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Road Rage: The Pulls and Tugs of Traffic Life

We all deal with traffic everyday. Clinical Psychologist Susan, looks at how to deal with the enraging consequence of traffic- Road Rage.

I think it’s appropriate to call myself a Joburger, seeing that I got married and recently moved here from the relatively small town of Rustenburg. So hello my fellow Joburgers! I assume that’s what you call yourselves. I love it here! There are so many things I like about Johannesburg, but the part I love the most is highway driving; jumping on a highway and getting wherever I need to be so quickly and so effortlessly. Driving at a 120km per hour to my destination is bliss, it’s not the stop and pull away pain of the Rustenburg streets.

Here’s the thing that I don’t understand about highway driving though; the fast lane. Of course I drive in the fast lane, going at the maximum speed, that’s where I’m happy. But then it happens, the guy behind me, driving right up my rear and flashing his lights. All I can think is; “It must be an emergency and yet I see no hazards?”

I usually have very colourful names to call such a person, but let me not name them here. (Fortunately, our thoughts remain in the privacy of our skulls). I can get really worked up about such behaviour on the road. I sometimes feel like my refusal to move over and the cursing in my own head, is my only vice to get back at these speeding drivers. However, after a month or so of Joburg-traffic-induced-rage, I asked myself - “Is it worth it?”.

The answer is no, and so I worked to overcome this. If you, like me, experience these emotions when driving, here is my advice – try and relax. Let me use the analogy of background noise. When you are feeling very stressed you hear every sound. Any noise irritates you, busy malls, music, someone talking too loudly on their cell phone, loud chewing. At night you can’t fall asleep because you hear every little noise. However, when you are relaxed all these noises becomes background noise. You don’t notice it. It’s like a baby sleeping peacefully near a construction site.

The fact is, it is what you pay attention to that affects you. It is easy to become exasperated with everything that people do on the roads. You might get worked up, have fantasies about revenge or worse even act on them. This might even ruin your emotional state for the rest of the day. The reality is, we live in a world with a vast and endless array of mentalities, characters and intentions. These variables will affect how we behave, not only towards each other in everyday interaction, but also how we behave when we drive. This will never change because cars are steered by human minds which involve intentions and errors. It is exactly this that makes us so angry. “How dare they?” It is such thoughts and focus that leads us to experience this intense anger.

I came to realise that when I am relaxed and there is a ‘speeder’ trying to push me off the road, I just automatically move out of his way. Allowing the driver to become background noise that I choose to ignore. I have learnt that when my focus is on other things, I don’t notice the driving behaviour of others. I move out of the way as if stopping at a stop sign. It is just something I do automatically without feeling upset.

My advice is; handle driver errors and selfish drivers like you would handle a stop sign. A stop sign becomes background noise. We don’t get annoyed at every stop sign we have to stop at. Do we? Imagine if we did.

Rather than allowing yourself to become consumed in the driving behaviours of others - focus on different things. Focus on your plan for the day, the music in the car, the weather outside or the feeling of the car as it hums along on the road. It’s about going with the flow and not against it. It’s about operating in blissful ignorance while emerged in the things that you cannot change. Let yourself humbly surrender to the pulls and tugs of traffic and of life. There are trillions of issues to get worked up about in life; you are able to choose not to.

So how do you achieve this state of blissful ignorance and humble surrendering to the pulls and tugs of life?

By destressing, acceptance and gratefulness. I will talk about this in my next blog but for now, when you are in traffic, just go with the flow. Think of traffic as sea streams and currents; just be swept away by it. Yes there will be the odd side current that will disrupt the harmonious flow but you can choose to fight against it and make yourself tired with no effect or just go with it. You can fight against one but they will always exist. It’s a part of life. Focus on other things and it will become background noise. It is the inevitable pulls and tugs of life that you can and must learn to dissociate from. Sometimes a healthy mental state requires that you develop the ability to cut off, let go, accept and ignore.

Safe driving Joburg! Until next time.

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