Road rage is a specific form of aggression that shows itself when a person is driving.
Road rage is not rational. When walking in the city, do you try to run faster than everyone else, get impatient, shout and swear at people who are in front of you, or threaten to hit them when they turn in front of you? Of course not. You don’t speed up to prevent someone joining the flow from a side alley or make rude gestures at people who don’t walk in “your” style. Nor do you walk as closely as possible to the person in front of you, risking a collision should they stop suddenly. You don’t blaze with anger every time someone makes a little mistake (even though you are hardly guilt-free).
Yet people who suffer from — and cause suffering by — road rage behave exactly just like that with their cars as soon as they get into the driver’s seat.
The origin of road rage
As with any type of aggression, there is a firm link between a person’s emotional and physical state. If your body gets into an aggressive physical state, you will feel and probably become aggressive.
Due to the way that our instincts work, car driving has a tendency to put your body into an aggressive state. This happens unconsciously, so you are not aware of it, but the result is more aggression than you would “naturally” have.
It explains why so very many people sit in the right lane (or the left lane, for those not in the UK and other left-hand countries) impatiently wanting to overtake others and driving too close when, really, there is no need to be so unhappily rushed. It’s not as if every single one of those people is rushing to an emergency!
True, there are some people for whom road rage is their normal mode: they are aggressive in many situations. This article does not apply to those people. I am referring to those who are mostly quite “normal”, but lose emotional control in the car.
Treating road rage
How do you treat road rage?
I enjoy taking clients with this condition, because it (mostly) really is as simple as retraining the way you handle your body while driving.
I once had to go to the doctor to have my heart measured. I arrived at the surgery and parked; walked in; and was seen by the nurse immediately. Within a few minutes, she had hooked up the ECG to my chest, arms and ankles, and turned on the machine.
My heart rate was fast! I commented on this, and the nurse looked at me and said, “You drove here, didn’t you?”
She knew how driving pushed up a person’s heart rate.
The biggest change that comes over you when you drive (for reasons based in primitive instinct) is that your breathing becomes shallow and short — your body gets too little oxygen. This causes your heart rate to speed up, adrenalin to flow, and feelings of nervousness, upset, anger or aggression to manifest.
Here are a few tips to reduce or even eliminate your road rage.
5 Tips for reducing road rage
- Put things into perspective. OK, this isn’t about your body, but it’s important for you to realise that you aren’t rushing to an emergency; other drivers are also impatient; they are people, not malicious monsters out to get you (don’t be paranoid!); and what you are feeling is irrational.
- Each time you turn on the car’s ignition, stop! Take a few seconds to breathe deeply three times. Remind yourself that this is not a life-and-death situation, but instead that you are controlling a dangerous weapon. Treat your car driving the way you would treat a rifle or crossbow: carefully, responsibly, safely.
- Each time someone else makes a mistake, take a deep breath and remember that they are human, just as fallible as you are. (Can you claim to have driven all your life without ever making a mistake?) Treat them as you’d like to be treated when you make a mistake: a friendly warning and nothing more.
- Each time you change gear or flip the indicator (e.g. when changing lanes), remind yourself to mentally stop! and take three deep breaths.
- Keep a set of CD’s in your car to sing along with. If you’re singing, you’re breathing… (Be sure to put on the CD while parked so that you can keep your eyes on the road while driving.)
These tips may seem silly and too simple, but it all hinges on the breathing. If you suffer from road rage, try these. Why let your primitive instincts hijack your ability to be a happy adult, turning you into a child throwing a temper tantrum? Why not take control!
These few tips have helped many people become calm, safe and fun drivers; from hating their time on the road to enjoying it. It can work for you.