelling on how you are feeling will only make you more stressed and irritated and could lead to rash decisions and acting irresponsibility.

Noticing that you are angry, accepting it and moving on will stop a split-second irritation from turning into full-blown road rage.

Plan ahead

If you are stuck in traffic due to roadworks or road closures, then you are often given some notice before the roadworks begin. If it is a journey you do regularly, such as to work, then maybe consider looking at another route. It might take you longer on a normal day, but when there are roadworks an alternative route might actually be quicker.

Alternatively, you could think about leaving earlier. While you might not want to get to work an hour early, you could always use that opportunity to go to the gym or to grab a coffee and a decent breakfast with a colleague.

If you are going on a journey you have not done before, look at your route before you leave and plan accordingly. Look at a different route or keep alternative routes in mind.

If you are stuck in traffic because of an accident, then think positively. I’m sure you would rather be stuck in traffic than the cause of it.

Keep positive

One of the best ways to prevent being stressed when stuck in traffic is to just stay positive. Traffic is a fact of life, it’s a price we have to pay for having roads and wanting roads that are kept in good condition. You can’t help it and you can’t prevent traffic, so simply accepting it and knowing there’s nothing you can do will help you from getting stressed.

If it is due to an accident, think of those in the accident, and how you would much rather be stuck in traffic. If you are stuck in roadworks then be thankful that they are finally getting round to resurfacing the road or they are working to improve the road in the long run.

It can be difficult to think positively about the situation, but once you accept that there is nothing you can do it can really help to prevent stress.

In conclusion, there are lots of different things you can do to prevent getting stressed when stuck in traffic. These include learning breathing techniques, downloading some podcasts and audiobooks and keeping an emergency traffic jam kit in your car that contains some food and a portable phone charger to prevent additional stress. If you are in the car with your children then playing games will help make the time go quicker and will stop your kids from getting impatient and irritated. Hopefully this has given you some idea of how to prevent stress when stuck in traffic.

Close-up Of Person's Hand Sitting In Car Fastening Seat Belt

Debbie Kirkley

Director at OSV Ltd
Debbie enjoys: Spending time with her family and dogs, travelling and her work.

Debbie has had exposure to every aspect of the business, ensuring a tight ship at every stage of the process. She thrives on achieving great results, all the while being a great person to laugh and joke about with.
Debbie Kirkley

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