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Road Rage: Why it’s Bad for Your Health

roadrage2Photo courtesy of Josh Greenfield

Road rage is a behavior that we often poke fun at and think of as a quirky personality trait. The reality of road rage, however, is definitely not funny. Feeling personally offended by what other drivers are doing often leads to fits of intense anger, aggression and in some cases, violence.

Although it is easy to make jokes about, if you or a loved one regularly get extremely agitated while driving, it’s time to do some self assessment. Because of the potentially serious outcomes, it is important to get a handle on how to control your emotions behind the wheel. What sparked my interest in this behavior pattern is the fact that my own husband is aggressive behind the wheel, and it concerns me.

Studies have conflicting results on whether road rage is more common with men or women. Regardless of sex, anyone can exhibit the behaviors of road rage if they assume that other drivers are out to get in their way. This may ring true in other areas of life as well. To determine if your driving frustration has the potential to become dangerous, ask yourself a few simple questions:

  • Are you dealing with a lot of pent-up stress in your life?
  • Do you view driving as a race?
  • Do you feel like other drivers are trying to annoy you?
  • Is it common for you to drive above the posted speed limit?
  • How often do you find yourself tailgating someone?
  • Do you honk your horn or flash your lights in an attempt to show your anger to other drivers?
  • Is swearing something you do often in your car, especially directed at other drivers?
  • Do you often feel that other drivers are “in your way” and need to be taught a lesson?

If you or someone you know answered positively to the above, know that there are ways to help a raging driver calm down behind the wheel and turn back into a reasonable driver.  Some steps to take include:

  • Remember that other drivers are human. In fact, they may be dealing with marriage trouble, screaming kids in the car, or maybe they aren’t feeling well. Whatever they did that annoyed you was probably an honest mistake and had nothing to do with you. Don’t take it personally.
  • Drop the anonymity. You are not your car, and you shouldn’t let it become a shield while you act like a bully. Treat other drivers like you would treat them face-to-face in a social situation. Use courtesy, and give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • Listen to good music. I’m not suggesting you pipe classical symphonies through your vehicle every time you drive, but there seems to be some pretty solid evidence supporting the fact that quieter, more relaxing music leads to less instances of aggressive driving.
  • Look at the big picture. Anger is not good for you – plain and simple. Is it really worth getting your blood pressure and heart rate elevated over?

People who regularly get angry are three times more likely to have a heart attack than their more carefree peers. Getting all bent out of shape over a driving mistake certainly isn’t going to improve the situation, and the only person affected will be you (and anyone in the car with you). By letting the incident roll off your back, you’ll enjoy the rest of your ride and be on your way to making calmness into a habit. Your driving stress level will decrease, and if you’re lucky, your good attitude will eek its way into other areas of your life, too.

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The Vote is in: Strangers Often Nicer than Friends

Photo courtesy of Susan Babbitt

I’ve been totally awestruck by the plethora of good samaritans who have been helping people recover after the destruction of Hurricane Sandy. I became more and more interested in the situation as rescue teams from all over the country came to our aid. As I sat at a red light one day, my jaw dropped as a fleet of Mississippi patrol cars and rescue vehicles went past, speeding north, where the damage was the worst.

On top of what I read and witnessed about those highly damaged areas - people continued to ask if I needed any help, asking what they could do if my home or family had suffered any damage.

Thankfully, although we were right on the edge of disaster, my town was barely affected by the storm at all.  I did what I could to help those who were greatly affected by Sandy, but continued to be genuinely astonished by the simply Herculean efforts put forth by some of the volunteers.

One thing that seemed noteworthy to me was that a huge percentage of the people reaching out to me - offering help, prayers, good will?  Were complete strangers.

Now – don’t misunderstand me here – friends and family checked in too – but I was literally inundated with a huge number of concerned people that I simply didn’t know.  I found that interesting and confusing, and I wanted to learn more about this – the kindness of strangers.

Most of us have heard a friend complain that her spouse or significant other takes her for granted, ignores her, or pays more quality attention to other people.  On a related note – many times people talk so poorly about a family member that you’d think they were discussing a mortal enemy. Avoiding phone calls, skipping out on family events, screaming matches, name calling and blatant disrespect are all common behaviors among some families. What amazes me is that these very same people are more than willing to go above and beyond for people they don’t (or barely) know.

The main psychology working behind this behavior is the belief that family members and spouses can’t reject us, no matter how poorly we treat them. Of course, this isn’t necessarily true – especially when it comes to married couples, as evidenced by the divorce rate.

But what else is at play here?  During my research on the topic, I learned that the ‘kindness of strangers’ phenomenon occurs more often in people who were taught as young children to treat strangers with a high level of respect.  These same people also often view their spouse or significant other as a virtual extension of themselves – and those with low self-esteem consequently end up treating their spouses as poorly as they treat themselves.

There’s also something known as the ‘closeness-communication bias’. Psychologists have found that, although partners usually think they are communicating their wants and needs well - the truth is that many couples are interacting at or below the level of people who have just met.  This communication breakdown occurs when people spend so much time together that they stop taking the perspective of “the other person.” When couples and close friends talk, they often have an unfortunate ‘illusion of insight’ which leads them to leave out critical details that would not get left out while talking to a stranger. In short: we end up explaining ourselves and behaving ourselves better with strangers, because we make so many assumptions with those closest to us.

There is so much to be gained from the kindness of strangers. I’ve been completely fascinated to learn what motivates us to help people we barely know more readily than we’ll help our own family members and our husbands and wives. While the kindness of strangers has literally helped millions of people who were left devastated by Hurricane Sandy, what we can learn from their kindness and their behaviors can even help us in our close relationships. Since we’re all working to be as happy as possible, naturally we want our loved ones to reap the benefits of our happiness, too.

And maybe the best way to do that –  is to treat them like complete strangers.

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Promises, Promises: Who Can You Believe?

Photo courtesy of Mike & Tiffy

A promise holds a lot of power.  Recall how you felt when someone broke a promise they made to you. Broken promises speak volumes about a person’s integrity.

The following is a list of promises you should make today. And the person you’ll be promising is yourself.

1. I promise to live in the moment. I want to notice things about my life that I never noticed before.

2. I promise to let go of my desire to be in control of everything and everyone. By letting go and handing the reigns over to someone else at times, I can take more time for simply enjoying life.

3. I promise to look for enjoyment in situations that might otherwise be seen as dull or even hopeless. Even standing in line can be fun and interesting if I have the right mindset.

4. When it comes to others, I promise to always give them the benefit of the doubt. I don’t want to judge people anymore.

5. I promise to smile more often. I might even manage to laugh more often too!

6. I promise to use nice words as often as I can, to myself and to those around me. You know that saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?” Not true.

7. I promise to do all I can to excel using my strengths. In contrast, I also promise to accept my shortcomings without judgement.

8. If I face a hurdle, I promise to use my strength to get over it. I will not let fear stop me anymore.

9. If I fall down or fail, I promise I will still love myself. I will also get back up again and keep moving toward my goals.

10. I promise to do more of the things that I enjoy doing. It’s my life, and I’m the one living it.

11. I promise that I will be more expressive with how much my family and friends mean to me. I will hug more often too.

12. I promise to keep these promises. If I can’t even trust myself, who can I trust?

In life, it’s extremely important to keep the promises you make to others, and it’s even more important when the promise was made to yourself. Show yourself what you’re made of and start keeping these promises today.

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