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Feeling the pressure at the gas pump? How can you not with Massachusetts gas prices surging 14 cents per gallon over the past week -- and 31 cents over two weeks -- due to the crisis in Egypt and now Libya. A gallon of regular unleaded now averages $3.45 a gallon.
Perhaps you're experiencing a little surge of dread when you pass those giant gas signs, knowing that you'll soon have to refill your near-empty tank. (Of course, if you don't have a car, you might feel a bit of satisfaction.) Since I'm one of the stressed car owners, I'd like to know what I can do about it. I called two Boston psychologists for advice.
"It's like waiting for the other shoe to drop, seeing just how high those prices will go," says Joe Tecce, a professor of psychology at Boston College. "So perception is key, which means you need to gain some control over the situation."
You can start by checking online to find the lowest prices in your neighborhood. Or make sure your car is well maintained -- get the oil changed, put air in low-pressure tires, and replace a dirty air filter -- to increase gas mileage. "You might only save a few dollars but at least you'll feel like you've gained some control, like you're sticking it to Qaddafi," says Tecce.
Psychologist Karen Ruskin, who has a private practice in Sharon, says she tells her patients to do the following to nullify stress caused by those maddening gas prices and other life frustrations:
-- Acknowledge your stress or anxiety. "It's not about ignoring your fears but acknowledging what they are," says Ruskin. Most of us are feeling some financial stress from the recession and this is just one more thing to worry about. "It leads us to start ruminating," she adds, "perhaps thinking that if gas prices are rising what will happen next?"
-- Recognize what's within your control. The price on the gas station sign isn't. How you deal with it is.
-- Choose to relish what you have in your life. "Do one thing today that reminds you of a positive in your life, that connects you to another person," says Ruskin, "rather than your finances." It can be something as simple as playing a board game with your child, giving your partner a hug, or calling aging parents to tell them how happy you are that they're still in your life.
-- Reassure yourself that you have the strength to cope. "You can choose to deal with the rising gas prices in a calm way," says Ruskin. After all, we've had them before in 2008 when gas prices topped out at around $4. We were told then that gas would never come back down, and guess what? It did.
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