Angry Driver

– By Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D.

Dr. Mike,
I commute to DC for work from Leesburg, and I spend over an hour in the car every day – each way. I leave very early and really don’t mind the drive, but rude drivers stress me out. For my DC exit, cars illegally pass me on the shoulder up the ramp while I more slowly wait my turn to exit correctly from my lane. On the way home, cars illegally fly by me on the left while I stay in my lane on the right and then those same cars sneak into my lane at the very end to exit faster. My blood pressure goes through the roof with these jerks, and while I know I shouldn’t let them get to me, they do. I’ve started putting the nose of my car out to block them, but this doesn’t make me any less angry. Your thoughts? – Angry Driver in Loudoun

Dear Angry Driver,
This summer, a driver in Washington State became so upset by cars passing her illegally on the shoulder that she finally decided to take matters into her own hands by intentionally ramming her Subaru into a Jeep three times.

While I fully appreciate that woman is upset, ramming cars in retaliation or blocking them from passing are not good solutions. There are only three options to the problem: remove yourself from the situation, change the situation or accept it. Acceptance is probably the best of these options since you can’t get out of your lane during your morning or evening commute and you can’t change or control the behaviors of other drivers.

Mindfulness is a very effective way to achieve a state of acceptance during stressful situations. Mindfulness is the concept of being 100 percent present in the moment while accepting all aspects of what that moment is or what it brings – without criticism, blame or judgement.

Here are a few things to consider: be more consciously aware of what you see, hear and feel as a driver. When you sit in the car, feel your body fully in the seat, your hands fully on the steering wheel, and your feet firmly on the pedals. When you look through the windshield or out your windows, take in everything you see.

Don’t turn on the radio or allow yourself to be distracted by any other form of technology. Instead, allow yourself to embrace the natural sounds of your drive and enjoy the silence and attendant calm that comes with it.

As you practice these things, you will notice yourself experiencing greater awareness and focus, which should in turn have a positive impact on your mood and driving experience.

When you come upon those two upsetting moments of your commute, notice your thoughts and feelings, but don’t try to control them. Take deep breaths – inhaling in through your nose fully and then out through your mouth fully – to help you to remain calm and present. I also invite you to respond to drivers passing you aggressively on the shoulder with compassion and forgiveness. Perhaps you can even wish them well in your mind or even verbalize positive statements to them as they whizz by you.

Certainly, it will take time to retrain your thoughts and the ways in which you process annoying or upsetting moments more successfully with mindfulness strategies.

Lastly, I also recommend listening to, “Awake at the Wheel: Mindful Driving,” by Michele McDonald, to better help you to manage your anger behind the wheel.

Dr. Mike,
My wife is seriously addicted to the cell phone game Candy Crush. She plays it all the time, and it’s gotten so bad that it’s interfering with all aspects of her life. She’s also spent a lot of money on the game and can’t seem to level up on the game fast enough before she needs to spend and play more. Help! – Concerned in Loudoun

Dear Concerned,
Although the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders did not include a classification for Internet Gaming Disorder in its most recent edition in 2013, there is no denying that video game overuse has become a very real problem for many.

Candy Crush, like so many other smart-phone-based games, is fun, but it’s also cleverly designed to keep you coming back for more via a variable ratio reinforcement schedule where you lose a lot but win just enough to want to play more; this is the same tactic casinos use with slot machines. Throw in the engaging sounds and the colorful visuals and the levelling up goals, and what started out as something fun can become an out of control compulsion.

Research has also shown that incessant gaming – as well as well as other technology use also involves and alters dopamine levels in your brain.

Thus, too much Candy Crush may actually lead to problematic behaviors and symptoms that are consistent with substance use disorders or other addictions and dopamine appears to be the main culprit.  It appears that dopamine, a natural brain chemical that provides pleasure when we drink or use drugs, is also released in our brains when we use our smartphones.  Yes, Candy Crush use can be thought of then as a form of self-medicating where players can enter a vicious dopamine loop of constant seeking and receiving of dopamine (i.e. pleasure) when engaged in the game.

I think you should sit down with your wife to express your concerns again. If she dismisses you, be prepared to give her specific examples to better elucidate your concerns. You and your wife should come up with a game plan that will help her to gain control over her problem.
You could both agree that she delete the App and go cold turkey. Or, you could attempt a more nuanced step-wise approach to change where she plays at only certain times of day and in certain settings. If your efforts fail, I recommend seeking the help of a mental health professional.

Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice. He has been featured on CNN Nightly News, Good Morning America and several other media outlets. He can be reached at 703-723-2999 and is located at 444095 Pipeline Plaza, Suite 240, Ashburn.

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