Car Culture: Get a grip on road rage
Road rage has been making headlines again, with irate drivers last month wielding baseball bats, pistols, pellet guns and even fists and feet against those who annoy them in traffic.
We all need to get a grip — but how? Highways seem more clogged than ever, pavement is in post-winter disrepair, and real or imagined time pressures have so many of us feeling stressed and behind schedule.
It doesn’t take much to light that fuse, especially if (like me, I hate to admit) you viscerally subscribe to the late comic George Carlin’s observation that everyone driving slower than you is an idiot and everyone who drives faster is a maniac.
The other day, the maniac took the form of a giant Buick sedan going 80 mph about 3 feet off my rear bumper in 7:30 a.m. rush hour traffic, despite the readily visible line of 50 or 60 cars ahead of me. I was in the right-hand lane, too.
The idiot was piloting a Lexus SUV at about 52 mph in the left lane of a two-lane highway and refused to budge as about 10 of us behind her slowly lost our sanity over the course of six or seven miles. Was that really me flashing my headlights like a strobe machine? No comment.
Later, flipping through a scholarly book on road rage and thinking about that morning, I filled out a checklist of criteria and scored “off the charts.” (To be clear, I don’t menace others — but I do fume when victimized by inconsiderate or reckless motorists.) Not good.
The book’s author, psychologist and self-described former road-rager Leon James, says that raging on the road is learned behavior and can be unlearned. He also notes that many people have over-the-top reactions or attribute bad motives to other drivers due to a perception that being on the road puts one in power struggles with other drivers.
Ideally, James writes, we will shed the need to dominate others on the road and develop a “supportive driving” approach where we actively seek opportunities to smooth others’ path and stay out of their way.
Hmmm. That might be a stretch — but then, there has to be a better solution than strapping a blood pressure cuff to my safety harness or slapping on a “The closer you come, the slower I go!” bumper sticker.
Here are a few tips and techniques to quell the frustration and irritation of commuting:
Breathing exercise: One relaxing technique is to exhale completely, then breathe in for a count of four, hold the breath for a count of seven and then exhale forcefully for a count of eight. This is simple enough to do behind the wheel and does have a calming effect.
Car yoga: Obviously we aren’t going to do Downward Dog at 75 mph, but a quick web search turns up a variety of yoga-inspired postures and moves that could be practiced while underway, such as shoulder rolls or shaking out stress from hands and wrists (one at a time).
Auto aromatherapy: Enterprising entrepreneurs on Etsy and the like are selling essential oil potions claiming to soothe motorists with fragrances like lavender, lemon oil and vanilla. And about 10 years ago, an academic study at Wheeling Jesuit University found that peppermint and cinnamon scents lowered frustration and anxiety while increasing alertness of drivers they tested.
Audio escape: A study in the journal Ergonomics, by academic researchers in the Netherlands, found that music choice can affect drivers’ mood, behavior and safety performance. I know certain songs make me want to drive faster and more aggressively, so I avoid them in commuter traffic. Choose jazz, happy pop tunes or even audio nature sounds like calming rain and ocean waves.
Vary the route: Granted, public transportation options aren’t what we’d like them to be, but I found that trying out what is available was calming. Knowing I have an alternative (even if it is less convenient, takes longer and in my case induces motion sickness) makes me feel less trapped in traffic. Occasionally taking more scenic, slower routes helps, too. (Many thanks to the homeowners on my alternate route who dress their giant dinosaur statue in holiday outfits; a 10-foot T. rex in an elf cap or bunny ears mitigates a lot of traffic disgruntlement).
Feng shui: The art of encouraging positive energy can apply to cars, too. Some experts suggest naming the car to make more of a connection, and to park facing the driveway exit so you don’t have to back out. The latter also spares you the sight of the “angry face” car grilles can mimic, keeping that fierce energy at bay. Clearing clutter, opening windows and having water in the car (for its flowing energy) also are suggested.
Yelling: If all else fails and you’re alone, scream the negative vibes away. It’s oddly calming.
Radical acceptance: A popular self-help and psychological therapy technique that boils down to not resisting what you cannot change. Get up a bit earlier, go with the flow and be grateful you aren’t on foot.
Melissa Preddy is a Michigan-based freelance writer. Reach her via Melissa@MelissaPreddy.com.