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Stuck in traffic? How to handle SEPTA strike stress

So maybe the SEPTA strike has made your normally annoying commute downright exasperating. Cars crawled. Way too many fellow commuters blocked the box. Jerks behind you honked when it was obvious that no one could move.

By the time you got where you were going, your mood was sour.

Is there a better way to handle this new stress, coming after months of train problems and road and utility work?

Area behavioral-health experts suggest some techniques that might help you cope.

The obvious one is to breathe slowly and deeply. Feel your diaphragm move. If you're stuck in the car, turn up some music you really like.

This is a good time to shift your schedule, if that's an option, the experts said. Better yet, if you can, work from home.

Mary Morrison, vice chair for research in the department of psychiatry at Temple University, said bosses and coworkers are generally more forgiving of lateness during a big event like a strike. Plus, lots of people are having the same problems and can support one another.

This is not a good time to be a perfectionist, she said, but it is a good time to think about "backup plans and problem-solving."

While traffic is jammed, she suggests, notice the beautiful fall leaves or do some stretching exercises. Even in a car, you can do shoulder rolls or turn your head to the left and right. The meditators among us can imagine colors running up and down our spines.

Michael Thase, a psychiatrist who directs the mood and anxiety-disorders program at the University of Pennsylvania, said people will do better if they realize the situation is temporary and all they have to do is ride it out. Riding with company — carpooling — may provide good social support.

And you can learn from your mistakes and be flexible. If you were late today, leave earlier tomorrow.

He suggests trying to relax your muscles in the car by alternately tensing and releasing them.

George James, a licensed marriage and family therapist who is program director of the Couple and Family Therapy Program at Thomas Jefferson University, said people feel stressed when they can't control what's happening. One solution is to accept that. "I have to accept the reality," you tell yourself. "I'm going to be late."

As for the other drivers whose rotten behavior only makes a bad situation worse, James suggests trying to keep your emotions at bay. If a child has a tantrum, it doesn't help if the parent has one, too. "The ideal way to deal with it is to have a response and not a reaction," he said.

Morrison tries to feel sympathy for those people who honk when everyone is trapped. "There are cultures where people only honk in emergencies," she said. "In Philadelphia, people honk for anger."

That honker, she said, is "probably having a worse day than you are."

James said you may want to de-stress before you finally walk into your office or home, so you don't impose your stress on everyone else. Sit for a minute or take a little walk. Take a few more deep breaths. Then you can open the door.