Road rage is definitely an issue on the streets of most major cities. A recent survey done with Way users revealed that 63% of California drivers had experienced it. We asked licensed psychologist, Dr. Seth Meyers, for his thoughts on road rage, and how to better deal with it. Here’s his take on the subject in his latest article for Way.com.
If you asked Olivia Rodrigo, singer of the radio hit “Driver License,” whether driving is a dream, odds are that you’d get a positive reply. And while it’s true that music videos and movies make driving look effortless and cool, most people know the grim reality that driving can sometimes be a pretty ugly endeavor. In fact, road rage is one of the guiltiest culprits.
Is road rage something you struggle with? To answer, consider some of the signs of road rage: getting angry at another driver and intentionally cutting them off; following another car too closely to spite them; speeding up next to another driver to make eye contact; positioning your car in front of another and braking dangerously, and following another driver after they’ve angered you to intimidate them.
From a psychological perspective, when does something typically become a problem? When it becomes a pattern. While each of the signs of road rage is always dangerous, characterizing the problem as road rage is appropriate when you have found yourself engaging in any of these behaviors more than once.
What causes road rage?
Having road rage typically indicates an ongoing personality tendency to feel deep anger and hold onto it, or a period in life when a person has reached an emotional boiling point and passed a level of “resting anger” that isn’t healthy. Road rage gets triggered by stress, so many drivers will find that when things aren’t going well in their lives or when there are too many demands on them, they have a hard time coping in a balanced way and they take their anger out on others on the open road.
How to deal with road rage
Tip #1: Notice the p-r-o-c-e-s-s of reaching the point of rage.
Road rage doesn’t become road rage in an instant – it builds over the course of a short amount of time. First, you clock what happened that felt aggressive and you then get increasingly and rapidly angry and vengeful in response. The goal is to stop the anger before it turns into full-blown rage. For example, change your reaction like this: (Thinking) ‘That guy just cut me off. Did he just cut me off? No one’s gonna cut me off. Is he speeding up and getting away? No one’s gonna do that to me.’ TRIGGER ALERT: ROAD RAGE HAS GOTTEN IGNITED. The question is, do you have to take the bait?
Tip #2: Ask yourself if you need to do the most counter-intuitive thing when another driver triggers your road rage, which is to safely pull over for a minute.
The fact that your road rage got triggered is a sign that, at that moment, you can’t handle your emotions well and that your road rage has primed you for – wait for it – bad decisions. In the throes of road rage, the limbic system in your brain has clicked into fight-or-flight mode and you’re operating like an angry reptile. Ask yourself if removing yourself from the trigger by finding a safe place to pull over and regroup is necessary, so you don’t make any decisions you might later regret.
Tip #3: Ask yourself a simple question to snap back into reality.
There’s a reason why people put slogans on pillows and posters, and it’s because the message offered is something people need to be reminded of. Humans often get swept up in the details of the day and lose perspective of the big picture, so little quotes or questions are easily digestible nuggets of wisdom. When your road rage gets triggered, find the question that fits best for you to regain perspective on what matters.
Try any of the following, or create your own: “My ego isn’t that fragile to let another driver piss me off that much, is it?” “Is it worth it? Is it really, really, worth it?” “Did my breathing suddenly get short and shallow?” “I’m not a child, so why am I reacting like one?” Finally, a few reassuring statements can be just as helpful: (As if you’re talking to the other driver) “I’m going to let you win here because you clearly need it more than me;” “I don’t get wrapped up in nonsense;” “I’m sorry, you are not worth my time;” “Move on my friend, there are more important things than you.”
How to avoid road rage – the long-term solution
If you’re someone who struggles with road rage, you need to do more than manage road rage while driving. The fact is that you probably need to work on solving the bigger problem of why driving triggers such intense anger. Be honest with yourself about whether something in your life is making you really unhappy, and consider whether there are changes you need to make to get rid of the anger.
Perhaps you need to make changes with regard to a relationship you’re in or a job you have; perhaps you need to find a new, regular exercise routine or find self-improvement techniques that make you feel more connected. As with any serious issue, there are usually things you need to do in the moment and changes you need to implement on an ongoing basis. Above all, remember there’s hope and change as long as you do the work to earn it.
Dr. Seth Meyers is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and TV guest expert. He is the author of the self-help book Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve. He earned his B.A. in psychology from Vassar College and graduated from the APA-accredited doctoral program in clinical psychology at Yeshiva University’s Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology in New York City, where he earned the Jeffrey Sage Award for overall excellence in clinical psychology. Meyers has worked for approximately 15 years in the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health system, including the last several years which focused on threat assessment and safety in school and college settings.