Road Rage Remedies

By: Jamie Bussin

I want to start this article off by stating that I am an excellent driver. And not in the ‘Rain Man’ kind of way. If you need to get somewhere quickly, I’m your man. I’m a strategic driver; planning routes, timing stoplights, observing which of my fellow drivers is distracted or disengaged. I have an excellent sense of direction and spatial awareness. Also, while in school, I worked as a courier over three summers – so I know Toronto like the back of my hand. WAYS and other route apps are for amateurs. My dream criminal job would be as a getaway driver. That’s the (relatively) good part.

Here comes the bad part. I do not enjoy driving at all. Toronto is horrible, HORRIBLE, to drive in. Constant construction, traffic, underfunded infrastructure and bad weather combine to make the driving painfully slow. And respectfully, we are populated by distracted and lousy drivers. It takes way, way, way too long to get around this city. And the problem isn’t getting any better now that everyone is back to work, post-Covid. 

But, despite these truths, my ongoing reaction to this reality is the actual problem at issue. I have terrible road rage. I curse. I shout. I honk (a lot). In fact I’ve broken the horn on the car on multiple occasions. I’ve also ripped the rear view mirror off the windshield. I may, or may not, have followed a driver who cut me off, cornered him on a dead end street and gotten out of my car for a “discussion”.  I’ve been told repeatedly that I can turn the most pleasant of drives into a nerve-racking experience in an instant. Even my dog is reluctant to come in the car, if I’m behind the wheel. …My behaviour needs to stop.

It’s not as though I don’t already know it, but there is little doubt that road rage is a serious and dangerous matter. I couldn’t find data on road rage specifically, as there is no specific criminal charge for road rage. It can encompass any number of acts resulting in charges such as threatening or assault…or even assault with a weapon.  However, the Toronto Police statistics from 2020 show that “Aggressive Driving”, an act frequently associated with road rage itself, accounted for 130 collisions -resulting in 126 serious injuries and 15 fatalities in the city. And those numbers were down from 2019, I assume, because there were fewer people on the road due to Covid-19 restrictions.

With that in mind I decided to reach out to some health and wellness experts to get their advice regarding my problem. Peak performance coach, Hina Khan, thinks that in most circumstances, road rage is the expression of something deeper -especially if it is chronic.  Pent up tension and anger that gets expressed when driving.  And perhaps issues around not feeling in control.  For some, according to Hina, it can reinforce a victim mentality -that things are happening to them…making their lives difficult. 

If road rage is a pattern of behaviour, which is a symptom of a larger problem, the question becomes; how do you break that pattern? Hina’s advice:

  • First and foremost take 100% responsibility for your emotional response.
  • Second, stop making this about you, see the other driver as a person because you have no idea what is happening in their lives.
  • Third, use techniques outside of driving (such as mindfulness) so you can draw on it quickly if you need to calm yourself down while you are driving.
  • Fourth, it may seem obvious but….give yourself more time.  Don’t get into the car already stressed out.

If I could take a magic pill to stop the shenanigans, I would. …but there isn’t. However,  Dr. Ludovic Brunel ND thinks that taking the right supplements might be helpful. “For thousands of years, humans have used plants and nutrients to help manage stress and anxiety.” Ludovic recommends plant extracts such as Kava, Magnolia, Phellodendron, Ginseng and proteins such as Theanine, Gaba, 5-HTP and Tryptophan; which have all been shown to have significant benefits when it comes to staying calm and focused while noting that some natural supplements used for anxiety can have mild sedative effects. 

It seems obvious that a mindfulness practice could help. Stephanie Kersta, co-founder of mindfulness sanctuary HOAME, confirmed that mindfulness has been clinically linked to more balanced emotions, and emotional regulation, including a decrease in angry outbursts. According to Stephanie, mindfulness helps us to respond, rather than react to situations and it’s also thought that it helps to minimize anger by increasing compassion and empathy. 

Stephanie advocates for a regular mindfulness practice as sort of a preventative measure, and turning to my breath when triggered in the moment; “Redirect your focus to your breath with 4-7-8 breathing. Breathe in for 4s, hold for 7s, and exhale slowly for 8s. Continue to do this until you feel your physical rage decrease. I also recommend reflecting on the situation and what brought you the rage after you are safely out of the car. What were the physical indications of rage, and the thoughts that came up? Upon reflection, notice the early indicators of anger and then the next time you are in the car, and sense those early signs, start with the focus on the breath, the earlier the better!”

The plan of action? Thinking a little deeper about unresolved tension. Practicing empathy by putting myself in the shoes of other drivers. Perhaps taking some calming supplements, working hard to recognize the triggers and utilizing breathing exercises to calm me in the moment. But, just in case, I’ll make sure to have a good criminal lawyer’s contact in my phone.

Jamie Bussin is the publisher of The Tonic Magazine and the producer and host of The Tonic Talk Show/Podcast…and is most obviously a work in progress.