Home > mint-lounge > business-of-life > Stuck in traffic? Make the best of it

Whether it’s Bengaluru, Gurgaon or Delhi, commuting over the past few weeks has been nothing less than a nightmare, thanks to monsoon-induced traffic jams.

People were left stranded, medical appointments had to be cancelled and meetings rescheduled as these cities came to a halt.

“A traffic jam isn’t just making you late, it’s also insidiously harming your health, making you more prone to violence, causing stress, fracturing social relationships and sapping your very soul," says Tarun Sahni, senior consultant, internal medicine, at the Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals in New Delhi.

A study by the University of California, US, published in 2014, found that prolonged exposure to traffic jams presents serious risks to heart health, causing blood pressure to rise and arteries to swell. Another study, published in 2012 in the American Journal Of Preventive Medicine, found that the more time people spent on the road, the more likely they were to be overweight. “Sitting for long stretches can give you symptoms of long flights, like deep vein thrombosis or calf pain," says Prakash M. Doshi, chief of orthopaedics and traumatology at the Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital in Mumbai. “Being stuck on the road can also cause irritable fatigue, road rage, even depression."

Many a time, the problem is you’re wary of opening the windows too because pollution from cars and trucks can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, respiratory ailments and cancer, says D.S. Chadha, additional director, internal medicine, at the Fortis Flt Lt Rajan Dhall Hospital in New Delhi. If you are the kind who has to face traffic jams on a daily basis, remember that rolling down that window is not an option because “excessive fumes for more than 30 minutes a day can harm mental capacity, intelligence and emotional stability and affect decision-making abilities", says Dr Chadha.

If you are reading this while you are stuck in traffic, here’s what you can do.

Be patient

One of the stress triggers is impatience. Having to wait for the traffic to move or dealing with the mistakes of other motorists on the road can lead to resentment, anger, road rage, all culminating in stress, a deadly disease, says Samir Parikh, director, department of mental health and behavioural sciences at the Fortis Memorial Research Institute in Gurgaon, adjoining Delhi.

The first step to counter this is to accept traffic jams as something beyond your control. “Ignore it, wait patiently to get out of it, or listen to music. If you’re upset, talk to someone, do some breathing exercises, distract yourself to stay calm and relaxed," he says. Remind yourself that you’re not the only one stuck.

Connect and meditate

Of course, we won’t suggest this in case you’re the one who’s driving, but if you’re a passenger, close your eyes, take a deep breath and take this rare time to connect with yourself, says Vesna Pericevic Jacob, founder of Vesna’s Alta Celo, a wellness studio in New Delhi. “As your mind relaxes through meditation, your blood pressure stabilizes and you feel at one with the universe."

If you’ve never started on meditation, download Calm (Calm.com) to learn how to, or Headspace (Headspace.com) for creative ideas on meditation.

Ensure a good posture

If you’re the one driving, a good driving posture can help relieve shoulder and neck stiffness or pain in the knee or ankle, says Jacob. “Being constantly in pain is a sure way of getting more stressed; instead, pay attention to your posture while you’re driving."

Keep the base of the car seat on a par with your shin bone, slightly recline the back of your seat, adjust the seat belt so that it lies across the top of your shoulder and doesn’t rub against your neck or upper arm. “The steering wheel should be at a comfortable distance, with your elbows slightly bent," she adds.

Keep yourself hydrated and fed

Being hungry, especially when travelling with children or the elderly, doesn’t help. Keep some dry fruits, water and biscuits in your car at all times, suggests Dr Sahni.

Learn something new

You can distract yourself by turning the car into a productivity zone, suggests Jacob. “Listen to seminars, lectures, motivational speeches and other material that can help you become more valuable as a worker and as a human being." Head to Openculture (Openculture.com), a vast resource of free audio books, podcasts and movies that you can download and view. Use the Offline feature in YouTube.com or read articles offline on Pocket (Getpocket.com). How about learning a new language? Just download Duolingo (Duolingo.com).

Move as much as you can

Wiggle, stretch, flex—your No.1 goal should be to move as much as you can, says Dr Chadha. Try isometric training inspired by the legendary Bruce Lee, where you can work your muscles without moving your body, says Jacob. “Push your back into the seat, place the hands on the wheel, and gently push yourself until you feel your muscles stretch," she adds. Engage the core and slowly bend your head so that your shoulder blades lose contact with the seat. Return to the starting position; repeat this three times.

Get someone else to drive

Traffic snarls can lead to increased incidents of road rage, during which the heart rate increases, breathing intensifies and blood pressure shoots up, says Dr Chadha. “If you’re a stressed driver, don’t drive. Hire a driver or consider public transport."

A study by the University of East Anglia, UK, published in the Preventive Medicine journal in 2014, found that people who drove had more trouble concentrating than walkers or cyclists. “People who walk are less stressed. Even public transport is a better alternative as it requires you to walk up and down subway stairs, stand on the Metro train or walk to the bus stop," says Dr Chadha.

Consider a portable toilet

Sitting in a fixed position for a long time, controlling your bladder, can be quite hard on the liver, especially for elderly people. “In Jakarta, getting stuck in a traffic jam for 3-4 hours is very common, so people there carry portable toilets in cars," says Dr Sahni. Perhaps it’s time someone started selling one for our city roads too.

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