Why is this person driving so slow? Did that driver just cut ahead of me? These thoughts likely roam one’s mind during road rage or accelarousal, when one becomes stressed due to acceleration events (Huynh et al. 2). These stimuli might be mundane and brief, “such as entering a highway from an entrance ramp or starting from a red light,” but to routinely experience this can damage long-term health (1).
When the body is stressed, it perceives a threat and enters fight-or-flight mode, producing a burst of hormones, elevating the heart rate, increasing energy supplies, and pausing non-critical bodily activities (“Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk”). Once this threat is gone, hormones and heart rate decrease as the body resumes its normal processes. Constant stress leaves the fight-or-flight mode consistently turned on, and overexposure to stress hormones disrupts the body’s functions, leaving one in jeopardy of health problems, including heart attacks, weight gain, depression, immunosuppression, and raised mortality risk (Williams; Chiang et al. 9).
Ioannis Pavlidis and his colleagues coined the term “accelarousal” during an experiment that studied how regular events while driving, including acceleration and speed, affect arousal. 12 volunteers had their arousal signals extracted through facial thermophysiology before and while driving in a designated location (Huynh et al. 4). Pavlidis’ team discovered that “accelarousal-prone drivers experience on average 46.2% stronger arousals than non-acceleration-prone drivers” (7). Those in the high-arousal group tended to feel more overloaded or exhausted in the end than others (5). If arousals occur regularly, there may be long-term health implications like most long-term stressors (7).
A 2018 study conducted by Jessica Chiang and other scientists revealed that stress response influences health and longevity more than overall stress felt. Data for this research originated from the first waves of the Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS) and the National Study of Daily Experiences (NSDE) (Chiang et al. 3). MIDUS I occurred from 1995 to 1996 and surveyed random adults about their well-being. A subset of participants from MIDUS I were randomly chosen for NSDE I, which happened from 1996 to 1997 and interviewed 1,843 people over eight consecutive evenings about stressful experiences, behaviors, and emotions over the past day. Total stress reported over the eight-day period helped researchers calculate cumulative stressor exposure (4). They also assessed affect reactivity (the difference in affect levels on stressed versus non-stressed days) via scales created for the NSDE that measure stress impact on emotions; mortality data was collected until October 2015 (4-5). Researchers discovered that higher total stress levels and negative affective reactivity were linked to reduced longevity while positive reactivity increased it (7-8). This indicates that developing healthy stress coping strategies might increase life expectancy.
Unpleasant driving experiences are common, yet it is essential to tame the rage that often comes with them, whether it is by empathizing with the other driver, pulling over, or taking deep breaths. The mind may initially be engaged in emotional thinking and try to reason why the other motorist should be confronted; taking a few minutes to bring that anger under control could bring rationality to the situation. Negative reactions will do more harm than good (especially to the self) as demonstrated by the long-term health risks, consisting of poor cardiovascular health and lowered mortality. Learning to manage road rage makes individuals less prone to accelarousal, so the less frequent it happens, the lower the possibility of chronic stress symptoms and the greater the opportunity for longer, enjoyable lives.
Chiang, Jessica J., et al. “Affective Reactivity to Daily Stress and 20-year Mortality Risk in Adults with Chronic Illness: Findings from the National Study of Daily Experiences.” Health Psychology, vol. 37, no. 2, 2018, pp. 170-78, doi.org/10.1037/hea0000567.
“Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk.” Mayo Clinic, 8 July 2021, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037.
Huynh, Tung, et al. “Arousal Responses to Regular Acceleration Events Divide Drivers into High and Low Groups.” Association for Computing Machinery, no. 454, 2021, pp. 1-7, doi.org/10.1145/3411763.3451809.
Williams, Cindy. “The Effects of Long-Term Stress.” Upper Columbia Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 21 Oct. 2020, www.uccsda.org/the-effects-of-long-term-stress.