We’ve been doing a lot more driving these past few weeks, to D.C. from Carlisle and back again, in and around the D.C. metro area, dealing with traffic and more traffic. I thought back to the first time we lived in the D.C. area almost 20 years ago and how much I’ve changed as a driver since that time.
Road rage was something I allowed myself to experience frequently back then. I remember one incident on the beltway where an aggressive driver came right up on my tail and proceeded to hug my bumper for no apparent reason.
He could have easily maneuvered to the left or right but he chose to purposely stay behind me until I moved out of the lane. I could feel the anger begin to creep up, the rising heat flushing my cheeks, making me sweat, and finally exploding into full blown rage.
The fact that I could see him laughing at me in the rear view mirror did nothing to temper my mood and only enraged me further. I begrudgingly got out of the way and he sped past, giving me the middle finger and mocking me. I was so furious I immediately pulled up behind him and dangerously followed him trying to make him as mad as I was.
At some point during our weaving in and out of traffic, I had a flash of sanity and a “what the hell am I doing” moment. I slowed down and let this crazy man go off continuing to curse him and wish him ill will.
It took me quite some time to calm down. In that moment, I understood how people could lose control in their anger and want to hurt another human being. I felt that.
Not having any mindfulness skills, I learned to cope in another way. As embarrassing as this is to admit, finding our own way is what we often do when we do not know there are other options.
I invented “the eliminator” (or something like that, I forget what I called it). When other drivers irritated me with their erratic and idiotic driving, I would inconspicuously point my hand (in the shape of a gun) at them and magically banish them to another dimension, the stupid dimension. This made me feel better somehow and did prevent future incidents of road rage.
However, wishing ill will on others no matter how silly it seems (with my eliminator) is never the answer. What are we to do then?
First of all, there is no reason to compete with other aggressive drivers unless you are actually in a professional road race. As much as your ego may protest, move over and let the other driver go ahead.
Easy enough, but now what to do about the impending rage that wants to make its way to the surface? If you’re prone to rage, the simplest and quickest thing you can do in the moment is check in with your breath. You’ll often find it to be rapid and shallow.
The breath is something you can control immediately. Breathe in for four seconds, hold for four, then exhale for six to eight counts and repeat. Just two minutes of this type of breathing will activate your parasympathetic nervous system and calm the body down. The mind will follow if you let it.
You can help your mind along by deliberately changing your mindset. Instead of cursing the aggressive driver and (in my case) sending them to another dimension, wish that he or she would drive safely and make it to his or her destination without harming anyone.
Then start thinking about puppies and kittens or anything that will bring about an attitude of gratitude to move forward from a place of anger, rage, or irritation. These are not emotional states you want to linger in or pass on to someone else.
Driving in traffic is mentally tough to begin with. Use your breath as an ally to get you through challenging situations and to get to your destination safely.