Road Rage: Losing Control of Anger
The orange cones are out and the length of your morning commute just doubled. It’s summer in America when construction crews seem to shut down miles of highway to work on one tiny 10-foot section at a time. Slowly snaking traffic plays havoc with your schedule, creating stress and anxiety. You worry about being late for work or an appointment or picking up the kids from daycare; but you can’t make the traffic move any faster, which creates more stress. Then there are the annoying drivers who try to whiz past you on the berm, and those infuriating idiots who streak by in the ever-narrowing left lane to dart into line ahead of you. When traffic snarls, it’s not long before frustrated drivers start snarling too!
We call it road rage and make jokes about it, but mixing anger with highway traffic isn’t funny; it’s a dangerous combination and not just because it so often leads to traffic accidents. Anger makes your heart rate and blood pressure go up. Anger also increases the levels of your “energy” hormones, adrenalin and noradrenalin. While completely normal and entirely human, when anger gets out of hand it can be physically and psychologically destructive.
Aggression is the body’s instinctive response to anger. It’s an ingrained survival instinct that protects us from threat and allows us to defend ourselves, our family and our home — our car — from attack. Anger is a basic survival skill that ensured our ancestors could escape wild beasts and protect themselves from marauding tribes. In today’s world where the predators are less physical and more complex, raw anger can be more of a hindrance than a help in navigating life.
Some people are quicker to anger than others and some lose control of their anger more easily than others. Researchers believe genetics may be a factor, but they are also looking for a physiological trigger, most likely a portion of the brain that governs anger or a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes some people to act more violently than others. The laws and customs of modern society limit the rein we can give our anger, but events, people and orange cones on a crowded summer highway can send anger spinning out of control if we’re not careful. Today, learning to control anger has become a necessary survival skill.
Next time: Learning to Control Anger