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The Stress of Commuting


May 29, 2019 | Published by

Long commutes can be tiring and frustrating, but recent research has shown that these lengthy travel times can also have detrimental effects on our health. Whether it be a seemingly endless crawl through traffic in your car, multiple transfers across the city via bus, or the expense of ride share services, commutes to work can alter aspects of our physical health as well as our general sense of wellbeing. (1)

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 1990 and 2000 the number of Americans who commute more than 90 minutes each day nearly doubled. (2) To go along with our changing commute, the term “super commuter” has become prominent to refer to people that travel multiple hours per day for work.

Considering commutes that are just 10 miles long are associated with increased blood pressure, the health risks associated with longer, more irritating travels can be staggering. “It raises your cortisol level, it raises your adrenaline level, it actually raises your risk of having a heart attack during and for about an hour after you’re doing this. So, there are direct physical threats,” said Richard Jackson, professor emeritus of environmental health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. (3)

Studies have also led psychologists to believe that the elevated stress that commuting puts on individuals and their families can easily outweigh their work and home gains. In a study conducted at the University of Mainz in Germany, among 65 long-distance commuters and their domestic partners, almost 60 percent of the workers lamented having no time to pursue their own interests. (1)

On top of this, when people with families finally did get home, they found they didn’t have enough time to spend with their significant others and children. Additionally, the study showed that two thirds of partners felt even more burdened, having to handle all the home and family duties themselves. (1)

Long commutes also affect our physical health as well. Individuals with commutes of 15 miles or more were shown to be less active and reported higher numbers of obesity. (3) Other physical symptoms of long commutes range from head and backaches to high blood pressure and digestive problems.

And while individuals who commuted by car also had higher risk of joint disease, riders of mass transit suffered from higher rates of infection. “31 percent of the men and 37 percent of the women were, from a medical point of view, clearly in need of treatment,” says Steffen Haefner, who lead a study at the Center for Psychotherapy Research in Stuttgart and the University Clinic of Ulm in Germany. (2)

Thankfully, if your commute has begun to take its toll, all is not lost. Here are some ideas to alleviate some of the stress of your daily excursion.

 Change up your route

If driving the same path every day has become monotonous and dull, it’s possible to breathe new life into your morning commute by varying things up a bit. Wake up early and enjoy the view by taking a more scenic route or try to beat your GPS by looking for quicker ways to get to work.

Drive to your favorite songs

Not only can music have a relaxing effect on our minds (4), it can also make the spaces you occupy more comfortable. Treating your automobile as a sort of retreat can do wonders for your stress levels if you feel like you need to get away from work or even home. (3) If you take public transit or a rideshare, bring your headphones and listen to music or podcasts on your phone or other device.

Tidy up your car

There are numerous reasons clutter causes stress (5), so why not take some time to get rid of the extra junk and trash that’s been collecting in your vehicle? Your car can feel like a home away from home if you travel long daily commutes, and decluttering can make you feel more at ease and relaxed during those extended journeys. 

Practice mindfulness while driving

For many, the daily commute can consist of traffic, construction, inconsiderate drivers, or even accidents, which can greatly add to our stress levels. While remaining focused on the important act of driving itself, anxieties and stressors can be decreased by simply accepting that there are some things that are not within our control.

Mindful driving doesn’t mean you have to enjoy rush hour traffic or inconvenient red lights, it just means not allowing unnecessary resistance to what cannot be prevented. (6) It means accepting things which you have no control over and not allowing yourself to get worked up over heavy traffic or inconsiderate drivers.

Get active

While walking to work is likely not an option if you have a lengthy commute, finding a way to get more physical exercise can do wonders for your stress levels. Even taking the stairs in lieu of an escalator or elevator or parking farther away than you normally do can help improve your physical condition as well as happiness. (1)

Consider alternate methods of travel

While it may take a little longer, buses allow you to do things you enjoy that may not be possible while driving, such as reading, knitting, learning another language, or studying. Being able to use your time constructively, instead of feeling like you’re wasting hours just sitting in traffic, can make you feel like you’re actively accomplishing something and bettering your life.


  1. Wei, M. Commuting: The Stress That Doesn’t Pay. Psychology Today.
  2. Schaefer, A. Commuting Takes Its Toll. Scientific American.
  3. Mammoser,G. Here’s How a 10-Mile Commute Can Hurt Your Health. HealthLine.
  4. Collingwood, J. The Power of Music to Reduce Stress. PsychCentral.
  5. Carter, S. Why Mess Causes Stress: 8 Reasons, 8 Remedies. Psychology Today.
  6. Gillihan, S. Can You Meditate While Driving? Psychology Today.

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