I-85 bridge reopening may be just what the doctor ordered

Is the I-85 collapse making you sick? Possibly. That's why the bridge reopening as soon as possible is just what the doctor ordered.

Dr. Melinda Paige, clinical mental health counseling professor at Argosy University in Atlanta, says the increased commute time increases the stress levels of many drivers--and in turn, the brain interprets that as a threat, causing emotional distress or physical symptoms.

Paige says it's classic fight-or-flight mode--all caused by being stuck in a traffic jam.

"Eighty-five percent of our brains are actually the same that we share with other animals and primates," says Dr. Paige. "So that part of the animal brain...doesn't have the ability to tell the difference between traffic and something coming to eat me alive. Our brains are the same as they were when we were Neanderthal."

The perceived "threat" leads to anxiety which can manifest itself physically for some drivers.

"Their stomach starts to hurt, or they get chest pains, or they start to breathe quickly or get clammy," says Paige.

Paige says the other 15% of the brain is where we're "smart." Humans then worry that the boss will be mad and fire them if they're late, or their child will be upset if Mom or Dad isn't in the carpool line as early as usual.

She says when the body reacts stressfully to the stories our minds tell, it's important to tell yourself that those thoughts are irrational.

Paige recommends a strategy with the acronym "SNAG:" Stop and Notice what's going on in the body; Appreciate the fact that your biology is working for your protection, knowledge which should reassure you; and Ground yourself by actively calming the mind and body.

When your heart's racing, Dr. Paige explains, practice mindfulness and being in the moment.

"Get in touch with something in the here and now, like our breath. Take 10 deep breaths. Something soothing on the car radio. A book on tape. Maybe a nice smell that you enjoy. Anything that you can use to get you present again and grounded calms the mind and body," says Paige.

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