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.
It’s nothing personal
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.
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.
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.
What to do
"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.
…take a small dose of humility with you. You’re not the best driver in the world. If it’s any consolation, nobody is.