Stress Mastery: How To Relieve Traffic Jam Stress (Part 1 of 3)

by Doc Orman, M.D.

Last week was not only the kickoff of National Stress Awareness Month (April 1-30) for the 22nd consecutive year, but it also marked the publication of my 400th blog post since I began this stress relief blog back on Monday, September 12th, 2011.

Each time I reach one of these blog post milestones, I like to go back and revisit one of my favorite prior series, just because there are many new readers of this blog who might not have been around from the outset.  So this week, I’m going to talk about traffic jam stress again, which I first wrote about during the Christmas season of 2011.

How Often Do You Get Stressed By Traffic Jams?

traffic jam stress 1Why did I pick the topic of traffic jams to revisit?  Well, for starters, it’s a very common type of stress that we all experience from time to time.  But even more important…focusing on traffic jam stress is a great way to test your basic understanding of the causes of human stress in general. 

You see, most people have a very incomplete view of what really causes their stress to occur.  In numerous previous blog posts, I’ve talked about obvious vs. non-obvious causes and internal vs. external causes.  These are crucial concepts to be clear about, so I’ll try to illustrate them using traffic jams as an example.

Take the case of John, a 35 year old sales executive who frequently gets mega-stressed-out by traffic jams.  When you ask John what he thinks is causing his traffic jam stress to occur, he will give you an answer that’s pretty typical of what most people say:

John:  “I have a terrible time coping with traffic jams and the stress they cause me. I’ve got a busy schedule and I really get steamed when some jerk doesn’t keep his eyes on the road and causes me to miss an important sales meeting.  Sure I know what’s causing my stress to occur, but most of the time, it’s beyond my control.”

Is John Missing Key Pieces Of The Puzzle?

John thinks he understands what is causing his traffic jam stress to occur: poor drivers.  But, in reality, he’s only recognizing half of the puzzle pieces.  This is because he is focused only on the obvious, external ones.   

What John doesn’t fully understand is that other drivers are just part of the reason he gets so upset when he is caught in a traffic jam.  There are a number of other causes involved, but these are non-obvious, internal ones (i.e. they are within John himself), which he normally doesn’t see or take into account, but they are there nonetheless.

Thus, when John tries to deal with his traffic jam stress, his options for coping are very limited.  That’s because he’s considering only 50% of the puzzle pieces.  On the other hand, if he did have all the puzzle pieces (causes of his traffic jam stress) available to him—both internal and external—his options for coping with his emotional reactions would be expanded dramatically. 

In fact, if John had all of the puzzle pieces clearly in front of him, he would find that he has much more personal control of his emotional reactions than he gives himself credit for.

Is This Just Limited To Traffic Jams In John’s Life?

You might think that focusing on traffic jam stress is not all that important or not really worth taking up much of your time, since it’s such a minor part of most people’s lives.  But you most likely would be wrong if that is your assessment.

What if John truly “got” that additional, non-obvious factors within himself (i.e. unrelated to the behavior of other drivers) were strongly contributing to his stressful emotions whenever he gets stuck in traffic?

Might he begin to wonder where other internal, non-obvious factors might also be causing trouble in his life?  Might he start to better understand how he might be contributing to some of the other stressful problems in his life, like relationship conflicts, anger and frustration in other situations, stress-related physical problems or health conditions, etc?  I think that he would have to start noticing these things, provided he has an open mind and is willing to look at the true causes of his stress honestly.

My point here is that once you do get more clarity about what’s really going on when you experience traffic jam stress, you will also gain more clarity that perhaps other types of hidden causes, totally within you, may be contributing to many other common types of stress in your life.  So traffic jam stress is just the tip of a very large non-obvious iceberg.

With the next two parts of this three-part series coming up this week, I’ll take a closer look at some of these hidden, internal causes of traffic jam stress that probably are affecting John and that may frequently affect you as well. 

NOTE: If you haven’t already done so, be sure to get your free PDF copy of my latest e-book “4 Books On Stress That Can Transform Your Life” by clicking this link:

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