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We've all heard about the dangers of distracted driving, but what many don't realize is that strong emotions can have just as much impact on your driving than texting does.

If you've ever had to drive home after a tough day at work or while you're still riled up from an argument, then you might have noticed your driving being a little more erratic than usual. Whether you're irate before you start driving or become irate because you're driving, it's uber important to keep your cool while you're on the road.

Read on to learn why road rage isn't detrimental to just your mental and emotional health, and for tips on how to drive safely when emotions are running high.

Your chances of a collision skyrocket when you're upset

Drinking and texting aren't the only factors that can impair your driving. Your emotions do, too, and it's not just anger – sadness can affect your ability to drive safely as well.

In fact, your odds of getting in a collision are 10 times higher when you're angry or sad, according to Virginia Tech's Transportation Institute. It was also found that the best drivers are alert and attentive – which may not be the case when emotions are running high. When drivers are upset their minds may wander, leaving them to be an absentee driver at the wheel.

You'll meet aggression with aggression when you're angry

Let's consider how your brain is wired; when you're upset, the part of the brain known as the amygdala sounds the alarm and gets you amped up. Your body instinctively jumps into this defensive state, not leaving much room for the cortex – the part that manages judgment – to do its job in a timely manner.

In other words, your amygdala is the little devil on your shoulder nudging you to tailgate the person that's barely going 100 km/h on the highway, while your cortex is the angel on the other side telling you to just go around them.

On Tuesday when you were calm, you would've barely reacted to that slow driver. But today's Wednesday, you've just stormed out after a fight with your significant other, and your amygdala's whispering, “I dare anyone on the Gardiner to TRY US today.”  While it's important to practice defensive driving, you don't want to become aggressive.

The key to avoiding road rage is to not let that little devil get the better of you. Take a breath and let your emotions will pass, so you can keep safety a priority.

There are strategies to stay calm while driving

A good general rule is: When you're upset, don't drive. But let's say something rubs you the wrong way while driving, like being tailgated by the person behind you.

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What do you do when everyone on the road is testing your patience? Go through these steps to help calm yourself down and ensure you're driving safely.

  1. Acknowledge your anger. When you're feeling righteous anger, it's hard to remember that it's still anger and that it's not productive. If your heart rate increases, you're flushed, and you're feeling vengeful thoughts, recognize these symptoms and acknowledge that you're veering into dangerous territory.
  2. Take some deep breaths. Cliché, we know, but it works. Take a couple to deep breaths to help centre yourself.
  3. Be present. If you're stuck in traffic, be present and remember that while the situation isn't ideal, there's nothing you can do – so there's no point getting sick over it. Listen to a podcast or some of your favourite tunes to pass the time.

Whatever you do, do your best not to lose your cool; you'll only put yourself and other drivers at risk if you give in to the road rage. If you feel a bout of road rage coming on, think about the possible long-term impact of your actions – it could just be a little fender bender that increases your car insurance premium, or it could be life-changing for both you and the other driver.

Do you have any tips on how to stay calm while driving? Find us on Facebook to join the conversation!

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