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Rest Area Panic Is Real, and It’s Also the Worst

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Just over a month ago, I introduced the concept of “turn signal panic,” or the feeling of creeping dread and insecurity that comes shortly after realizing you accidentally left your turn signal on for multiple miles without meaning to. And now, I would like to formally debut its immensely unpleasant cousin: rest area panic.

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What is rest area panic?

There comes a moment in the life of every driver wherein you have to decide whether to stop at the upcoming rest area or drive past. It is a moment where two paths diverge, and they couldn’t be less similar.

Path A: You, having been informed by the kind blue sign just in front of the rest area that your next opportunity to, shall we say, “take a rest,” will not be for 60 or more miles. You decide that a loss in time is a lesser sacrifice than a loss in dignity. And so, you take the exit, relieve yourself, and continue on your journey unencumbered.

Path B: You, having seen the same kind blue sign mentioned above, decide to push on. Perhaps it’s hubris that influences your decision. Perhaps it’s the fact that your morning cup of coffee has yet to unleash its full influence on your digestive system. Whatever the reason, you soon find yourself squirming in your seat, and the kind blue sign from before seems now to be mocking you.

It is the split second before you choose, where you must pick a path, that you experience rest area panic.

Why rest area panic is the worst

Where turn signal panic is born of a mistake and the fear of external judgment, rest area panic manifests before your fateful decision, and impacts only yourself. It locks you in a prison of speculation, and by its very nature, can only last for a few moments.

Your mind races. How much water did you drink this morning? How big of a deal is it to arrive 10 minutes late? Do you even need to “take a rest?” If you don’t, will you spend the next 60 miles fearing that your morning cup of Joe will suddenly make itself known? Everything is a gamble, and the mental gymnastics you need to perform in what feels like a split second may be the hardest — and most important — you do all day.

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