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Is Your Commute Driving You Nuts?

Have you ever had a particularly rough commute, maybe someone told you that you were number one via a rather popular driving gesture, and it just made you feel like your whole day had suddenly gone in the crapper?

In the midst of a rather painful recession, a study featured by the American Psychological Association shows that more and more Americans are reporting feeling increasing levels of stress over the last 5 years. One of the sweeping issues that people around the globe are dealing with is a world that has become beset by undeniable uncertainty. The constant threat of financial crisis extends far beyond governments and powers, and is rooted in homes all around the world. According a study published in the journal Occupational Medicine, during the recession work-related stress has risen by a rather dramatic 40%, while absentee rates have risen 25%.

[h6]Discovery[/h6]Like many people who live in places that have cold winters, I really only give my car a good cleaning once in Spring, and once in the Autumn before the snow flies. Through this biannual ritual, my car is reborn via a fury of dusting and vacuuming.

[h6]What does this have to do with fitness?[/h6]Half way through my biannual endeavor a week or so ago I noticed what I initially thought were  a few little pieces of white plastic around the driver’s seat. Further examination left me a bit shocked by the realization that what I was actually finding were little flecks of finger nail! Whoa! Apparently I’ve developed a habit of picking my nails durning the course of my commute.  The first time I type “I bite my nails when I drive” into the almighty Google, the suggested version came out as “I bite my nails when I drink alcohol.” Interesting, but not required reading at this particular moment.  Further investigation confirmed my initial suspicions that bitting or picking nails can be rooted in feelings of anxiety.

[h6]My Commute[/h6]I live about 30 minutes away from my desk jockey day job, so daily I commute via one of the only highways in the state that has a 70 mile per hour speed limit. I’m not going to lie, there are times when I wished I lived a little closer to my job, but I enjoy living on the line between suburbia and the gateway to lake country too much to live anywhere else. Like most commuters I can recall several specific incidences in past commutes where I can recall feeling an elevated stress level.

Can a commute cause you to become a nail picking stresserella? And if so, is there any real reason for concern?

[h6]The Research[/h6]As it turns out, the stress of commuting can negatively effect a persons physical, mental, social, and emotional health. Excessive stress has been linked to everything from hypertension, to gastrointestinal problems, and even overeating.

An article published in Health Day says that long-distance commuter couples are 40% more likely to separate than other couples. The study referenced in the article was published by Erika Sandow, a social geographer at Umea University. Her study analyzed more than 2 million adults who were married or living with a significant  other, and identified long-distance commuters as those who drive 90 minutes or more round trip for work.

Researchers from Lund University conducted a study of 21,000 people from all ages from 18 to 65, and the results showed that those who commuted by car OR public transit “reported reported more everyday stress, exhaustion, missed work days and generally poorer health.”

The University of Maryland says that in early times humans depended on the physcial changes caused by stress in order to meet and overcome the natural threats of their world, but several recent studies have suggested that feelings of depression and/or anxiety may be rooted in the inability to control these primal instincts as they relate to the stresses of the modern world.

Yet another study done Christine Hoehner, assistant professor in the division of public health sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo, found that long periods of time commuting to and from work are associated with higher weight and lower fitness levels. Variables examined include measuring BMI, waist circumference, cholesterol, and blood pressure. The study examined 4,200 residents living and working in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin metropolitan areas.

Among the possible explanations are that people who spend more time commuting have less time for things like preparing meals, and spending time in the gym or basement working out. Convenience and timeliness may take preference over nutritional value, as more time in transit means less time to do all of life’s responsibilities, big and small.

So what’s a stressed out commuter to do?

Assuming that both changing to a job that’s closer to home, and moving your home closer to your job are out of the question, they’re are several relatively easy stress management techniques that you can use to manage commuter stress and/or anxiety. Utilizing the 7 techniques below can help you start and end each work day on a more positive note. Your loved ones will thank you.

[callout1] 7 Coping Strategies for Commute Stress[/callout1]

[circle_list][list_item]Be Prepared – Get everything like your clothes, workout bag, lunch, etc ready the night before. A little preparation can go a long way to help quell early morning mania  by giving you less tasks to complete, and therefore more time to complete more important tasks (e.g., spending a little time with your kids or loved ones, breakfast, bathing, etc). If you’re a coffee drinker like me, wake up to the sweet small of a hot cup of coffee. No, I’m not talking about adding a servant to the payroll, I’m talking about stepping up to a coffeemaker with a timer. Call me a caffeine nut, but there’s just something gratifying about having a nice cup of coffee coax you out of bed in the morning.[/list_item]

[list_item]Exercise (yeah, you should have seen this one coming) – Exercising regularly has been shown to be a wonderful way to melt away stress, improve your mood, refocus your mind, and has even been shown to promote more restful sleep (see number 3).  Exercising causes the release of “feel good” chemicals like endorphins into your blood stream from the pituitary gland. The good feelings that result are very similar to those produced by opiates. In fact the two roots of the word endorphin,  endo- and -orphin, are derived from the words endogenous and morphine which can be loosely translated as morphine from within the body. There’s a good cross section of the fitness community that swears by the power of starting each day with an almost wakeup on the treadmill or holding dumbbell workout. It’s not for everybody, but if your having stress issues it could be a healthy answer to your problems.[/list_item]

[list_item]Get Your Zs – Getting quality rest is an essential part of healthy living, and is an important part of every fitness journey. The average adult needs 7 to 8 hours of basal sleep per night. Periods of sleep are when your body rebuilds and recharges, which is even more vital to someone who partakes in moderate to intense exercise. Lack of sleep can leave you feeling run down, on edge, and less emotionally prepared to handle life’s inconveniences. [/list_item]

[list_item]Musical Mood Shift – Listening to classical music like Bach, Mozart, and Vivaldi has been shown to be more effective at decreasing anxiety in pre-operative patients than an oral sedative drug. Other studies have shown that music produces an arousal effect that is heavily tied to the tempo. Slow or meditative music can produce a relaxing effect, unlike listening to most talk radio programs. My favorite songs for relaxation include music from the baroque composer Vivaldi, the chant group Gregorian, and one of my all time favorite relaxation tracks is Fields of Coral by Vangelis. It’s definately a part of every stretching playlist I have. Check it out below.[/list_item]

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[list_item]P is For Punctual – Making certain that you allow yourself enough time to get to work without having to push the envelope via the gas pedal is a good practice to cut stress. Without fail traffic is always seems the worst when you’re running late. Any theories? It’s also fairly certain that with a commute as long as mine, you’re bound to run into at least a few texters, talkers, idiots, and gawkers. Allowing yourself enough time for your commute will reduce your sense of urgency, and therefore better able you to relax and let go of  the things that happen outside your circle of influence.[/list_item]

[list_item]Learn GPS – Take some time to become familiar with your GPS unit BEFORE you take it out onto the road. Failure to do so can present a distraction that puts you and others at risk, and depending on the drive may also get you lost, which can be stressful in itself.[/list_item]

[list_item]Breathe – Chanel your inner Karate Kid and take to heart the wisdom of Mr Miagi by paying attention to how you’re breathing. A deep breathing technique that can help cool your blood is to breathe in slowly through your nose for 3 seconds, then hold your breath for 3 seconds, finishing with exhaling slowly through your mouth. Repeat as needed.[/list_item]

[list_item]Bonus: Car Pool – Not only is car pooling a great way to save some cash and carbon emissions, it can also help you maintain a little more sanity by giving you the opportunity to sit back and be a passenger a few times a week. Of course your ability to relax as a passenger depends greatly on your drivers driving ability, so chose your fellow commute companions wisely.[/list_item]


What stress management techniques do you use to help you manage stress in your commute, or just in your life in general? 

Do you know someone who is often stressed ,possibly mildly freaking out from time to time from their commute, maybe a friend or coworker? Share the knowledge. 🙂

Hope you have a wonderful workout today, and thank you for stopping to say “hello”.

Take care,


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  1. luckily my commute is only about 15 mins (used to be 1hour plus) but i always enjoyed listening to podcasts to pass the time.

    1.  @mharden  Congratulations on the shorter commute!
      I’m with you 100% on the podcasts while driving, or books on tape. I don’t have much free time to read, so audio in the car is a great way to squeeze in some knowledge expansion time. 🙂
      Best wishes,

  2. That is CRAZY that you found fingernails in your car Matt!! But not surprising at all. I hate commuting and become annoyed and stressed out every time I get into traffic. I just don’t have the patience (admittedly I am Type A). It got so bad that I started hating my job, which forced me to drive back and forth twice some days. At this point the biggest criterion for me to be happy at a job is for it to be close by. And right now, that’s at home 🙂

    1.  @WorkoutNirvana
      I know! It’s kind of gross. To be honest with you I was considering leaving that part out. 🙂
      I’m a little Type A myself, so I think I tend to let inconveniences and/or idiots effect me a little too much. I AM working on that though. 🙂
      I guess that’s the ultimate coping strategy isn’t it? Move your home closer to your job, or your job closer to home. So happy you’re happy now!
      Best wishes,