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Mental Health

How Traffic May Be Affecting Your Mental Health

Via Unsplash

Having to sit through traffic after a very long day of work is probably the worst thing in the world. This is an extreme case of a first world problem, but it is definitely important and affects almost all working individuals. The workday can seem never ending and is generally very exhausting. Bumper to bumper traffic doesn’t make anything better, it makes it 10 times worse.

Traffic may be affecting our mental health in ways that may not seem very apparent until you actually begin to think about how you feel once you finally reach home. You may find yourself saying “Ugh, what a long day” thinking this exhaustion is due to a stressful day of work, but a major part of this feeling is due to the amount of energy that is drained throughout your commute home.

                                                     Related: 6 Unpleasant Realities of Being a Commuter Student

1. It’s physically and mentally draining

Being physically and mentally tired means the same thing most of the time. They are dependent on one another. If you are mentally tired, this will affect your physical strength and ability. According to Optalert, driving and sitting through traffic can make you tired. It’s common to think that we only become tired after being really active, but have you ever just been lazy at home one day and felt more tired than usual? This is most likely because of your debt to sleep. Being immobile makes your sleep deprivation more apparent and increases the release of melatonin in your body. Other reasons for this decline in energy is our sudden rise of melatonin during the afternoon include hunger, dehydration, pre-existing fatigue, limited interaction with others and increased exertion of attention and alertness.Via Giphy

2. It can contribute to loneliness

As Quartz reports, loneliness seems to affect more than just one generation of working individuals. During a time of extreme job insecurity, individuals are accepting positions that may require a very lengthy commute. In addition to stressful and long working hours, workers are finding it difficult to also maintain a social life. Therefore, many commuters are spending more time alone and away from home, resulting in some unfortunate cases of social isolation. Social isolation can be very damaging to one’s mental health leading to increased anxiety and depression.Via Unsplash

3. It can cause anxiety

Being stuck in traffic can affect levels of anxiety in those that are more susceptible to anxiety and to even those who aren’t. Quartz emphasized how long-mile traffic jams and crowding on public transportation can make commuters anxious. The feeling of being trapped and stuck in traffic can lead to claustrophobia, which also contributes to higher levels of anxiety for some. Another contribution to increased anxiety is the fear of not being able to get work done because of delayed commute time.

For example, a working student may become more anxious when stuck in rush-hour traffic out of fear that they won’t be able to complete their assignments on time. Another example of this rise in anxiety can be seen when you are running late for work and stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic at the exit. Overall, traffic can impact working individuals’ mental health by increasing levels of anxiety.Via Pixabay

                                                                   Related: Taking Advantage of Your Commute

4. Contributes to feelings of depression

The combination of fatigue, loneliness and anxiety may have a ripple effect in that it can lead to depression. Essentially, traffic can lead to feelings of constant negativity. Feeling down all the time and expressing a dislike for your every day commute is not healthy for your mental health and may make you more susceptible to falling into depression. Work and personal life stressors are enough to contribute to feeling down but the addition of this draining activity makes it hard to find an outlet. Before you begin your workday, you are already experiencing negative moods during rush hour traffic. This negative mood is a reflection of your mood for the rest of the workday. During your commute home, you are also experiencing this negativity from your stressful day at work and rush hour commute, which may contribute to issues in your home life. Trying to shake off this depressive feeling is not easy and may require medical intervention.Via Pixabay

5. It’s stressful!

Stress is also an aspect of your mental health that may be affected by traffic. Stress can be the result of the above factors, but may also have an effect on them as well. For example, loneliness and fatigue may increase stress, and stress can lead to susceptibility of depression. CNN reports that being stuck in “gridlocked traffic” can lead to higher stress levels, which may in turn lead to serious, negative mental health issues. Wanting nothing but to be at home after a long day of work and being stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic without being able to do anything about it leads to more stress. In addition to the stress experienced at work, individuals are also facing more stress-inducing factors outside of work.Via Unsplash

These factors may seem similar to one another and essentially, they tend to bounce off one another in that the presence of one may stimulate the presence of another. Helpful ways to cope with these issues include meditation, taking breaks throughout the day, coordinating the time you leave to and from work and considering teleworking some days of the week. Take care of your mental health and don’t let your daily commute bring you down!


Iman Naieem

George Mason University '18

Iman is a DMV native. As a first-generation college student, she is majoring in Industrial Organizational Psychology and minoring in Business at George Mason University. Her dream career consists of being a Labor and Employment attorney. On another note, some of her hobbies include spending time with her family, listening to music, and reading. Some of her passions include promoting well-being, empowering women, and offering support to minorities.