Is driving unhealthy?

Sounds ridiculous? Don’t be that sure. Most people know commuting by a car while stressed can increase the risk of getting into an accident. But it’s worse. Beyond personal health detriments of stress, driving itself can lower job and life satisfaction. This is a part of what researchers call “driving stress”. Ever been stuck in traffic and been angry? Or maybe a fight broke out between two drivers and you got late to work because of that? Yes, you have been exposed to driving stress.

Driving stress was only starting to be taken seriously in the mid 20th century. At a time when driving had become the dominant form of getting around, study after the study began to show a myriad of health impacts from driving. Research from international institutions collected live data from drivers and found higher levels of many stress indicators.

Higher heart rates, blood pressure, anxiety. Further studies also showed more driving correlated with more sick days and appearances in the hospital. Apart from these, it was noted that a daily car commute can raise blood sugar, cholesterol, and depression risk. They also mention drops in fitness and sleep quality. But that isn’t even the worst of it.

A summary of research analysis on how commuting affects well-being was released by a leading statistical analyser. From the data analysis, it was concluded that commuters have lower life satisfaction, a lower sense that their daily activities are worthwhile, lower levels of happiness and higher anxiety on average than non-commuters.

Average happiness levels begin to fall and anxiety levels begin to rise after the first 15 minutes of the commute to work. Then, the worst effects of commuting on personal well-being are experienced on average by those whose journey to work lasts between 61 and 90 minutes.

Some research even shows that more driving leads to shorter temper. The more you drive, the less tolerance and patience you have for others in your immediate environment. It has also been found that the longer you spend driving results in lower productivity for your employer. More lost work days, more late arrivals, higher employee turnover, and decreased job satisfaction are all linked to driving.

Traffic jams, construction, and long driving distances are key stressors, according to most drivers. Specifically, it’s the elements of unpredictability and loss of control they present drivers. When we are walking, we have the ability to communicate with those around us with hundreds of subtle social cues. In a car, we only have two indicators and a horn. Since they don’t always communicate what you want the way you want it, people have to bottle the accompanying stress and release it some other way.

Lots of problem talk, now about the solution. How can you make your commute much less stressful? The best advice that I can come up with: Always leave extra time for your journey and check traffic conditions before you set off. That way, you can arrive early or despite traffic and won’t feel the pressure of time ticking by.

Switch your phone to its “Do not disturb” setting so you aren’t distracted, and check for messages and emails or make calls when you take a break every couple of hours. The horn is there simply to get others’ attention and let them know that you are there. If someone else uses it to express annoyance, don’t join in. You’re better than that.

If your drive is going to be long, make it a point to take a break once in a while. It’s both for you and the fellow users of the road.