The alternative to road rage

Posted: 20 May, 2016

By: Annemarie Lombard

Section: Wellness

Roadd rage

Our society is in a pressurised and stressed spiral! Health insurance companies are seeing a significant increase in psychiatric disorders.  People are not coping.  Anger, irritability and depression are rife among South Africans.  The World Health Organisation predicted that depression will be the leading occupational disease of the 21st century, and their predictions are coming true.  And it is spilling on to our roads. Tracking the many reports of road rage through Media 24  and adding the recent teacher in Johannesburg being dragged by another vehicle in a road rage incident, we are in trouble….  Where are we going and where is it going to end?

This made me think of an experience I had a few years back.  I was driving on the N1 highway in Cape Town.  I noticed a black BMW X5 next to me.  The driver, a male in a black business suit, had a pink dummy in his mouth.  I was amused at first, but assumed that there will be a baby in a car seat in the back.  Obviously the dummy dropped out of the baby’s mouth and he put it in his mouth to “clean it” and was about to give it back.  Well, no car seat, no baby.  We both stopped at a chemist off the highway and I, very intrigued, kept observing him.  He took the dummy out of his mouth, put it in his pocket and walked into the chemist.  When I tell this story at presentations or workshops, my punch line is always – well it is better than road rage!  And could he not use a blue rather than a pink dummy….

What was he doing?  He was self-regulating (calming and soothing the brain) using a sensory (sucking) approach.  I am obviously not advocating we all suck dummies to reduce our anger and irritability, although it will help!  I am promoting an easier, more accessible way to calm the body and the brain.  In Sensory Intelligence® we advocate bottom-up self-regulation instead of top-down self-regulation. Top-down is using your frontal cortex and the thinking part of the brain.  But in times of anger, irritability and stress this part of the brain gets switched off anyway.  Bottom-up regulation instead is using the more automatic, intuitive and action based strategies to calm and control the body and brain.  One of this is sucking like Mr BMW did.  It is just easier to do and require very little thinking.  It is simple, easy and it works faster.

Of course depression and road rage are complex and multifaceted issues which have many reasons and solutions.  To eradicate road rage from our society is virtually impossible and will take a whole new range of policing, political and economic stability and societal changes.  And we all know that will need some serious miracles.

Instead, I want to offer some simple, practical and neuroscience based strategies that we advocate at Sensory intelligence to lessen the stress associated with being on the roads:

1.  Plan your trips better and don’t leave at the last minute.  When you are in a hurry, you are more likely to get irritable and angry.  It reduces your capacity to be and stay calm.

2.  Keep your eyes and ears on the road and get off your cell phone.  It is a myth that you can drive and talk at the same time.  Cell phone use distracts you and makes you far more prone to cause accidents.  In South Africa more than 14 000 people die every year on our roads. Worldwide incentives and research are trying to educate people on the danger and reality of distractions while driving.

3.  Use a sensory strategy and keep calm.  Play music in your car – one of the best ways to calm the brain.  Chew, suck or sip (the mouth is a very useful and successful regulator) on apples, nuts, biltong, water, carrots etc.  Healthy crunchy foods are great in organising the brain.  Practise some deep breathing – it has an immediate impact on reducing stress.  These can all be done successfully without taking your eyes and ears off the road.

Be calm, listen, breathe, chew, suck or sip.  Be safe and savvy on the roads.  Don’t become part of the statistics!