By Charles H. Elliott, Laura L. Smith, W. Doyle Gentry

If you’re one of those road warriors who drive with vengeance and anger in their hearts, you’re in luck: Here are ten helpful ideas to use to combat road rage and learn to drive with composure.

Don’t rush

If you’re driving aggressively and getting impatient with everyone else on the road, chances are you feel that you’re in a rush. You didn’t allow yourself enough time and now time is your enemy.

When your mind gets in a rush, your body follows suit. Everything increases — blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension. You’re poised for action and ready to jump on whomever gets in your way. And you use anger to clear the way!

Stop rushing and start relaxing. Calculate how long it will take you to drive somewhere and add an extra 10 minutes for every 15 to 30 minutes of driving time. Or see if you can drive without looking at the time — before you put your key in the ignition, put your watch in your pocket, and stick a piece of masking tape over your car’s clock.

Loosen your grip

How hard do you hold the wheel when you drive? If you’re an aggressive driver, you’re probably using the “death grip.”

Loosen your grip and you’ll be amazed at how much more relaxed you feel while driving. Hold the steering wheel like you would hold a soft-boiled egg or a child’s hand — gently. The change in physical tension is instantaneous. The relaxation you experience in your hands travels up your arms into your shoulders and neck, and down into your lower back — throughout your entire body, just like that. Give it a try.

Focus on the journey rather than the destination

Aggressive drivers have tunnel vision. They focus on only one thing — where they’re going, the destination. If you’re an aggressive driver, if anybody gets between you and your destination, there’s hell to pay. You’re staring straight ahead. Your mind is way out front, down the road, around the next turn before you get there. You’re on a mission!

If this sounds familiar, you’re missing the big picture: the journey. And life — even driving your kids to school or running to the grocery store — is all about the journey. Destinations come and go, but the journey is continuous. Relax into the journey — look around at the people, scenery, and events that you’re passing, and you’ll probably be a whole lot less angry.

Be the other driver

Are you the person who roars past the little old man driving under the speed limit, shaking your fist and screaming for all the world to hear, “They shouldn’t let old farts like you drive!” and “Get out of the way, you old fool!”?

Well, consider this for a second: One day, if you’re lucky and your road rage doesn’t kill you first, you’ll be that old guy. That’s right — that will be you, slumped down in the seat, white hair hardly visible above the wheel, staring straight ahead, oblivious to everything around you, and driving 35 in a 55-mile-per-hour zone. Try to visualize yourself as the other driver. Put yourself in his shoes. And then ask yourself, “How would I want other drivers to act toward me?” Not with rage we’re guessing.

Take the “I” out of driver

Make driving more about the other guy:

  • “I’ll slide over and let him pass. He’s in more of a hurry than I am.”

  • “The way she’s driving, she must really be enjoying her day.”

Drive with humility. Be ordinary — don’t think of yourself as someone who’s entitled to special consideration out there on the highway. Avoid stereotyping your fellow travelers — women drivers, old drivers, teenage drivers, Yankee drivers, redneck drivers, truckers, and so on. Don’t set yourself apart from the pack. Just be an ordinary person and relax.

Look on the bright side

Every problem has a silver lining. If someone ahead of you in traffic slows you down, you end up feeling less rushed. That’s good. If you tend to speed a lot and suddenly find yourself stuck behind a slower driver with no opportunity to pass, maybe he’s keeping you from getting your next speeding ticket. That’s good.

If you see another driver doing something that you regard as “just plain ignorant,” that makes you a smarter driver, right? That’s good. If it takes you longer to get somewhere than you had planned, you end up having more time to relax and enjoy your own private thoughts along the way. That’s good. You can use this kind of logic with just about every situation.

Realize that they are not the enemy

Rage is an emotion that people reserve for their true enemies. Enemies are those folks that you believe mean to harm you deliberately and intentionally. Problem is, those other drivers aren’t your enemies. They don’t even know you — they’re strangers. Truth is, they’re not thinking at all about you — they’re thinking about themselves.

The choice about how to respond emotionally to a situation is always yours. Take a few moments to think about unexpected gaffes by other drivers — it’s really not about you.

Stop catastrophizing

So the woman in front of you is slowing you down — it’s not the end of the world. So that guy is stuck in the passing lane, holding everybody else up — it’s not the end of the world. So the person in front of you doesn’t move as soon as the light changes to green — it’s not the end of the world. Or is it?

Is your world that fragile and tenuous? Do you actually view the everyday hassles of driving as a series of unending catastrophes — sudden, unexpected events that cause great harm? Are they on par with finding out that you have cancer? That you just lost most of your retirement money because of a major correction in the stock market?

Stop trying to understand other drivers

“What in the world is he thinking, pulling out in front of that other car? He should know better than that. God, that’s dangerous.” Or that old frustration: “Why can’t she pull over and get in the non-passing lane if she’s only going to go the speed limit? She’s not supposed to be in this lane. What an idiot!”

The mistake here — which leads to your anger — is that you’re trying to understand why other people drive the way they do.

Stop trying to understand why people do what they do and just accept things as they are, not how you want them to be or think they should be. Driving behavior in humans is no more rational than any other aspect of life. Why do people vote the way they do? Why do people eat the way they do? Why do people do drugs?

All you’re doing is (literally) driving yourself crazy. Expect less and relax more.

Settle for just being irritated

Anger isn’t a matter of “all or none.” Anger occurs at three different levels of intensity:

  • Irritated: Ratings of 1 to 3 on a 10-point intensity scale. Other adjectives you can replace for irritated include annoyed, bothered, or fretted.

  • Mad or angry: Ratings of 4 to 6 on a 10-point scale. You can also think of this as infuriated, incensed, or exasperated.

  • Rage: Ratings of 7 to 10 on a 10-point scale. Synonyms include furious, berserk, and irate.

No one is asking you to feel nothing when you get frustrated while driving. The problem isn’t that you get angry; the problem is that you get too angry (experiencing rage). Why not settle for just being irritated or even a little mad?

Everything is a matter of degree, and anger is no different. Why not tone it down and relax?