Skip to content

Stress Management Health Center

Font Size

Getting a Grip on Roadway Anger


The students were assigned to attend eight therapy sessions -- either relaxation or cognitive relaxation therapy, both common methods for treating anxiety, stress, and anger.

Relaxation therapy "works on the notion you can be really angry and really calm at the same time," says Deffenbacher. "A great number of people get all hot-headed, physically angry and charged up. But if they could calm down, they would think [the situation] through more calmly."

Each student was taught basic techniques of relaxation: tensing and releasing the muscles, and deep breathing. This was followed by sessions in which they visualized "road rage" situations while a therapist prompted them to control their reactions.

The cognitive-relaxation group got the same type of relaxation interventions along with work on anger-provoking thought processes.

"For example, let's say you cut me off in traffic," Deffenbacher says. "I'm thinking, 'Crazy [woman], she shouldn't be allowed on the road. This is awful, I'm going to run over her.' That's a very angering way to think about it. Instead, I could think, ''Wow, she almost hit me. Back off, Jerry; let her have her accident somewhere else. Just chill out and let her go down the road.'

"Those are two very different thought patterns, even though your behavior is identical in those examples," he tells WebMD. "We help people identify the thought patterns that take a bad situation and make it worse."

The study showed that the two types of interventions were nearly equally effective. "They don't make people absolutely anger-free but they do reduce the frequency and intensity of anger," Deffenbacher says.

People must want to change, or none of it will work, Deffenbacher says. He advises anyone who wants to change angry behaviors -- whether or not they are related to driving -- to check the yellow pages for therapists who deal with stress and anxiety issues. "In the mental health profession, anger has not been identified as a diagnosable condition," he says.

Deffenbacher, whose work is funded by the CDC and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is now studying the effects of treatment on students who drink and drive angry.

The paper is very interesting but preliminary, says Richard Wetzel, PhD, professor of medical psychiatry and psychology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He tells WebMD that in some respects, the studies are unrealistic. "These are not real patients; these are students from a psychology class ? people who are bright, they're willing to admit that have a problem, they have insight into it. ? They haven't been referred by the courts for treatment, which is very different."

"These [relaxation] therapies are helpful in that they make people feel like someone is dealing with them," Mitchell H. Messer, MA, LPC, who established the Anger Clinic in Chicago three decades ago, tells WebMD. However, Messer adds that "these are people whose anger issues have not been dealt with for 19 years."

Today on WebMD

Hands breaking pencil in frustration
stethoscope and dollars
Woman with stressed, fatigue
fatigued woman
hand gripping green rubber ball
family counseling
stress at work
frayed rope

Pollen counts, treatment tips, and more.

It's nothing to sneeze at.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.


Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

WebMD Special Sections