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Front Page » July 7, 2009 » Opinion » Don't let road rage put you at risk
Published 2,792 days ago

Don't let road rage put you at risk

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You're behind the wheel... it's a hot day... you're late... traffic is heavy. Suddenly you're behind someone setting a new standard for bad driving. Next it's stop and go past six guys leaning on shovels and staring into a hole at another road construction project. Guess who's suddenly upset.

Today's crowded highways often bring frustration, especially when we're hurrying to get somewhere on time. Usually, we just live with it, but sometimes we find these driving annoyances actually making us angry. That's road rage, and it's something that increases our driving risk.

For most of us, The term "road rage" usually means the extreme cases the media like to report - angry driving resulting in speeding, a serious accident or even worse. Thankfully, such reactions are very rare. However, much more common is the everyday occurrence of slowly getting angry over someone's bad driving or the delays of a traffic jam. But even mild road rage anger can present a real danger to you, your passengers and other innocent drivers.

Anger comes when something is interfering with our progress toward a desired goal, whether on the road or in other situations in life. This anger affects both our minds and our bodies, and can directly interfere with our judgment and ability to drive safely.

What's happening is an automatic response to a stressful situation. It's your body taking action to protect you — the "fight or flight" reaction inherited from our prehistoric ancestors.

It starts with your muscles tightening and your circulatory system contracting. Your blood pressure rises, your skin becomes flushed, your pupils dilate and your digestive system shuts down. Your body has prepared itself to deal with that stressful situation. You're ready to either fight or run away. While that was a helpful response for our ancient ancestors suddenly facing a large, threatening beast, for a driver today simply stuck in traffic, it's an automatic reaction we want to control. And, fortunately, that can be done.

Start by reminding yourself that what's happening is not your fault and is outside your control. Yelling, calling names and making rude gestures won't improve the driving skills of that driver randomly changing lanes in front of you. Steam coming out of your ears will not make that construction project magically disappear. Recognize that what's happening on the road isn't personal. That bad driver isn't driving terribly just to upset you. That traffic jam isn't happening just because you're in your car.

Rather than wasting energy trying to change things over which you have no power, use your energy in ways that benefit you. When you can't control the things upsetting you (that bad driver, that traffic backup), instead control your own reactions in order to protect yourself and your health.

Start with those tight muscles. Actively try to relax them. Taking several deep breaths actually will help. At the same time, attempt to physically relax them. Concentrate on one muscle group, such as one leg, and consciously relax those muscles. One way is to first intentionally tighten the muscles, hold it for a second or two, and then relax that muscle group. Work through the various muscle groups in your body, trying to get each to a more relaxed state.

You also want to regain control of your mental focus. Turn on your car radio or CD player and make a conscious effort to focus on what you're hearing. Instead of stewing about that bad driver or the traffic jam, pay attention to that song or what's being said on the radio.

Letting your anger take control leaves you less alert in relation to your driving and traffic situations that can occur suddenly. Consciously relaxing muscles and focusing more on the radio or that CD provides a controlled mental focus that isn't just about the frustration you're feeling.

For most of us, just these small steps to control anger can make us better, safer drivers. However, if you find your anger is hard to control, or that you're getting angry in a variety of situations, there may be bigger issues. You might want to check out relaxation training or a stress and anger management course for a healthier, happier you.

The Counseling Corner" is provided as a public service by the American Counseling Association, the nation's largest organization of counseling professionals. Additional information for consumers and counseling professionals is available through the ACA web site at

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