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Carmageddon is coming, so chill out and crank up the tunes

July 06, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Getting stuck in carmageddon may not be bad, but it won't be the worst thing that ever happens to you.
Getting stuck in carmageddon may not be bad, but it won't be the worst… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

Are you ready for Carmageddon, the lockdown of a 10-mile stretch of the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles July 16 and 17? The lucky people who don't have to hit the roads will probably stay put, but undoubtedly some will get stuck -- as in trapped like a caged animal -- in horrible traffic.

Not that Angelenos are strangers to traffic jams, but since this is allegedly going to produce gridlock to end all gridlock, we thought we'd offer a few tips on how to chillax and not blow a gasket during your blocks of idling. Those not going to be caught up in the Worst Traffic Jam Ever should pay attention as well, since bottlenecks and gridlock are a way of life for many urban dwellers.

"Sometimes when we're stuck in traffic we think it's never going to end and never going to get better," says George Slavich, assistant professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA. "We sort of 'catastrophize' the situation -- we take a situation that is relatively limited and we think it's the worst it's ever been." Instead of going that route, Slavich suggests engaging in a little cognitive restructuring -- that's a fancy way of saying step back, put the circumstances in perspective and realize it's not the end of the world.

"You can say to yourself that [being in the car] is important for the task you're trying to do, and this is only going to last another 20 minutes," Slavich says. You can also think about what could be worse -- for us that would be a root canal. People driving to work might realize that getting stuck in traffic on the way to work is better than not getting stuck because there is no job to go to.

Technology can come in handy. Listening to a podcast, a favorite radio station or an audio book is a great way to pass the time. So can making a call (hands-free, of course), as long as the conversation doesn't add to the stress.

"Being in the car and having a little bit of alone time is not a bad option if you have someone you can really talk to to pass the time," Slavich says, "but it should be calming and enjoyable and not stressful. Don't add additional misery to misery."

The best strategy is to plan ahead: Download some podcasts the night before, gather some games for the kids to play, arrange to speak with a friend. "Don't just pack the kids in the car and then get stuck in the situation. "Getting emotional and trying to brainstorm ideas is difficult to do." If possible, get off the road and grab a cup of coffee: "Take yourself out of the situation for 15 minutes."

Don't forget that letting traffic jams stress you out can take a toll on your health. A 2004 study in the journal Social Science & Medicine found that traffic stress was linked with worse health and more symptoms of depression. And a 2010 study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that being in traffic may boost cardiovascular disease risk due to the unfavorable effects on blood pressure and inflammation.

So if you can't avoid the hellish nightmare that will be the roadways, plan ahead and cue up the Jimmy Buffett music.

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