There are few situations more stressful that when we get behind the wheel. For some driving is an unalloyed, alloy-wheeled pleasure. But for many, driving can be a stressful chore, be it school run, supermarket shop or commute run.
The very act of starting the motor seems to rev up anger levels, so here are a few guidelines to cutting down the motoring stresses that can quickly turn into road rage, with all its concomitant issues
Before you leave
Make sure you’ve had a good night’s sleep, particularly if heading for a long drive. We all get irritable and disagreeable when we’re tired. Don’t feel that way behind the wheel. And for sleep, read hunger. Have breakfast before you go.
Leave any domestic disharmony behind. If you have had ‘words’ with your partner or children, don’t let the slamming of the front door be their last memory of you. Take time to calm down before you set off, doing some breathing exercises for a few seconds before you reach for the ignition.
Don't respond to other people's acts of anger
A motorist mouthing his dissatisfaction at your driving skills, or signaling his less than complimentary opinion of your parking abilities is gone in less than a second. Let him/her drive on. You’ve never seen them before. It’s improbable that you will do so again. Don’t react. Just focus on the road.
Just bear in mind that he might, of course, have been right. Maybe, your parking is terrible. He just didn’t need to be so rude about it.
In the end, it’s like being called an idiot by an idiot. Just remember that next time something or someone irks you on the road.
Have you been a victim of road rage? Read our tips for dealing with angry drivers and road rage.
Leave enough time for your journey
It's not a race, either between you and the clock or against the bloke who’s driving what seems just a bumper’s width behind/in front of you.
Make sure you have left yourself decent time to make your journey on time.
If you can let the impatient so-and-so behind you overtake you, then do so. What have you lost? Nothing. Not even face.
And if you’re stuck behind slow-coach, have a look at the speed limit. You could well be surprised to find they’re bang on the limit.
Courtesy costs you nothing
Letting that car stuck in a side street come in before you, stopping to let someone park, even giving up that supermarket parking place, can all produce a bit of in-car karma. You’ll feel better for it, and it’s nice to think that they will too.
And always acknowledge any courtesy shown to you in return, people appreciate a simply wave or nod or headlight flash by way of thanks. They certainly get miffed if you don’t!
Show no reaction
If you are involved in a road rage exchange, avoid eye contact with the other driver. You may think a smile will diffuse the situation. Your opposite number may interpret it as a smirk or a laugh at his/her expense. Focus on your driving.
Stress and rage signals
- Do you curse red traffic lights?
- Do you lane weave?
- Do you consistently go over the speed limit, particularly in urban areas?
- Do you bicker with your family in the car?
- Are you less patient when driving?
- Do you find yourself ‘competing’ with other drivers?
- Do you mock other drivers’ competence?
- Do you become more ‘self-important’ when driving?
- Do you inwardly – or outwardly, even – rage against traffic snarl-ups?
- Do you make a habit of flashing or beeping other drivers over their errors, perceived or otherwise?
These are all signs of stress and anger that can have a seriously detrimental affect on both your driving and your health. Be aware of these and act accordingly.
You may think you need anger management, so talk to your GP about it. An advanced motoring course could help, too.
What stress does to the body
Feeling angry all the time increases adrenaline, which releases sugar from your body's stores but doesn't use it up. Your body prepares for vigorous physical activity (either to fight or flee) but doesn't actually do it.
This raises blood pressure, deposits cholesterol in your arteries and makes you more prone to heart attacks and strokes. It also interferes with your digestion as well as your immune system, which can weaken your defences against cancer. Typical psychological symptoms include depression, anxiety and insomnia.
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How to reduce your rage levels
"If you feel anger is getting the better of you, the first thing to do is to work out the degree to which it is affecting you", says Gladeana McMahon, fellow of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy.
If you just go up like a balloon at the slightest thing, you would probably benefit from going on an anger management programme.
For most of us, however, losing it from time to time is the more common problem, and the most important thing is to recognise the warning signs. Then you can begin to work out how to get rid of any underlying stress and diffuse your rage before it gets to you.
If you find yourself prone to fits of rage follow these steps to try and calm yourself down.
You should also try to relax your muscles; just unclenching your fists or relaxing your jaw can help to calm you down. The following breathing technique is also worth a try:
Let the anxiety drain out of your body with deep breaths - close your eyes, breathe deeply and imagine the tension draining away from your head, through your body and out through your feet, leaving you feeling calm and relaxed.
Keep a funny or relaxing tape in the car and play it in those tense traffic jam moments. If that doesn't work and you still feel anger rising, pull into the side and try talking to yourself to calm you down. Wait until the feelings of rage have subsided before pulling out again.
If you're stuck in a situation you can do nothing about, try to relax into it rather than fighting against it. Instead of thinking, 'This is awful, I don't want to be here', start visualising something pleasant.
Remember a place you really enjoyed being in. Close your eyes, take a few breaths and picture yourself there, savouring the beauty. Try repeating some positive affirmation to yourself such as: 'I feel relaxed and everything is all right'. Who knows - it might just do the trick.
Let the gentle powers of soothing, sweet essential oils get to work on releasing pent-up tension. Before going on a long journey or if you think traffic jams could be round the corner, put a couple of drops of pure essential lavender oil on a tissue and pop it in your bag, pocket or somewhere where you can pull it out quickly in stressful moments.
Sniffing it from time to time can work wonders when it comes to diffusing tension or putting a stop to irritating thoughts or feelings.
Rescue Remedy is made from a combination of five Bach Flower remedies.
- Impatiens for impatience
- Clematis for lack of interest in the present or dreaminess
- Rock Rose for terror
- Cherry Plum for loss of self-control
- Star of Bethlehem for the after-effects of shock
At the first sign of any raging feeling, a few drops placed under your tongue should quickly calm you down. If feelings continue repeat at regular intervals.
Calcium and magnesium have an anti-adrenaline effect, so they're perfect supplements for calming you down.
Keep a calcium/magnesium supplement in your bag and take as necessary. Another supplement with soothing properties is valerian. Sometimes known as the herbal Valium, it may be all you need to get you through those anxious, angry moments.
Work it out
Adrenaline, the chemical produced when you're under stress, stays in the body for at least 18 hours.
So if your trip out turns into the journey from hell you are continuously flooding your body with excessive amounts of this chemical.
According to the experts the best way to get rid of it is through exercise. Make time during the day for a brisk walk, a swim or a half-hour work out in the gym.
If the strain of getting stuck on trains or in lines of traffic sends panic levels soaring, it may be worth considering homeopathic remedies. For panic, take Arnica 30c, and for severe panic, Aconite 30c.
- For claustrophobia, try Sulphur 6c.
- Individual cases often require different treatment, so if you see no improvement it's advisable to see a professional homeopath.
…take a small dose of humility with you. You’re not the best driver in the world. If it’s any consolation, nobody is.
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