Getting Caught in Traffic: Its Effect on Physical, Emotional, and Mental Health

traffic jam in a highway

Surveys say that traffic jams are the biggest cause of everyday stress. It’s the little daily irritants in life that get to us most of the time — much more than the death of a loved one, divorce, or moving to a new home. Being stuck in traffic, lining up at the grocery store, buying Christmas presents, and finding yourself locked out of the house are the most stressful events that happen to one’s life.

Getting caught by the traffic police’s radar guns beating the stoplight and going over the speed limit is also a huge cause of stress. Traffic jams are the worst, though. In different surveys, traffic jams have been chosen by the majority of the participants as the number one stressor of their everyday lives.

Effect on Physical Health

A study by Washington University in St. Louis in 2012 found out that being caught in traffic jams eat up exercise time. Instead of going to the gym or exercising, people stuck in traffic will mostly choose to just rest or finish some errands that they have missed. The long commute is associated with lower fitness levels, an increase in weight, and high blood pressure.

These can all trigger health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer. Commuters who ride in non-air-conditioned vehicles such as motorcycles, bicycles, and some types of jeeps and buses — in Asia, mostly — also suffer from pollution. The World Health Organization previously said that air pollution causes 3.2 million “preventable deaths” worldwide each year. These “preventable” diseases are chronic lung diseases, high blood pressure, and inflamed arteries.

heavy traffic in the morning

Effect on Emotional and Mental Health

But here’s another unknown and unseen effect of traffic jams: stress and emotional triggers. Commuters who get stuck in traffic daily tend to lose sleep. They arrive late at home and wake up early to avoid the morning rush. Sleep deprivation has a long-term effect on the mental and emotional health of a person. Their productivity at work and attention to things also suffer.

Various studies also found out that stress can lead to alcohol and drug abuse. Both of which can increase the prevalence of domestic violence and petty crimes. While most people who get stuck in traffic will not commit a crime, some may be triggered emotionally when they arrive at home. People try to find an emotional punching bag that can bear the grunt of their frustration. Most often, it is their partners who suffer from that frustration.

For example, when a local football team loses, incidences of domestic violence increased by 10 percent. Studies say that consumers waste more than three billion gallons of fuel each year in traffic. They also spend a collective 5.5 billion hours stuck in traffic. For the average driver, that’s 42 hours every year.

The next time you find yourself stuck in traffic, you need to calm yourself down and face the situation. Change your perspective on the situation. Instead of getting stressed and frustrated, think of more positive and happy thoughts. You can also find a way to avoid traffic such as leaving the house earlier or even finding work that’s nearer to home.