The Jellyfish Effect: 5 Tools to Deal With Traffic

There’s a line in the cult classic Clueless where Cher’s father tells her she has 20 minutes to get home. As he explains, “Everywhere in L.A. takes 20 minutes.” If you’ve ever had the opportunity to drive through Los Angeles, you’d know this line is funny because it’s so wrong. At times, driving through LA reminds me of trying to get out of the parking lot of a baseball stadium at the end of a playoff game. Other times, driving on LA freeways reminds me of trying to speed-walk through a mall populated with groups of 4 friends that insist on all walking side by side. Honestly,…
Some of you from New York or New Jersey are probably yelling at me right now, “Oh pu-lease! You think Los Angeles is bad!?!” Instead of trying to agree on which city has the worst traffic, can we all just agree that traffic is aggravating and exasperating? We all have different ways of dealing with road congestion and while The Most Interesting Man in the World reportedly cures Road Rage, here are my personal tools for dealing with those times I can’t drive 55.

1-Baseball Hat

Ever have one of those days where you’re going slowly enough for a senior citizen to pass you and the sun is right in your face? I mean glaring straight into your face, either because it’s too low to be blocked by your sun visor or it’s exploding out of your rear-view mirror. The solution to this is to keep a baseball hat handy. You can angle the bill in several more directions than your sun visor and you can even tip your hat to those people who let you merge into their lane instead of running you off the road. Traffic is bad enough but add in the loss of vision and it’s just a hot mess.
I personally believe it’s impossible to be stressed out while watching a jellyfish swim. However, since I haven’t figured out how to install a jelly fish tank in my Camry, the next best option is to find a cd that has the same soothing effect. For me, that’s the Piano Guys. If I tried, I could not maintain my “Angry Driver Eyes” while listening to the Piano Guys’ take on “Secrets”. Listening to A7X only compounds my road rage, and falling asleep at the wheel is never a good idea so I steer clear (pun intended) of soporific artists like 30 Seconds to Mars. Of course I love my New Found Glory jams and David Guetta hits but those songs make me want to dance and it can be embarrassing when I’m stuck in traffic and can’t get away from those that catch me rocking out.
The average human can survive a week without food but only a few days without water. For that reason, and a few others, I like to keep a water bottle in my car. I’m sure you’ve seen it on the news – some accident occurs on a major freeway and all lanes are completely shut down, turning the freeway into a parking lot and trapping those cars closest to the accident in their positions for an undetermined amount of time. While this has only happened to me once, should it ever happen again, I’ve got my water and my music so I’ll be fine. Plus, keeping your body fully hydrated is good for optimizing your metabolism.
I’m not a big fan of snacking because it’s way too easy for a 5 foot 1-and-a-half girl like me to consume more than my optimal amount of calories for the day. That said, going four hours without eating or realizing I forgot to eat before arriving at the beach for my morning run is like watching a foreign film with no subtitles – time drags and my thoughts get fuzzy. To keep this undesirable situation at bay, I keep a tiny bag of trail mix in my glove compartment. I avoid the mixes with M&Ms, dried fruit or yogurt chips because those taste so darn good the mix never lasts very long (like those Muddy Buddy or Pumpkin Spice trail mixes – forget about it, I’ll eat the whole thing.) The perfect mix is one that doesn’t leave chocolate or sugar on your finger tips and isn’t so sweet you over-snack. For me, something like SunnyCranberry trail mix from Archer Farms does the trick. I like mixes with tiny components because eating them one piece at a time takes long enough for my appetite to go away. Usually trail mixes are only a quarter-cup in serving size so palming it only increases the likelihood of over-consuming. Like my motto for traffic jams, “Slow and steady wins the race.”
5-Sense of humor
Who doesn’t talk to the car in front of them while driving? “Thanks for putting on your blinker, Ford – NOT.” “Yes, YOU are going to let me in, whether you like it or not.” “Gas is on the right, Subaru.” Traffic can be mildly irritating or completely maddening, but usually you just have to deal with it. Talking out loud to voice your frustration can help lighten the mood if you take the comedic approach over the angry rant. Surprisingly, even the act of speaking out loud triggers a curious reaction in the brain to ease pain and anxiety. It’s called “affect labeling”, the act of putting feelings into words; though the Lieberman group at UCLA has done incredible work on this phenomenon, the concept is not much different than Buddhism “mindfulness” or venting to a friend or in a diary. Using fMRIs to monitor brain activity, Lieberman’s group found that labeling emotions actually mutes and counteracts the part of the brain that triggers fear and anxiety (the amygdala). For example, when the driver in front of you is checking his cell phone and hasn’t noticed the opportunity to move forward, the act of saying “I feel angry” minimizes the wave of emotional anger you feel. Maybe this verbalization sounds silly but don’t knock it until you try it. Furthermore, even if you do feel silly trying this technique, life is short – laugh often.
And there you have it. These 5 tools facilitate my relationship with traffic.
For more on the Leiberman Group’s work on affect labeling – “Subjective Responses to Emotional Stimuli During Labeling, Reappraisal,and Distraction
For a more in-depth discussion on the many different aspects of fear and anxiety and the strategies to handle them, this book is one of my all-time favorites: Nerve by Taylor Clark
For more info on my new favorite traffic/trail mix – What’s Good at Archer Farms
For those who haven’t experienced the calming effect of the Piano Guys – Watch This and Be Amazed: Piano Guys cover OneRepublic’s “Secrets”, live
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