The stress of commuting

  | James Innes

Commuters in the south of England this week face more travel misery as guards on the Southern rail network have begun a 48 hour strike. This means more delays and train cancellations, and follows a similar strike by drivers last week which meant no trains at all ran on the network for three days. Some passengers were able to work from home, while others were forced to take time off. Unfortunately, this is not the first such strike endured by passengers on the rail network that serves London and the South of England. There have been a series of industrial actions over the past 9 months, and more are planned for the New Year.

And it is not as if commuters travel in the lap of luxury when the trains are running. Passengers complain of overcrowding, dirty and smelly carriages, and poor facilities on trains and at stations, one woman caller to a national radio station last week relating how a fellow passenger fainted, and nobody could help her until the train got to the next station because of the press of bodies around her.

The stress of commuting, however, is not confined to just the people in Southern England, however. All over the world millions of people sit, every day, in bumper to bumper traffic, or find themselves crammed into crowded buses, trains and metro carriages

Commuting is, to some extent, an inevitability of modern life because major centres of employment tend to be either in cities or towns where house prices make it impossible for many people to live, or in industrial areas where they may not want to reside.

However, commuting can be seriously detrimental to your health. A study conducted last year by the University of Montreal showed that the longer you commute, the more it can affect you. Travelling for more than 20 minutes can make you7 susceptible to chronic stress, which causes both physical and emotional stress. And, if you travel for 35 minutes or more, it makes you more cynical into the bargain. The study’s author, Annie Barreck, noted that “a correlation exists between commuting stress factors and the likelihood of suffering from burnout”, and that the bigger the city, the more stressful the commute.

For many people, their daily commute is much more than 20 minutes each way, of course, which means just getting to and from work is having a potentially serious effect on their health. It is also not good for the global economy – stressed and tired workers are inherently less productive than those rested and relaxed.

If all this sounds depressingly familiar, is there anything that can be done to break out of the vicious cycle? One solution you might consider is to change jobs and find a position either nearer to where you live, or where the commute is easier. Whilst this may mean changing careers or accepting a job at a lower salary, in net terms you might be better off in the long run because of the money saved on petrol or train fares. There could also be longer-term benefits to your health and emotional well-being if you cut down the amount of time you waste just getting to and from work.

In the meantime, thousands will force themselves into crowded trains today or surround themselves with fumes in a sea of almost stationary traffic, looking forward, no doubt, to their Christmas break and will try and forget that, come January, it will all start again.

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