When our younger daughter went out to Southern California for college, she and her East Coast classmates learned to check the daily UV-ray Index like a horoscope, and to plan their sun exposure accordingly. Back here, many consult the daily Pollen Count, to predict how much Kleenex (or antihistamine) will be needed. Likewise, using the “What’s likely to get up my nose today?” model of Anger Management, it often pays to be forewarned.
Having lived in the D.C. area several times in my life, I have come to expect that driving the Capital Beltway will provoke my anger. Obviously, I know I’m not unique in this. Just observe your fellow motorists on any badly-engineered, heavily-traveled road, and you will sense barely-controlled rage. But the irritant is not the same for every driver. For some it is the intrusion of all the other cars clogging up the artery–“Is your journey really necessary?” For others it is the humiliation of being cut off by that Beemer-driver-with-a-sense-of-entitlement. Some are enduring the pain & suffering of having skipped that pre-journey trip to the bathroom. For me, I came to realize, it was fear. Not the most confident driver, myself, I imagined the Beltway as a nightmarish rink of Bumper Cars, with everyone hellbent on bending fenders. With my amygdala in alarm mode, I would ping among the “F-triad” of not-so-great responses (flee, fight, or freeze). It’s a wonder I never had a Beltway accident, isn’t it?
So, now, armed with insight and foresight, just as I approach the ramp to the ringroad, I say (out loud, so my whole brain can hear me), “Fear!” This gets the wolf in my head to quit howling, thus enabling my pre-frontal cortex to inhibit sudden braking or swerving, and my hippocampus to reality-test about just how homicidal/suicidal my fellow motorists seem to be. (Usually, not very. Not since they caught the Beltway snipers.) I also play raucus rock music, to which I sing along, thus allowing a harmless discharge of excess adrenaline. That’s how the model works.
So, next time you’re facing a heinous car journey, try asking yourself, “What could possibly get up my nose?” It might be any one–or a combination– of the Big Four irritants; but by calling them out, you could keep the wolf from howling (amygdalar arousal) and the werewolf from prowling (going ballistic with road rage).