Dealing with road rage - how to spot the signs and keep cool behind the wheel

The summer months, even in this peculiar post-lockdown world bring busier roads. Combined with hotter weather and many people travelling on unfamiliar routes, it's a recipe for tempers to flare and drivers to lose their cool.

From someone cutting you up to a caravan holding up a queue, the causes vary but the results can be ugly incidents of road rage that leave everyone involved feeling worse and can, in extreme circumstances lead to accidents or physical confrontation.

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Lee Chambers, environmental psychologist and wellbeing consultant, says that even if there is no physical confrontation, road rage can still have a physical and mental effect on motorists.

Lee explains: “The modern reality of feeling crowded on a motorway is a stressful situation by itself. We are not in control of the actions of other road users, and in congestion, overcrowding causes aggression. The acute stress from this, added to the fact we are stuck in our car, can lead to irrational behaviours that are damaging to everyone. It effectively puts us into the fight response, as we can't flight while inside a car.

(Photo: Shutterstock)(Photo: Shutterstock)
(Photo: Shutterstock)

“Road rage can cause accidents and mistakes as we lose attention when under high levels of stress. These high stress levels raise our blood pressure, and over time can lead to long term high blood pressure, and all the associated chronic and acute issues this can cause, especially heart disease and strokes.

“The accumulation of stress has wide-reaching effects on other bodily processes, weakening our immune system, making it harder to regulate our emotions, and making us more likely to take risks.

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“When we consider the wide-ranging effects of road rage, and how more often than not, we have the choice of response to events on the road, it is worth considering if it is worth getting stressed at all."

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How to keep road rage at bay

To help us all feel calmer and safer on the roads, Click4reg asked Lee to come up with some simple tricks to keep road rage at bay:

Be aware of how you drive - Practice a small element at a time, such as letting people out in front of you, and being mindful of your signalling. These small changes compound over time to make you a happier and healthier driver.

What would others think? - As you feel yourself getting angry, imagine seeing yourself, look in your mirror, and imagine you’re in a job interview. Would you want people to see you this way? When you have calmed down, analyse your behaviour – thinking if you shouted or misused your car – and consider the consequences as if an audience were watching. Even consider a picture of your family on your dashboard, looking at you as an example.

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Take a deep breath - Use breathing to calm yourself down, taking six deep, slow breaths to calm your parasympathetic nervous system, as we can easily activate the fight response with the acute stress we create.

Be positive - Remember, driving is about getting to the destination, not a competition. Every time I stop at a red light, I think of something in my life I'm grateful for, and this helps me frame the roads as a positive place to be, as I could be walking instead.

Give others the benefit of the doubt - Finally, look to build the intention to deal with it before it arises. Prepare some compassionate considerations, such as “maybe they are going to the hospital”, “maybe they are having a tough day” or “maybe they didn't see me”. Use these to defuse your negative thoughts when they arise.

This article first appeared on The Scotsman