Your morning commute sets the tone for your entire workday. If the traffic gods are on your side and you sail into work with the wind at your back and a smile on your face, chances are good you'll have a pleasant and productive day.
Sadly, the opposite is also true. If traffic crawls and that guy in the silver BMW cuts you off and forces you to slam on your brakes so hard you can feel your heart beating in your throat, those bad feelings will likely taint your day at the office.
That's just one of the reasons why it's important to get a handle on road rage. The term road rage was coined in the late 1980s following a rash of freeway shootings in Los Angeles, and it's used to describe what happens when things heat to a boil as drivers clash on the road.
Signs of road rage include hostile driving, rude gestures, hurled obscenities and aggressive behavior, and as those freeway shootings prove, this mental state can cause physical harm or even death for those involved.
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A 2013 study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto sheds some light on behaviors that trigger road rage. Weaving between lanes and cutting people off topped the list of aggravating practices, with speeding finishing in second place.
According to statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, road rage and aggressive driving have been responsible for nearly 1,500 automotive fatalities since 2008.
Follow these tips to avoid a dark and turbulent descent into road rage, and it may help save your sanity, safety and productivity:
Have a Laugh
Laughter offers tremendous benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter allows you to take in more oxygen-rich air and provides stimulation to your muscles, heart and lungs. Laughter also boosts the release of natural endorphins, which is why it never fails to leave you with a happy feeling. A good guffaw causes circulation to improve and muscles to relax, and this assists in alleviating the physical symptoms of stress.
Treat yourself to regular interludes of laughter during your daily commute by listening to comedy shows or podcasts, or tune into the comedy channel if your car has satellite radio. You'll be so busy chuckling, all your stresses and cares regarding other drivers and life, in general, may simply melt away. Sounds good, doesn't it?
Give Yourself the Gift of Time
Road rage can be caused by rude drivers, but it may also be triggered by slow or stalled traffic. Often times, the most spectacular road-rage blowouts are caused by a perfect storm involving both of these ingredients.
Slow traffic is a lot less likely to annoy you if you give yourself more than enough time to make a punctual arrival at work. As you sit in gridlocked traffic surrounded by cursing drivers who are incensed at the prospect of being late, you'll be able to smile smugly, content with the knowledge that by planning ahead, you have no reason to stress.
If you’re met with a particularly offensive driver, it can be easy to demonize him or her and react in turn with anger or aggression. But the truth is, everybody has a story. Maybe that driver who cut you off did so because he's having family problems and is so distracted by this, he can barely see straight. Never lose sight of the fact that every driver you share the road with is a person. We all have stresses and challenges to bear, and sometimes these cause us to make poor choices when we're behind the wheel. A little empathy goes a long way toward defusing conflict.
Stress is a killer. According to information published by the American Heart Association, stress is a risk factor in ailments such as high blood pressure, asthma and heart disease. It can cause symptoms such as headaches, stomach pain, and back strain, and it can leave you feeling fatigued, forgetful and spacey. When you consider all this, it's clear that stress can tax both your health and your productivity.
The good news is that to a certain extent, you can work to control stress. Stress is a response to stimuli, and you have the power to guide your response. Controlled breathing has been used by yogis for centuries to achieve greater mindfulness, and you can use breathing techniques to help you manage stress.
When something upsets you during your commute, instead of defaulting to anger, use it as an opportunity to guide your mind toward a more harmonious and peaceful place. This will be easier to manage if you make meditation of some form a regular part of your daily routine. If you establish a practice and stick to it, after a while, your mind will more easily stay in a place of calm and relative serenity regardless of the circumstances.
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It's important to remember you're not just the driver on the road but in all aspects of your life. You can make choices that will improve your life experience. Road rage benefits no one. Place road rage firmly in your rearview mirror by opting to drive down a different path.