Is your commute stressing you out?
According to a report in USA Today the average American's commute to work is 25.5 minutes each way (1). Here in the UK, we spend an average of 54 minutes each day commuting, around about the same time, but your daily commute or doesn't just come with financial costs, it can have a serious impact on your wellness. Your commute could be stressing you out!
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), every successive minute we spent travelling to work decreases our feelings of happiness and life satisfaction (2) – the longer the commute, the less your sense of personal wellbeing. The ONS research also found that the commuting option most likely to leave us feeling grumpy is a bus journey of over 30 minutes, although it's commutes of over an hour which most negatively impact on wellbeing.
Why does commuting affect us?
We make the choice to commute to work, so realistically speaking, the daily commute shouldn't affect our psychological health. Yet our commuting journeys are increasing as more robust than ever before move out of cities to enjoy a higher standard of living and better, more affordable housing options.
Professor Jenny Roberts of the University of Sheffield tracked 7000 men and 7000 women over a 13-year period for her research on commuting's impact on wellbeing. Her paper, published in the Journal of Health Economics, revealed that women were adversely affected by commuting, whilst men were not – even though women generally commute less. It's thought that the reason for this is that women have more to do during the commute – they may need to stop off at nursery, school or the shops. This adds stress which can in turn impact mental health.
Reasons to be cheerful
The stress we feel when commuting to work is usually caused by factors we can't control, such as weather, traffic jams or train delays. Having said that, many commuters actually enjoy the daily commute as it gives them time to relax and catch up with reading. Healthier transport options such as walking or cycling to work are a great way to be more active, but the research carried out by the ONS shows that cycling can be a stressful commute, particularly if you're travelling on routes with heavy traffic.
When you consider the average person spends around 204 hours a year commuting, it's surprising that we don't spend more time thinking about what all that back-and-forth does to our bodies. Here are just a few ways in which commuting can impact your health and well-being.
Rising blood sugar and cholesterol
A report written by researchers from the University School of Medicine in St Louis and the Cooper Institute in Dallas revealed that driving more than 10 miles each way to and from work was linked to a rise in blood sugar. As we know, high blood sugar can lead to diabetes. The same report also found that a longer commute was linked to higher cholesterol.
Elevated anxiety levels
A report from the UK's Office of National Statistics showed that those who commute over 30 minutes to work each way report higher levels of anxiety and stress than those people with shorter commutes. A good way to turn your stressful commute into an enjoyable, relaxing experience is to listen to music, read a book or even catch up on some work.
Spike in blood pressure
That rush-hour commute you hate so much is not only incredibly stressful, it can actually cause a spike in your stress levels that could jack up your blood pressure. If you feel constantly pushed for time why not try leaving a little earlier, before rush-hour. Even if you don't get to work any earlier, your actually reduce stress on the drive.
Lack of sleep
The Regus Work-Life Balance Index for 2012 found commutes of longer than 45 minutes each way could lead to poorer quality sleep and increased levels of exhaustion compared to shorter commutes. So in order to get your eight hours each night, a job closer to home may be the answer! Of course if that's not possible, making your commute as relaxing possible, perhaps with some meditation, is the way to go.
Is your commute stressing you out?
There's no denying that commuting can be incredibly stressful, particularly if you live in a big city (as anyone who has ever taken the Tube in London during rush hour will know)! With all those people crammed into a train carriage after a long, stressful day at work – is it any surprise that elevated blood pressure and anxiety levels are the result? You may not be able to shorten your commute, but is it possible that you can do your job remotely some days? Working from home, or from an office closer to home some days of the week can slash your commute in half. If that's not an option for you, work on ways to make your commute more pleasant. Schedule mini-projects that you can work on during the journey, download a new book to your Kindle, or load a relaxing playlist on your iPod to help you unwind. We all need to get to work, but it doesn't have to be a stressful, exhausting experience!
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