Temper Trap

Avoiding fury while navigating traffic on hot, dusty days is a gentle art

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Smog, crowded roads and heat rising off the hoods and roofs of cars are the recipe for fiery asphalt fury — road rage. Swearing, the finger, cut-offs, rapid lane changes and tailgating are dangerous to everyone who shares the avenue — drivers, bikers, walkers and bladers. Besides the obvious risk of accident and injury, there’s also the emotional turmoil for all parties involved. Anger and fear raise stress-hormone levels, which take their toll on the heart, increasing the risk of an attack.

According to traditional Chinese medical theory, road — or any — rage can be a signal that something’s out of whack in your system. In this way of thinking, venting your frustrations only makes things worse. Anger is hard on your liver and can lead to headaches, digestive disorders and menstrual problems. But holding it all in is just as dangerous.

The key to transit health is not getting riled up in the first place. Whether taking the TTC or cycling — in general the healthier way — don’t let your frustrations balloon. If you have to turn on your car engine, resist indulging dangerous passions and cultivate a peaceful, for-the-good-of-all mindset. Deep breathing (so the belly rises and falls) helps immeasurably.

Give yourself enough time to get where you’re going. Determine not to assume the other person is an idiot with a special vendetta against you. And, OK, even if it looks like someone did something rude, rejecting or greedy on purpose, think of it as the problem of an impoverished individual.

Protecting yourself is fine, but seeking retaliation brings you down to the same idiot level as your opponent and probably means you’re bristling, just the thing you want to avoid.

“There is a value that all great managers of time share, and that is that consciously or deep down they all have a great reverence for their own life and time. People who are good time managers will see someone weaving in and out of traffic and think, “There’s an idiot who could cost me my life,” and they’ll back off. They’d rather be late than lose their life. It is not worthwhile for them to invest a lot of negative emotion in this person.”

PAUL MELDRUM, president, PeakForm Consulting and Training, time management expert and author, The Busy Fool Meets Father Time

“We’ve found that people who listen to self-selected music (while driving) have much lower stress levels. (In another study) deep breathing was much more effective than New Age music. I would avoid things like talk radio — we react strongly to callers’ political opinions. Try to minimize disturbing situations, screaming children, animated conversations. You want to keep an even emotional keel in the car. You know you’re getting into the realm of aggressive behaviours when you feel you have to teach the other driver a lesson.”

DAVID WIESENTHAL, professor of psychology, York University, specialist in environmental psychology

“I would say that the key is to have some awareness in place in terms of your own physical and emotional signs and symptoms of stress. Most of us don’t have that — there isn’t the awareness of the more subtle triggers that are beginning to engage our stress responses until we’re maxed out. If you notice yourself losing control you can look at changing your self-talk. Ask, “What am I saying to myself?’ Have a balanced alternative statement in your back pocket. And try some physical calming techniques. Drop your jaw, drop your shoulders, take a deep breath. As you begin to watch your breath, the whole stress response is cut off.”

MARLA WARNER, PeakForm Consulting, wellness corporate trainer

“I find time is the biggest factor (in aggressive driving). People are in too much of a rush and too involved in their own little world instead of being part of the bigger world. When people feel late, they’re more likely to become aggressive. If somebody else’s driving annoys you, don’t try to educate them, and don’t take other drivers’ mistakes personally. Everybody makes mistakes. If you do cut somebody off, make a gesture of apology.”

GARY GRANT, superintendent in charge of traffic services for the Toronto Police Service

“Everything affects your mood. It could be the breakfast you did or didn’t have, the argument with your partner you did or didn’t have, or medication you’re taking. Eating a diet high in sugar could make you more reactive. Starchy foods like french fries can do that, too. High blood sugar is the problem. With low blood sugar, you may be irritable but you tend to be weak. A large meal will throw your blood sugar out of whack, too. Eat small amounts frequently.’

AL KARL, stress and nutrition consultant

“My main goal in riding my bike in town is to avoid conflict with motorists, cyclists or pedestrians. When people are angry they won’t be making good decisions. I want to stay clear of those situations. Eye contact is really important. I make eye contact, I ask for the right to the spot. The idea that is the antithesis of road rage is that we’re out there to facilitate our own movement and the movement of others, and if we’re cooperative it makes things a lot easier.”

BARBARA WENTWORTH, bicycle safety planner, city of Toronto, CAN-BIKE instructor

“When you live in a world with thousands of people and their agendas and influences, you can’t expect to be in full control of every single situation in every moment. But you can control your reaction to situations and your temper. You have to practise, which means that every time a bad situation happens, whether on the road or not, be courageous enough to try to pause, pay attention to your breath and then react. Your anger will probably be disarmed 50 per cent.”

HALI SCHWARTZ, yoga and meditation instructor

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