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Here's How Your Daily Commute Could Be Ruining Your Health

29 MAY 2015

You might already have a suspicion that your travels to and from the office aren't doing your health any good, but now there's some solid scientific evidence to back that hunch up. A new study has found that commuting length, distance, and means can all have an impact on our stress levels.

 

Get the mix of those ingredients wrong too often and we risk burnout, says Annie Barreck from the University of Montreal in Canada. "A correlation exists between commuting stress factors and the likelihood of suffering from burnout. But their importance varies according to the individual, the conditions in which their trips take place, and the place where the individual works."

First of all, the destination matters: people commuting towards rural or suburban areas feel less stressed than those approaching the city, and the bigger the city the worse the stress. Surprisingly, when it comes to car travel, the health of passengers is harmed more than the health of drivers, because at least the drivers have a sense of control.

The disadvantage of heading towards an office in the country is the lack of reliable public transport. "Public transit implies bus or train connections, and as rural regions are less well served, the risk of unforeseeable and uncontrollable delays is increased, causing stress that is carried over into the workplace," explains Barreck in a press release. Burnout is less common for public transport users in the city where connections are more reliable.

You might think biking is a way to reduce your stress levels as a commuter, but Barreck's findings don't necessarily bear that out. Cycling in the suburbs is more anxiety-inducing than cycling in the city, because there are fewer safety features built into the road infrastructure. It's only out in the quiet country lanes where cyclists and walkers can truly find some peace.

Barreck's work was focused around the rural and urban regions of Quebec in Canada and charted methods of commuting against emotional burnout, cynicism and productivity levels. The sample of 1,942 people surveyed were aged between 17 and 69 and worked for 63 different organisations. Her findings are being presented at the 83rd Congrès de l'Acfas conference in Quebec this week.

Commuting doesn't necessarily have to lead to burnout, however: Barreck says commutes of less than 20 minutes are significantly less likely to cause long-term problems. "The effects of the duration of a commute on a person's mental health vary according to the type of transport used and the profile of the area where the person works," she says. "Managing employee commuting flexibly would increase employee efficiency and moreover enable organisations to attract or retain workers."

So if you're feeling the life draining from you on your way into the office, see if you can cut down the length of time you spend on the journey - or see if your boss will let you work different hours to beat the traffic.