Ask Amy: Therapy could help calm road rage

FresnoJuly 3, 2013 

Dear Amy: I'm in my early 50s. For the past few years, I have been experiencing increasing bouts of road rage, especially driving home from work. When traffic's light, I'm happy and drive safely. But when the road's crowded and/or when I see dangerous moves or my personal peeves (failure to signal or to yield), my temper flares.

I think this started after my Saturn died, and I ended up with a sportier car. I actually scream to let off steam, loudly enough that I think others can hear. Last week, I found myself doing 75 mph in a 45-mph zone after a taxi sped up and tried to cut me off (he won the biggest jerk contest). When I get out of my car, the anger goes away.

I think pressure at work is stoking it. I'm ashamed of my behavior, but I haven't figured out how to stop. Reciting mantras ("I will not get angry; I will not let others get the best of me") hasn't worked. Do you have any suggestions on how to calm down? Therapy is not an affordable option right now.

— Car screamer

Dear Screamer: Even though you say you can't afford therapy, a professional evaluation and a couple of sessions could do you a world of good before you hurt yourself or someone else. One reason road rage is so dangerous is because if you lash out at someone equally raging, the resulting combustion could hurt a lot of people.

I wonder if the "mantras" you are choosing might be triggering your rage by reminding you that you actually do get angry; you do let others get the best of you. For you, screaming might raise your temper and temperature and be the opposite of letting off steam.

In the short term, try to decompress from the office before you enter your car at the end of the day. Perhaps you could work out or take a yoga class, take a walk or simply have a snack and read your favorite section of the paper. Relaxing for as little as 15 minutes before entering your car should help.

You should practice mindfulness, breathing and meditation techniques during times when you typically experience small frustrations. Successfully deep-breathing (not screaming) your way through a minor traffic tie-up will give you the important experience of successful control. Listening to favorite podcasts or music in the car (not raging, noisy DJs) could keep you entertained enough that you'll be more lighthearted and in less of a hurry.


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