“The initial turn [in our mood] usually has nothing to do with the traffic,” says Jovanovic. “We can be feeling upset over something that happened at work, or with a friend or a partner. The ‘turn’ we make is allowing angry thoughts to occupy our minds [such that it] infiltrates into the very thing we are doing at that moment, even if that thing — such as driving — has nothing to do with the reason for our anger. We start perceiving relatively neutral behaviors of other drivers as insulting, disrespectful, upsetting, invalidating, frustrating, etc. The emotions we’ve previously been feeling get attached to the situation we are in.”
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Simply put, “we project our negative feelings onto the actions of others,” Jovanovic says. “One angry thought leads to another one, spiraling out of control before we even have a chance to check whether the intentions of other drivers are really malicious or disrespectful. Just imagine pumping a balloon until it bursts. This can be a good illustration of how anger fills up the mental space of a person to the point it makes them snap.”
A little soul-searching can help eliminate road rage
Laura Louise, a speaker, mentor and author describes herself as having previously been “an extreme road rage crazy woman.”
“I was so angry inside that any opportunity to release my anger was a welcome explosion of rage,” Louise says. “I would chase people down in my car, yell at them for cutting me off or even get out of my car if they escalated the situation. Looking back, it’s pretty embarrassing.”
To solve her rage issues that were manifesting on the road, Louise committed to getting to the root of her general anger. She found that much of it was rooted in buried resentment towards her father.
“I wrote letters to myself and began to work through the emotions of not having the childhood I wanted, coming to terms with reality and envisioning my father's side,” she says. “I meditated to calm my emotions and experience an internal quiet place, and stopped drinking alcohol.”
Imagine what the other driver might be going through
Louise still gets irritated by the erratic behaviors of fellow drivers, but she doesn’t let it get the best of her. Instead, she tries to imagine what these people might be going through to cause them to drive so irresponsibly.
“I create a story about the other drivers so I may continue on my way with peace,” she says. “I will imagine the person needs to use a restroom so badly they are in a panic. If they made a really bad error in judgment, I imagine they are rushing to a hospital. I will often say a prayer for them and continue on my way without anger. I am happier and healthier because I no longer allow other people’s driving errors be the cause for me to explode.”
The rules of the road apply to everyone, but focus only on your part
Jim Dailakis, a comedian and voiceover artist whose driven in five countries through all sorts of conditions, says the way he deals with his road rage is by taking a “Zen-like approach.”
“I just accept that the minute I get into the car, the road rules only apply to me and not to anyone else,” Dailakis says. “They can do whatever they want which makes me cautious and alert. It also helps with anticipating other drivers’ moves.”
Podcasts and audiobooks can be calming
Dakota Kim, a writer in Los Angeles, says she used to experience minor road rage, and zapped it simply by focusing on something other than the road — namely podcasts.
“My response to my road rage is to turn on an engrossing podcast,” says Kim. “I remind myself that this flaring up of temper is a somewhat irrational response to physical and mental frustration, and that if I preoccupy myself rather than trying to weave through lanes, the relativity of time will ease.”
Stephanie Hammell, a financial advisor in Orange County, California, has also coped with her road rage by listening to a story on the car speakers. She vouches for audiobooks.
“Listening to books in the car is super valuable, and when you're tuned into what the next topic is you'll be learning on and developing your skills with, it puts your attention on the wisdom you're taking in rather than the rage, and you're still paying attention to the road,” Hammell says.
Leave earlier and ride-share when possible
“I used to constantly find myself cursing at other drivers for their mistakes, giving them the finger and trying to retaliate,” says Tarez Dennis, a podcaster in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “I decided to change my attitude towards road rage when I noticed the dangers behind it. I took a moment to analyze why I was getting so upset and most times it was because I was in a rush to get to my destination. I started allowing myself more time to travel so I wouldn't get so upset when minor road issues happened.”
If able, you might want to take a break from driving altogether.
Garin Flowers, a director of media relations in L.A, had terrible road rage when working in Florida and decided to give up driving when he moved out west.
“I've been using ride sharing apps and the train system to get around,” Flowers says. “It has absolutely changed my life. Riding [as a passenger] in a car every day, you learn that most things aren't in your control, such as traffic and other bad drivers. So, why get so upset about it? Yes, I still wish road conditions were better, especially here in LA, but I'm a much calmer person when getting around.”
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