Travails of Traffic

May 08, 2015 at 10:00 PM

posted by Megan Phillips, Psy.D.


A recent CNN article (also published on pointed out something of which we in SoCal are all acutely aware:  Traffic sucks!  Not surprisingly, the more traffic in which you have to sit on your daily commute, the worse you feel.  Your mental health is no exception.  The study (found here) stated that the average commute for most Americans is 30 minutes, while the average commute for Los Angeles residents comes out to about 90 hours a year.  That’s almost four solid days of your life per year that are spent in a car not moving very fast.  What do you get from all this?  According to the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, the more you sit in traffic, the more likely you are to be overweight.  It makes sense because the longer you sit in your car, the fewer waking hours there are in the day to do any kind of physical activity (also the less motivation there is, too!).  People can also experience physical pain including back and neck aches from sitting in one position too long.  Additionally, in terms of mental health and well-being, sitting in traffic can cause increased stress and can lower mood.  Unfortunately, for many, traffic is just a way of life here, and aside from changing your job or your living situation, or by commuting via mass transit every day (which sometimes takes even longer than driving), not much can be done, right?  Well, here are some tips that might actually help your body and mind, even if they won’t get you to work any faster.

  1. Try to get some physical activity in during your workday so that you aren’t as negatively impacted by long stretches of being sedentary in a car.  Maybe walk to lunch or take the stairs if you can. Remember, every little bit helps.
  2. Try sharing the road. If you can, try carpooling with a coworker and use the time in the car to socialize. Socialization can drastically improve mood and it can make a long car ride fly by.
  3. If you find sitting in traffic to be a literal pain in the neck, try checking you posture and making a diligent effort to sit in a way that minimizes strain. Sometimes support pillows can help as well.
  4. If you find your mood dipping down while you are stuck on I-5, think about things you could do to feel happier. For some, that involves listening to soothing music on the radio or even listening to a favorite podcast. On longer trips, sometimes a comedy radio station can be helpful to make the time pass quicker. Do whatever works for you because if you have to be stuck in the traffic trap, you can at least feel good while you are doing it. 


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