The 2014 US Census Bureau has determined that our commuting time is getting worse as the years go on. The grim reality is that one-fifth of Americans are commuting for 45 minutes or more to work each way.
If you fall into this group, you decided at some point that your long commute was worth the compensation. And maybe it is. But just because long commutes have become the societal norm doesn’t make it healthy. The daily grind of sitting in traffic can wear you down over time and affect you both physically and psychologically.
Here are the top five signs that your commute has become a bigger problem than you think.
1. You're Gaining Weight
Extended periods of sitting can have a negative effect on your waistline. If you have a 45-minute commute, that’s an hour and a half every day of being sedentary without having a chance to stretch your legs or get your heart rate up. Plus, since you need to leave earlier for work and it takes you longer to get home at the end of the day, you have less time to prep healthy meals, making it more likely that you’ll revert to grabbing something that’s fast and unhealthy instead.
Those who combine mealtime with their commute are making it even worse; the focus you need to drive makes it difficult to be mindful of how much you’re eating. But perhaps most concerning of all are the studies that show that people with long commutes are far less likely to exercise. The reason for this is not hard to guess: You not only have less time for fitness because of the time you’ve spent sitting in the car, but by the time you get home after hours of sitting in traffic, you also have little willpower left for exercise.
2. You're Always Tired
Nearly 40 percent of people with long commutes report feeling under-rested. This is because they need to wake up earlier in order to get to work on time. When they get home late, they often aren’t able to go to bed early enough to compensate for waking early. Over time, hours of lost sleep has an accumulative effect, affecting mood and cardiovascular health.
3. Your Work Quality Is Decreasing
Sleep deprivation due to your commute means reduced cognitive function as well. This means you’re less productive and not performing tasks as well as you could be. Not only that, but commuting is also stressful. All it takes is for someone to cut you off on the highway and you’re flustered before you even walk into the office. You’re bound to show up late for work whenever there’s a traffic jam or inclement weather, which puts you behind the eight ball before you’ve even had a chance to load up your emails.
4. You're Getting Sick a Lot
If you’ve been commuting a long distance over a long span of time, you may start feeling run down on a regular basis. Your joints or your back may start aching, and you could be more prone to injury from long sessions of being sedentary. Your blood pressure can spike and adversely affect your cardiovascular health. Your mood is subject to a downturn as well. You may start to lose your patience faster and feel irritable more often.
Even more frightening is that you are 33 percent more likely to develop mental illnesses like anxiety and depression.
5. Your Relationships Are Suffering
According to a 2007 article in The New Yorker, you make 10 percent fewer social connections when you have a long commute. It makes sense; every extra minute that you’re sitting in traffic is a minute not spent with friends and family. It can even lead to a strained relationship with your spouse. One Swedish study tracked millions of couples over ten years and found indications that couples with commutes longer than 45 minutes were 40 percent more likely to separate.
Fortunately, you can try to improve your commute if you're experiencing any of the above. There are tactics you can try to make your commute more bearable and healthy.
- Keep your mind engaged by listening to podcasts or audiobooks.
- You can tame your stress levels by taking less-traveled side roads (even if they aren’t more direct).
- You can try meditation or breathing exercises while you drive.
The reality is, however, that those techniques might not be enough. Step back and take an honest look at how much your commute is affecting you, and decide whether or not it’s really worth the compensation. Because research indicates that, if you take a job closer to home for less pay, you’ll still be happier. Changing jobs may be an inconvenient decision, but it could be one well worth making if it saves your health and sanity.
Corrie Alexander is a content creator and customer service manager from Toronto, Ontario. Her climb up the corporate ladder cultivated her interest in the topic of career development, a passion rivaled only by her love of exercise and strong coffee. Visit her website, thefitcareerist.com.