Road Rage is a term that, unfortunately, we have become more and more aware of as the media covers an increasing number of “road rage” incidents. We’re all aware of the shocking stories of mild mannered commuters turned cold blooded murderers, and we’re fairly certain that this will never happen to us. We’re right—we will probably never turn into a cold blooded murderer simply because some jackass cut us off on the freeway. While most of us are nearly immune to such heinous fits of rage, many of us fall victim to a milder sort of road rage.
I am guilty of having committed some pretty severe “road rage” infractions in my day. I was punished in high school for some very uncivil things I said (or rather, yelled) at a bus driver in the school parking lot. On the DC beltway, raising my middle finger (along with my voice) became a reflex; it was almost as natural as using the turn signal. I wasn’t going to go out and kill someone; but my behavior sure could have gotten me killed.
This more mild type of road rage is very prevalent, and very harmful. Besides the obvious safety hazard that it poses, it is unhealthy and un-enjoyable for the Rager and his terrified passengers. The driver in a fit of traffic-inspired rage has high blood pressure (which has both immediate and long-term safety hazards), musculature tension, and high levels of adrenaline and cortisol. All of these things are a genuine hazard to a person’s health.
Some people have reported having nightmares, experiencing excessive irritability after driving, and excessive anxiety because of these episodes. It is apparent that the person experiencing road rage is harmed in a significant way.
The good news is that road rage doesn’t have to happen. There are ways to calm down and relax and deal with the stresses associated with driving in a healthy and productive way. Here are five tips that I’ve used to reduce my automobile related outbursts:
1) Breathing Techniques: I take a deep breath, hold it for a count of five, and release. Doing this several times actually reduces the tension that one’s body is holding. While I’m doing this, I imagine that stress, anxiety and tension filling my lungs, and being blown out of my body when I exhale.
2) Avoiding the aggravating situations: For me, traffic is aggravating, but it is more aggravating when I am worried that it might make me late. Therefore, if I’m going to be driving somewhere that is likely to have traffic, I’ll leave up to a half hour early, and bring a book or some work to do when I get there. Thus, my mind is put at ease and the traffic is easier to deal with. I also plan alternate routes that are less likely to get me caught up in a traffic mess. Each person has their own triggers for road rage situations, and it can be useful to sort through these triggers and try to avoid the stressful situation.
3) Posting Affirmations: I post affirmations in my car (one on my dashboard, and one on the wheel, right where I would press the horn. One of them says, “I am calm and cool because that is good for me. The one on the horn says, “I think before I speak”.
4) Preparing for the critical time: I have two stress balls in my glove compartment, a CD with relaxing music, and a bottle of water in my car at all times. When things get tough, I put on the CD, get out the stress balls (both of which can be used during stop and go traffic), and take a drink of water. This is an excellent way to being the breathing exercises.
5) Changing the mindset: I have seen a hypnotherapist, and I continue to practice self-hypnosis to deal with anger issues in my life. I’ve done a lot of work with the triggers that I identified in tip #2. Now, a lot of the things that were bothering me, simply don’t.
These five tips can take the edge off of your driving experience. The important thing to remember is that the rage is in you: it comes from you, it hurts you, and it torments you. You may be angry at someone or something else, but that anger is an internal thing. You owe it to yourself to address it properly. It isn’t much of a safety issue for others—it is your own safety and health that is at stake. If you can change the way you react and the things you do, you can regain that happy experience of relaxing during your commute.