We are busy packing up and preparing to join the flocks of north and easterly migrating snowbirds. Winter is over, it’s 90 degrees here in Havasu and time to go to cooler climes. We have a long drive, not as long as many of you snowbirds, and spending that much time behind the wheel is guaranteed to skyrocket the stress level.
I have a few tips for dealing with the inevitable stress of driving a large home on wheels, laden with everything dear to you in this life, down the freeways full of drag racing young people and impatient local commuters. Next time you are cut off by someone who just can’t slow down, or receive the familiar middle finger greeting, instead of reacting with blood pressure increasing anger or ulcer causing indignation, try these stress reducers instead.
Take a deep breath. Your mother, and grandmother both told you this sage bit of advice, and it remains to this day one of the best ways to decrease stress, lower blood pressure, deflect road rage and calm down the racing pulse. In fact, take several deep breaths, maybe even as you count to ten. It is still free to partake of oxygen and you might as well take advantage of that fact while you can. I understand in Tokyo you can buy O2 from vending machines. I think that it might be a good idea in LA! Anyhow, take in some very deep breaths. As you inhale, fill the belly, chest and lungs, then with your exhale, pull the belly button in, collapse the chest and really blow out all the air. As you do so, remind yourself you are blowing out your anger and tension. As you breathe in, fill your belly and chest with patience and calm.
After your ten breaths, look around you and take in the scenery. The idea is to re-frame the scenario. Instead of replaying the honk, or wave, look beyond to the bigger picture. See the trees alongside the road, the mountains in the distance, and the beauty of the natural scenery around you. Opening your eyes and mind to a larger picture helps to avoid getting swept away by the outrage of the moment.
Tune in to your physical sensations. Are your shoulders and neck bulging out (are you an indignant turtle?)? Is your stomach tensing and do you feel your last meal churning around as it turns into an attack of indigestion? Is your chest tight and your heart beating hard, bringing you to the edge of cardiovascular emergency? Are you short of breath, twitching with the desire to strike back, or do you feel a sinking feeling? Identifying and naming your physical symptoms makes it possible to deal with them. Once you know where your body is reacting, you can direct the calming breath to that area, and remind yourself to relax your shoulders, slow your heart rate, or unclench your fists.
Stay in your body and focus on how to alleviate the symptoms that are a reaction to what was an unavoidable situation. Reminding yourself to stay calm, relax and not take it too seriously are time-honored ways to deal with the rising blood pressure and threatening road rage. You know that you are driving safely, and will continue to do so, regardless of the careless or even dangerous habits of others around you. You are responsible only for yourself; let them cause an accident to someone else.
If all else fails, pull off to the side of the road and take a break from driving, walk around as you breathe deeply, reach up and stretch, take a few air punches at that guy and check out the local scenery. A few minutes of defusing may mean your life, and it’s certainly preferable to stewing for hours behind the wheel. Life is too short to sweat the small stuff. Happy, healthy driving.