How to Not Lose Your Mind When You’re Stuck in Shore Traffic This Weekend

Not if you're stuck in traffic, when.

In our area, beach-bound Labor Day weekend traffic is, well, a given. It’s as inevitable as the sun burn you’ll get when you forget to reapply lotion, or the ice cream headache you’ll suffer when you scarf down a cone of Kohr Bros. custard too quickly, or the nausea you’ll endure if you ride the Sea Serpent one too many times at Morey’s Piers. (Guilty on all three.)

My husband will be the first to tell you that I’ve never been one to take traffic in stride. I’m one of those people who obsessively checks Google Maps for accidents or blockages and demands a re-route, even if such a move requires stop-and-go surface streets that will take as much time as staying the course on the traffic-ridden highway. My theory: I’d rather be moving than staring at someone’s taillights. 

If you’re headed down the Shore this weekend, may the God of green-streeted Google Maps be with you. But since, as we have well established, you’re most likely going to get stuck in traffic somewhere, somehow along the way, I thought it might be wise to seek professional help — in this case, the sage advice of always Zen, always wonderful, always chiiiiiiiiilllllll Jennifer Schelter, well-known local yoga instructor and mindfulness expert, whose personal motto on traffic is: “You just have to know it’s going to happen.” Sigh. She’s right.

Jennifer shared her tried and true traffic-coping strategies for how to make the best of, well, a super annoying situation. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the taillights.

1. Exude gratitude, not attitude. 

Look, traffic sucks — we all know that. But when you’re stuck in traffic headed down the Shore, have you ever stopped to think about the fact that you’re actually lucky to be there? Track with me on this one: Not everyone has the means or time or ability to go on a sweet beach vacation. Once you get the whole traffic thing behind you, you’ll be sitting on a beach, taking in the sun and sand and surf, and enjoying one of life’s greatest pleasures: well-earned time off from your real life. So this weekend when you’re crawling your way down the AC Expressway, try to be grateful about all the fun you’re about to have.

2. Traffic is a gift — no, really! 

Here’s a way to turn your entire view of traffic on its head: Think of it as a gift of free time. Really: When’s the last time you were sitting still with absolutely nothing to do? Think about ways that you could use the time wisely. (And, if you’re in the driver’s seat, safely.) Jennifer likes to call up old friends or relatives she hasn’t talked to in awhile and catch up. (Using a hands-free phone, of course.) “Don’t think of traffic as a time waster but as a time advantage,” she says.

3. Keep things in perspective. 

I told Jennifer about my Google Maps obsession, and to my surprise, she actually said it can be a pretty healthy habit — if you approach it in the right way. Instead of getting tense and stressed about all that maroon in front of you, take note of its endpoint. “Traffic cannot and will not last forever,” she says. Thanks to the wonders of technology, you can see exactly where and when it will be over with — no guesswork needed. Focus on that instead of what it will take to get there to keep your brain in check.

4. Think about why you’re going on vacation in the first place, and try to channel those positive vibes. 

Chances are, you’re not going on vacation to experience three days of stress, frustration and palpitation-inducing rage. Vacations are a time to relax, laugh and enjoy the company of loved ones. Try setting the tone for your entire vacation while you’re sitting in traffic: “My strategy is to put myself as quickly as possible in the experience I want to experience,” Jennifer says. “So if I’m going on vacation to relax and have fun or learn new things, then I might as well experience those things as quickly as possible” — which is to say, in the car on the way there. If you’re having trouble picturing anything but the endless line of cars in front you, it helps make a list of all the fun things you want to do once you get there: Go for a sunrise run on the beach. Take a bike ride on the boardwalk. Go on a whale-watching trip. Eat a massive bucket of Curly’s fries (mmmm). Hey, whatever works.

By the way, the same goes for when you’re coming home and stuck in traffic on the back end. Think about all the fun things you did on vacation; in fact, physically jot them down on a list — or have your copilot do so — so you can focus on the good times and memories you created during your time away. You might even want to save the list for your scrapbook so years later you can read though it and laugh about that time you tried to go fishing and your boat tipped over. (Too soon?)

5. Remember: It’s not personal. 

One of the reasons people get so freaking stressed and rage-filled about traffic is that they focus on how much the cars and people around them ruining their own plans. The thing is, traffic isn’t personal. Nobody wakes up in the morning and says to himself, “Today, I’m going to cause a major pile-up on Route 55 in order to screw over everybody else headed down the Shore for vacation. Mwahahaha.” Says Jennifer, “I think the stress of it is this hideous feeling that you’ve been screwed over by other people.” Once you remove that feeling of being personally attacked by the situation, you’re free to realize that, hey, we’re all in this together, so I might as well make the best of it.

6. Distractions, distractions, distractions.

Speaking of making the best of it, Jennifer advises taking your mind off the traffic as much as possible. Her favorite means of distraction: a book on tape, a killer playlist, a podcast. And remember your rusty, underutilized old friend, Imagination? Take him off the bench, send him to the pitcher’s mound, and try making up a fun story about the people in the car next to you. “I figure I’m like a captive audience, so I might as well just captivate myself,” she says.

7. And when all else fails … 

“Diet root beer,” says Jennifer. “Diet root beer passes the time very well.”

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