One of the largest impacts to our everyday health is the amount of stress we encounter. Some of our daily stressors are avoidable, others not so much. One that most everyone in an industrialized country has experienced is commuting traffic. It’s difficult to enjoy life when you’re stuck in the car with the air pollution, inability to control your environment and inability to get to your destination on time. We want more time in the comfort of our homes, with our loved ones, enjoying the fruit of our labor. However, when given the choice, most Americans choose to increase their commute if it means affording a home with an extra bedroom or bathroom, according to one survey. Speaking of affordability, another study found that the typical household spends nearly 20 percent of its income on driving costs, more than it spends on food.
Your body's response to acute stress can be life-saving if you’re running from a predator, but chronic stress can take a toll on your body, increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension and back and neck pain. During a study comparing the blood pressure and pulse rates of fighter pilots and riot police during training exercises, researcher David Lewis found that commuting can be even more stressful. According to Dr. Lewis, this is mainly due to commuters' inability to change their situation, whereas police and pilots have the necessary training to address their stressful situations.
So how can commuters address or avoid these stressful situations? Here are a few ideas:
- Leave for work earlier to beat the rush.
- Check a map to see if there is a better way around congestion spots.
- Adjust the controls of your car so the driving position is as comfortable as possible.
- When using public transportation, read or distract yourself in some other way.
- Play calming music when frustrated.
- Use relaxation techniques to manage stress when you experience it.
- Use positive thinking skills to think about the commute in a more positive way.
- Listen to books on tape.
- If you’re able to find a job closer to home or find a home closer to your job, take it.
- Carpool. Conversation helps pass the time.
A study looking at how people choose to spend the moments of their life found that commuting is the daily activity that generates the lowest level of positive effect, as well as a relatively high level of negative effect. So the next time you’re faced with the decision of increasing your commute or not, remember the effects this may have on your health, wallet and precious moments of your life.
— By Joseph Garrett, ND, naturopathic doctor and resident at Bastyr Center for Natural Health