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Road rage:why normal people become harmful on the roads

Posted on August 8, 2016 in Health & Wellbeing - 0

By Dr Stan Steindl & Dr James Kirby, Clinical Psychologists

Published by The Conversation August 5, 2016

Anger can be very quick, powerful, reactive, and can make us do things we typically wouldn’t do. There is nothing inherently wrong with anger as an emotion, but nowhere is anger less helpful, more common, and potentially more dangerous than when we are behind the wheel of a car.

Most of us are familiar with “road rage”. There are, of course, extreme examples of violence and assaults on the roads that end up in the courts, hospitals, and the media. But every day, drivers get angry and aggressive, and the evidence is mounting that this can put themselves and others at great risk.

The science of road rage

Usually road rage is triggered by a specific event. These events will often involve the actions of another driver, such as a slow driver, a driver changing lanes without indicating, or other behaviours that we interpret as a threat or an obstacle.

Our response to these specific triggers are influenced by a range of factors, including:

  • person-related factors such as age, gender, beliefs, or mood
  • contextual stressors such as heavy traffic, time pressures, road works, or hot temperatures
  • our interpretations of the incident: for example, personalising (“they cut me off on purpose!”), catastrophising (“you could have killed me!”), overgeneralising (“people are hopeless drivers!”), and standard violations (“people should watch where they’re going”)
  • other factors such as the anonymity we feel in the car, or the inability to communicate in another way.

In fact, a range of behaviours stem from driving when angry, including everything from honking the horn, yelling abuse and demonstrating hostile gestures, through to tailgating or dangerous manoeuvres on the road, and ultimately getting out of the car to carry out verbal attacks or physical violence.

A recent study confirmed the link between “driving anger” and certain aggressive and risky behaviours when it found anger while driving significantly predicted aggressive driving, risky driving, driving errors, as well as number of accidents.

And it’s not a new phenomenon. The idea that generally decent people become full of anger and rage when they hop into a car has been with us since the advent of cars themselves. Remember the 1950 Disney cartoon, “Motor Mania!”, starring Goofy. At first a mild-mannered everyman, he turns into a monster the moment he gets behind the wheel.

I’m a great driver, what’s wrong with everyone else?

Worryingly, an Australian study of 220 licensed drivers found that along with driving anger, the driver’s bias towards their own illusion of control predicted aggressive behaviour. Drivers who believed (perhaps falsely) they were in greater control of their situation, due to superior driving ability or skill, were more likely to drive in risky and aggressive ways.

Driving anger and the illusion of control are a dangerous combination. On the one hand, a person who is angry and holds the belief they are in control of the situation is more likely to drive in a risky and aggressive fashion. On the other, research has demonstrated our various cognitive functions, such as attention, reasoning, judgement and decision-making, can be impaired by anger. The result is a perception of lower risk, a greater willingness to take risks, and cognitive effects that actually increase the risks.

Road rage impacts everybody on the road. So there is a strong public health rationale for the development and promotion of interventions to reduce driving anger and incidents of road rage.

Fortunately, there is emerging evidence that psychological interventions hold hope for angry drivers. A recent review found evidence supporting cognitive and behavioural interventions to reduce and manage driving anger.

This includes changing anger-evoking cognitive patterns or faulty thinking (such as those interpretations listed above), learning relaxation coping skills for when anger is aroused, and finding strategies to solve difficult situations on the road and de-escalating anger so our choices are less aggressive and more safe.

How to not be swept up in driving anger

  • Watch out for the illusion of control. Remember the old saying, 80% of drivers believe their driving skills are above average – a statistical impossibility
  • remember our common humanity – everyone on the road, ourselves included, are merely human beings with good bits and not so good bits trying to do the best they can. We are all in this traffic together and it can be frustrating for us all
  • consider other drivers might not be malicious – we often jump to conclusions about other drivers and assume they do things on the road to affect us personally. Usually, the person’s actions are caused by benign motivations
  • avoid blame and punishment, and be forgiving – we can accept that negative events happen and that as human beings we all make mistakes. Maybe they were distracted in that moment, maybe they are in a hurry, maybe it was just a case of human error, which we’re all guilty of
  • let go of the struggle – red lights, traffic, delays, inconsiderate drivers – struggling with any of it will only make matters worse for you. We can accept and tolerate the inevitable frustration and provocation
  • breathe – slow it down, find a way to breathe that soothes you such as finding a slow, controlled rhythm, and reduce the physiological arousal associated with anger
  • speak to yourself in a friendly voice, with reassurance and validation. “Oh, that was a close call. You’re safe and all is OK. That person made a mistake, and we all make mistakes.”
  • focus your attention on safe, calm driving, ensuring you get yourself to your destination safely and without incident.

To read more about the authors, visit the Brisbane Psychologists page of our website.

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How to leave stress at the front door

Posted on August 5, 2016 in Health & Wellbeing - 0

For most Australian’s, our daily lives operate at a frantic pace and thanks to new technology, smart phones and lightening speed internet, the expectation to respond to communication, anywhere, anytime, means finding the perfect work life balance can be a real challenge.

So it’s little wonder that as a nation, our stress levels are increasing and with that comes a raft of mental and physical health impacts. According to the 2013 Stress and Wellbeing Survey conducted by Australian Psychological Society, Australian’s had significantly lower levels of wellbeing and significantly higher levels of stress and distress, and depressive and anxiety symptoms than in previous years.

But rather than sit back and accept these statistics, let’s take charge, make a change and start reducing daily stress levels. Here are 5 practical ways to regain work life balance and improve your health and wellbeing.

1. Set boundaries around work time and location

Making a rule around not bringing work into the home can be difficult, especially with the expectation that we must be accessible 24/7. But by leaving the laptop at work you may also be more likely to leave the stress of work there too. If you work from home or it is simply not feasible to do this in your position, allocating set times that you work and areas of the house that you work from, may help you ‘shut off’ and stop work stress seeping into your home life.
2. Put the Smart Phone Down!

According to a Roy Morgan Research study, 45% of Australian smart phone owners (14+ years) say they can’t live without their mobiles. Our obsession and absolute dependence on our smart phones is making it even more difficult to walk away from work with emails accessible at a swipe. Forming some healthy habits around when and where you use your smart phone may help you switch off, allowing you to relax, be present and enjoy home life. Research also shows that the blue/green light omitted from smart phones impacts negatively on sleep, so keeping phones and laptops away from the bedroom is a must.
3. Share and commit to the plan

Sharing your plan to ‘leave work at the office’ with loved ones or friends will help make your commitment real. Give them the power to call you on it, if you are sneaking in one more email before bed or taking calls when you should be relaxing with the kids. Sharing your ‘de-stress plan’ and forming a good support network will also help share the burden of stress or help manage the symptoms.
4. Form an End of Work Ritual

Making a cue or signal that works has finished for the day may help your brain switch off. Whether it is going for a run, hitting the pilates studio or listening to music on the way home, these are simple ways to say to yourself and others, ‘I am done for the day’!
5. Exercise

There really is no better de-stressor than exercise. This can be time just for you to unwind, work on your fitness and have a bit of “me time”.  Exercise has been clinically proven to increase serotonin levels in the brain and is a natural mood enhancer. It can also help you think things through, decompress and work through any baggage you may have taken on for the day.

Achieving the right work life balance can be a challenge in our fast pace society but by learning how to manage stress; you can significantly improve your health and wellbeing. If you are struggling with stress, talking to a professional can help. Psychology Consultants have a team of Clinical Psychologists based at Morningside and Newmarket, who are experienced in stress management. Visit the Brisbane Psychologists page of our website to view the team and their areas of specialisation.

 

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“You’re too sensitive!”

Posted on April 1, 2016 in Health & Wellbeing, Mental Health Topics - 0

by Cherie Dalton, Clinical Psychologist

“My biggest weakness is my sensitivity” . That’s how Mike Tyson described himself. Winona Ryder also said of herself, “You go through spells where you feel that maybe you’re too sensitive for this world”.  I’ve thought a lot about sensitivity in my life. “You’re too sensitive” was a childhood catch-cry. In a world that prizes corporate pressure and competitiveness, ‘handling it all’, constant drive, stimulation and being busy, tough decision-making and keeping emotions ‘under control’; let’s face it, sensitive people are often mistakenly labelled as weaker and more vulnerable and sensitivity can be viewed more as a burden than a gift.

If you’re still reading this article, it may be because you can identify with being a sensitive person or know someone who is. Research suggests that 15-20% of the population identify as highly sensitive. The trait was first researched by Elaine Aron, author of ‘The Highly Sensitive Person’. She believes having a sensitive nervous system is less common yet very normal and if you’re a sensitive person, you might:

  • Be extra aware of subtleties in life
  • Be particularly understanding and empathetic
  • Feel the need to withdraw on busy and demanding days
  • Be deeply moved by the arts, music or kindness
  • Get rattled and exhausted by loud music, bright lights, strong smells or sirens
  • Be easily startled
  • Be conscientious
  • Be a responsible person

People vary broadly as to how much their nervous system responds to situations. Sensitive people tend to notice, reflect-on and process information unobserved by others, absorbing their environment. This can be overwhelming at times yet also incredibly helpful and positive. Like all personality traits, sensitivity has its advantages and disadvantages. Positively, experiencing sensitivity allows for compassion and deep experiences of appreciation of beauty and life. According to Aron (1999), sensitive people do well in a huge range of life situations as they are better at detecting errors and avoiding mistakes, they are especially good at activities that rely on vigilance, accuracy, speed and detection of differences. They reflect on their own thinking and feeling, are intuitive and particularly empathic. They are affected by others and therefore, connect well and tune- in to others easily. They are often considerate, enthusiastic and supportive people. They learn intuitively and without being aware of learning and they process information thoroughly so they are often cautious, wise and insightful. They consider consequences and simple things often mean the most to them. To quote John Haltiwanger (2015), “The world needs more people with sensitive souls, as they’re innately self-aware and empathetic. Individuals with these qualities are natural leaders…They understand both themselves and others, which is a product of their own sensitivity”.

The tricky part of sensitivity can be its impact on ones energy and peace. When overstimulated, a sensitive person can become overwhelmed and frazzled and at times, less understanding and caring as a result. There may be a need to withdraw to recover and a heightened need to pace themselves and factor in quiet time to reduce the risk of feeling stressed and anxious. As Aron points out, human’s function best when their nervous systems are neither too underaroused nor too overaroused and finding this balance and understanding it, is key. Humans function optimally when they realise their strengths, yet detect and manage any over-use of these strengths.

Anthropologically, societies need two groups to succeed and survive – a type of warrior group and the advisors. Warriors subscribe to ideas of expansion, freedom, extroversion, risk-taking, and boldness which have enormous value. On the flip-side, a society requires balance with an advisor group providing calm and stability to the impulses of warriors. Sensitive people naturally fall into this advisor group and are often drawn to respected professions where they are considered caring and responsible, diligent and insightful, concerned with the wellbeing of society and its people. Sensitive people are often among the advisors and planners, the spiritual and moral compass of society where sensitivity is something to be utilised and be proud of (Aron, 1999).

Sensitive people can:

  • Embrace the strengths possessed by this trait
  • Acknowledge the enormous contribution being sensitive makes to life and society
  • Focus on developing a kind and acknowledging understanding to support themselves in a world of people who may not share or understand sensitivity
  • Lead a balanced life, with awareness and self-care
  • Nurture the nervous system and notice and manage overcommittment or overinvestment in people or things
  • Ensure opportunity for quiet and still periods with time to nurture close relationships
  • Pay attention to maintaining appropriate boundaries and assertiveness
  • Learn skills to manage avoidance and withdrawal from situations that may be desired
  • Run their own race and acknowledge the strength of sensitivity and the rich life this offers
  • Practice self compassion to support oneself.

Overall, use sensitivity to guide a full appreciation of the world while also embracing a gentle awareness of when it can also overwhelm.

Acknowledgements –Aron, E.N., The Highly Sensitive Person, Element, London, 2003.Haltiwanger, J., Editor and Senior Politics Writer for Elite Daily.

Click here to read more about Clinical Psychologist Cherie Dalton.

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