It likely came as little surprise to residents of Gwinnett County that residents of the Atlanta metropolitan area have identified traffic as the region’s biggest problem.
Gwinnett County Traffic and Anxiety
For the third consecutive year, the Metro Atlanta Speaks survey revealed that transportation is the issue that causes the most concern. The survey, which was conducted by the Atlanta Regional Commission, involved more than 5,400 residents from 13 counties in northern Georgia, including representatives from Gwinnett County.
Problems with transportation were ranked as the top issue by 25 percent of all respondents, and just under 29 percent of those from Gwinnett County.
Those who live in Gwinnett County and others in the Atlanta metropolitan area appear to be fully cognizant of the ways that transportation snafus can extend their workdays and frustrate their efforts to stay on schedule. What they may not realize, though, is that traffic can also have a significantly negative impact on their mental health.
A 2014 study by the UK Office for National Statistics attempted to quantify the degree to which commuting can reduce happiness and increase anxiety levels. According to this study, happiness begins to fall and anxiety begins to increase once a commute passes the 15-minute mark, with the most powerful negative impact on happiness and anxiety resulting from commutes of 60 to 90 minutes.
The Impact of Anxiety
Whether it results from the stress of sitting in traffic on a daily basis or any other cause, anxiety can exert a powerful negative influence on an individual’s health and wellbeing. For example, people who struggle with anxiety may have difficulty managing anger or dealing with other stressful situations in a healthy manner. Anxiety can also prompt a variety of distressing physical symptoms including lightheadedness, heart palpitations, headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, and insomnia.
In some cases, people whose lives are disrupted by anxiety may also feel the urge to attempt to soothe themselves by overeating, consuming unhealthy comfort foods, or abusing alcohol or other drugs. Not only will these behaviors fail to resolve the anxiety, but they are likely to exacerbate the problem, as well as lead to a variety of additional negative outcomes.
Healthy Ways to Manage Anxiety
Anxiety can result from external stimuli, such as the transportation-related issues discussed earlier on this page, or from a mental health disorder. When a person has an anxiety disorder, he or she will need effective professional treatment in order to overcome or learn to manage his or her symptoms. When the cause is external, such as traffic, there are a few simple steps that can help a person to avoid or alleviate anxiety and related symptoms.
First, prepare yourself. Anxiety can often result when expectations and reality are not aligned. For example, if you have a smooth 20-minute drive to work every morning, an unplanned traffic jam can put you behind schedule and turn up your anxiety level. But if you know that your drive is going to be a slow stop-and-go experience every day, you can adjust your schedule, take an alternate route, or leave earlier to mitigate the impact on the rest of your day.
If you cannot shorten or avoid your commute, do your best to create a relaxing environment for yourself. Listen to calm music, an audiobook, a podcast, or a similar form of auditory entertainment that puts you into a more relaxed mindset. Remember that your goal here is to minimize stress – so choose a soundtrack that soothes, and avoid words or music that is designed to raise your blood pressure.
Take slow, deep breaths. Relax your shoulders, roll your neck, and feel the tension dissipate from your body. Don’t let the person who just cut you off obliterate your bliss. Arriving at your destination a few seconds (or even a few minutes) later is not a tragedy. Don’t sacrifice your serenity to events that are beyond your control.
Get Help When Necessary
Of course, if you or someone that you care about has been suffering from an anxiety disorder, or similar mental health conditions, then calm music and positive thoughts will not be enough to make the problem go away. If efforts such as the ones described in the previous section don’t alleviate any of the pain that you have been feeling, contact your healthcare provider and get a thorough assessment. Anxiety disorders are treatable conditions – but you need to get an accurate diagnosis and receive effective professional care in order to experience relief.