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Dementor Commutes: Bad Traffic Wrecking America’s Mental Health

Does your commute drive you crazy? Maybe more than you think. A new study says that daily stress—like being stuck in traffic—can lead to mental disorders years down the road. IOL reports:

Everyday irritations like waiting in traffic can build up over time and cause mental problems later in life, psychologists found. […]

Using data from two national surveys, researchers found negative responses to daily stresses such as arguments with a partner, conflicts at work, standing in long queues or sitting in traffic led to psychological distress or anxiety and mood disorders ten years later.

We’ve all been there. Patience exhausted but helpless to do anything about it; Worried about the consequences of being late to your destination. Traffic is a terrible consequence of the highly  mobile age we live in. But this study suggests the effects of sitting in traffic are more than just a temporary annoyance. The cumulative effects of everyday annoyances can have long-term impacts on mental health.

At Via Meadia, we’re increasingly convinced that the daily commuting ritual is one of the Great Banes of our lives. It’s bad for families, bad for the environment, bad for neighborhoods and volunteer organizations, bad for government budgets and between the pollution and stress it creates, it’s bad for public health. It’s a legacy institution from the 20th century that needs to be killed.

Some jobs need to be done face to face, and many jobs require at least some direct interaction among people who are physically together. But the average American commutes 25.4 minutes each way to work. The information revolution is reducing the need for commuting; fewer and fewer jobs now require that everyone drive to the same room, and as a society we are getting better at working cooperatively over distances. Whether you are a feminist, an environmentalist, an economist, a pro-family activist or just a person who wants to live a little better than you do, telework is a cause that you need to embrace.

One of these days one or both parties is going to realize that killing the commute is the kind of social change that Americans want their leaders to push. Until that happy day, we recommend deep breathing (but not near commuting thoroughfares) and music or podcasts that put you at ease. Stress kills, and death by commuting is a terrible way to go.

[Telecommuting image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Anthony

    The price of civilization as well as the mammalian brain has distinct circuits that underlie differnt kinds of response to stressors – adaptation is important.

  • Steve Walser

    So now we see why Meadia has been so all about the whole telecommute thing. You are just frustrated Google car wantabees who hate commuting!

    • Jim Luebke

      Does anyone actually *like* commuting?

  • Felipe Pait

    Don’t leave aside national security. Too much of the defense budget goes to secure cheap oil sources. Too many enemies use oil revenue for their own evil ends. Too many soldiers die in oil fueled wars.

  • Jude O’Connor

    75% of drivers would fail a drivers license test. It’s unbelievable the close calls I have daily.

  • Jaynie59

    What’s infuriating is that we’re going the opposite direction. I took a promotion to management in 1995 and back then the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had tax breaks for companies that allowed telecommuting. I lived in Rhode Island and my new job was an hour away on a good day. The only way I could take the job was to work at home a couple of days a week. There were very few good days and my commute was closer to an hour and a half. Sometimes longer. If a leaf fell off a tree traffic would come to a dead stop. It was so stressful.

    But by 2004 the tide had turned and work at home (WAH) became a bad thing. Too many people abused it, the tax incentives were gone, so I ended up moving to Mass. It’s the worst thing I ever did but I knew there was no way I could make that drive everyday.

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