Herald JournalHerald Journal, Oct. 10, 2005

The stress of commuting

By Liz Hellmann
Staff Writer

Commuters can experience greater stress than fighter pilots going into battle, or riot policeman, according to a report from the British Broadcasting Channel.

Job stress can be a major factor when deciding on a career, but studies are showing that the process of actually getting to that job can be just as stressful.

The body’s normal response to stress is to either “fight or flight.” While policeman can do things to fight back, commuters cannot control traffic patterns, weather, or the driver that just cut them off, again.

Stephanie Dahl of Lester Prairie is vice president of a marketing firm in Eden Prairie, about 35 miles from her home.

“There are days when you sit in unnecessary traffic, and you wish you would have known so you could take a different route,” Dahl said.

Commonly referred to as commuter stress, tension from the drive to and from work is affecting people everywhere, especially people who live in rural communities and drive long distances to urban areas.

Like Dahl, people may have a job they love in the city, but want to live in the country. Therefore, they must commute.

Dahl used to live in Chaska, but decided to move out of the city. “We wanted more land, more space, and to not live right in the middle of town,” Dahl said.

Western suburbs of the Twin Cities are commonly called “sleeper communities” or “bedroom communities” for just that reason.

But is the commute worth having the best of both worlds, or is the stress of navigating to and from those worlds causing health damage?

When stressful situations pile up one after another on a long commute, stress hormones are continually being released to the body. The body has no chance to recover.

This long-term stress can disrupt almost all the body’s processes, increasing your risk of obesity, insomnia, digestive complaints, heart disease, and depression, according to the Mayo Clinic.

A 2004 study conducted by researchers Alois Stutzer and Bruno S. Frey stated, “People with long journeys to and from work are systematically worse off and report significantly lower subjective well-being.”

Statistics taken from the Minnesota Public Radio paint a grim picture for those heading to the Twin Cities.

On average, Twin Cities residents spend 37 hours a year idling in traffic jams. During the 1990s, only one other US city, Atlanta, saw traffic congestion grow faster.

These numbers won’t be letting up, either, as projections suggest 900,000 more people moving to the Twin Cities in the next 30 years.

The average commute to work in the US is almost 50 minutes.

So, how are commuters handling the stress of sitting in traffic for almost an hour?

According to a study conducted by AAA, incidents of road rage went up 51 percent in the early 1990s.

Dahl finds her commute is usually not rage inducing. “I don’t mind my commute, I don’t have a lot of stoplights. It goes pretty fast for how far it is,” Dahl said.

Others, whose commute does not go as smoothly as Dahl’s, may feel they are engaged in a battle with the road from the time they step in the car until the time they get out.

But there are other, healthier ways to handle the commute than taking it out on another driver.

Tips to combat commuter stress

Even though the state of the trip is out of the commuter’s hands, they can help themselves steer clear of stress by remembering these helpful tips:

• If the job allows, travel to work outside of peak hours, or work from home.

• Take a brisk walk at the end of the trip to help burn up the extra stress hormones.

• Give other motorists the benefit of the doubt. The slow driver in front of you could be returning from the funeral of his/her child.

• Look for opportunities to do a favor for another driver, providing it does not endanger traffic flow.

• Travel with someone whose company you enjoy.

• Listen to a humorous tape or radio station.

• Continually remind yourself that the extra 10 minutes you may gain by driving like a “bat out of hell” is not worth the risk to your life.

• Listen to music that you really enjoy.

• Deliberately take the journey at a comfortable pace and note the difference in time between driving like a race car driver (it may amaze you).

These tips are from www.stresstips.com.

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