Increased risk of chronic mental health issues due to facing daily traffic situations

Traffic jam

The traffic jam is a constant part of everyone’s daily working life, especially for people living in big cities and towns. There is a term called ‘traffic congestion’ in which the vehicles move with slower speed, resulting in increased time queuing up on the road with other vehicles that leads to extended trip times and exhaustion.

Causes of traffic congestion

Traffic congestion occurs due to multiple reasons. It could happen due to increased traffic jam on roads, blockage of roads due to ongoing construction activities or some major accidents. People these days prefer to use their own private vehicles such as cars, motorbike or scooter for travelling purposes instead of using public vehicles that includes bus, metro, auto rickshaw, this is a major reason for traffic jam in cities and towns and also causes air as well as noise pollution in the environment.

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It has been found that traffic congestion has increased in urban roads since 1950s due to increased number of vehicles on road as compared to the size of road.

Commuting leads to deterioration of mental health: getting stuck in traffic for long time disturbs the mental health

There are numerous reasons that affects an individual’s mental health, one of them includes getting stuck in traffic jams or being the victim of traffic congestion each day. Getting stuck in traffic impacts both, physical as well as mental health and in most cases leads to chronic illnesses.

Activation of flight and fight mode :

when a person is stuck in heavy traffic for a prolonged period of time, it may leads to increased adrenaline hormone level in blood which induces or generally activates the flight and fight response in an individual. Increased secretion of adrenaline hormone in blood accelerates the heart rate and blood pressure level. It may leads to increased stress, anxiety and other mental health conditions.

An excuse of drinking more alcohol that deteriorates mental and physical health

Waiting in long queues of vehicles during traffic jam leads to decreased free time for relaxing or spending quality time with family. This leads feeling of burnouts and makes the person feel frustrated by daily life chores. So, in order to stay calm and sane, they start consuming more alcohol and other substances which could harm their mental as well as physical health. Drinking excessive alcohol leads to many physical health diseases like liver damage, heart diseases, high blood pressure, strokes and weakening of the immune system. Alcohol consumption also deteriorates mental health, by facing the problem of forgetfulness and memory loss in some cases. So, in this case traffic congestion Indirectly affects mental health of a person.

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Less sleep, more fatigue:

When people don’t get enough free time to relax because of spending majority of their time being stuck in traffic, they face irregular sleep schedule. They trouble sleeping for maximum number of hours a person should actually sleep. This leads to feeling of tiredness and drains the person mentally. Less hours of sleep also affects the mental health of a person by decreasing their thinking and working capacity.

Depression due to more commute hours of to and from work:

According to recent research, people who travel to or from work for more that 60 minutes are more likely to suffer from depression as compared to those who spends less time (approximately half hour) traveling and staying stuck in traffic jams. More time commuting leads to psychological distress and impairment in mental health conditions.
Those who have to spend more time commuting to and from work got less leisure time to follow their passion or hobbies and they can’t able to relieve stress and exhaustion. It also leads to spending less time on their well being, they care less about exercising and following a healthy lifestyle to stay fit which leads to depression and other chronic mental health issues in a person.

Negative impact on personality of an individual due to waiting in traffic

Getting stuck in heavy traffic for longer duration and at unexpected time such as during the working hours or at the time of conducting or attending any important meetings leads to high level of stress and anxiety, as the person gets late for the work or misses the meeting. It also forms a negative impression of the person at work and may leads to salary deduction by the boss. Usually, there is huge traffic jam during the rush hours in the morning and evening when the employees were either going from home to work and vice versa.

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People lost their patience and starts getting aggressive, restless and irritated while waiting in their transports heading to their offices or at work. Daily going through the same situations impacts the personality of an individual in a negative way. They may face boredom occasionally while waiting in long queues during a red light. Even some people develop the habit of overthinking while sitting idle in their vehicles.

Traffic pollution: connection with depression

Being in the vicinity of traffic for a longer time period leads to exposure of oneself with all the contaminated air and traffic fumes. Even if the windows of the vehicles are closed or the AC is not on, still a person sitting in the car gets affected by all the chemicals and fumes released in the air by vehicles.

There is a connection found between air pollution and the cognition. The researchers with the help of functional magnetic resonance imaging( FMRI) technique compared the before and after air pollution exposure’s brain activity, through which they found out the alteration in brain’s default brain network( DNM) that plays an important role in memory and cognition, including the internal thoughts.

It had been shown that the people who were exposed to traffic pollution, shows altered functional connectivity in default brain network(DBN) regions resulting in low or reduced cognitive processes and in some cases, the symptoms of depression were seen.

Harmful effects of traffic pollution on mental health and brain’s activity

Hence, traffic pollution causes serious harm to mental health and brain’s essential functions like cognition, memory and reasoning. However, this alteration of functional connectivity due to traffic pollution is temporary and it can be bought to normal conditions again by taking required necessary precautions when present outside the home for work and by avoiding commuting during rush hours when the traffic pollution might be at it’s peak. Keep the windows closed while traveling, even when stuck in traffic and always use masks to cover the face and exposed body parts.

Some of the ways a person could stress less during traffic jams

1.Play something that brightens up the mood:

No one has control over getting stuck in traffic. So instead of excessively worrying or getting stressed about what’s not in one’s hands, listen to light music to cheer up the mood or utilise the time by upskilling oneself through listening to various podcasts.

2. Delay the timings or postpone the meetings beforehand:

When one is getting late for the work due to heavy traffic congestion, it’s best to inform the boss or the employees beforehand about the situation and postpone the meeting to some other time or day.

3. Don’t go out in rush hours:

The most busy hours or what is said to be rush hours is the time when majority of workers go to or from the work. It’s usually in the early morning and late evening when there’s heavy traffic on the road. So, it’s best to avoid heading out for work during rush hours, and try out different timings as per convenience like getting out 1-2 hours before the work to reach on time for office or important meeting. Focus on what could be taken care of in order to avoid anxiety and stress due to heavy traffic.

4. Meditate and practice mindfulness:

A person is more prone to stress and overthinking when sitting idle in the vehicle waiting for other vehicles to move further during the traffic jam. So, at that time it’s beneficial to try out meditations or mindfulness techniques by putting some soothing music in background to stay sane and worry less about all the on goings here and there.

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5.Change ones perception:

Instead of looking at it like a legit traffic jam where one is stuck since so long, treat that time as ‘me time’ by doing self care and thinking about oneself. Make a playlist of all the favourite songs or mashups, listen to audiobooks or connect with long lost friends.

6. Get out of home with a cheerful smile and happy mood:

The way an individual starts their day matters a lot. Eat healthy and proper breakfast, spend some time talking to children or play with pets before heading out for work. This way, even if an individual gets stuck in traffic, they’ll be able to maintain a positive mood by cherishing the happy moments and it decreases the risk of chronic mental health issues by keeping the stress and anxiety away.


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