Commuting Can Be Bad For Our Health

How much time do you waste going to and from work? Science claims that the hours we spend commuting are a major source of stress and anxiety.
Commuting Can Be Bad For Our Health
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Every day, you might lose an average of between one to two hours commuting. This isn’t only wasted time, it’s also a source of stress and a way of putting your life at risk, especially if you travel by car. In fact, recent research claims that commuting is bad for our health.

Nowadays, telecommuting is becoming increasingly frequent. However, a large part of the labor market still requires compulsory attendance. For instance, hospitals, schools, factories, supermarkets, etc. This means that every day, millions of people move from the tranquility of their own homes to their respective jobs.

The effects of commuting range from economic outlay (in fuel or public transport expenses) to a serious impact on our mental well-being. Indeed, we experience tiredness, lack of sleep, stress, and anxiety. Furthermore, we have the feeling that we’re wasting time, time that we’re unable to share with our family or use to rest.

“Every minute that runs to waste is irrecoverable. Yet, knowing this, how much time we waste!” 

-Mahatma Gandhi-

Woman with anxiety due to commuting from home to work
We must travel further and further to our jobs in increasingly congested areas.

The effects of commuting

Having a job allows us to have a livelihood, life plans, and even to feel fulfilled. Nevertheless, the cost of this work and responsibility is often extremely high. For example, commuting means that we’re using up a great deal of our time.

Furthermore, it’s pretty common to live quite a long way away from the workplace. Indeed, not everyone is lucky enough to be able to walk to work. Therefore, the most common thing is to have to get up early and take the car or use public transport.

Another notable factor is the increase in vehicles and traffic. Our roads and highways are real asphalt jungles with frequent traffic jams. Furthermore, we’re always rushing which means we forget things. However, we must have all our senses about us to avoid any mishaps. This can be rather difficult when we’re feeling so tired.

An uncomfortable road

It’s often said that we’ve created a labor system that imposes driving on us or at least dependence on some means of transport. In fact, we’re spending increasing time commuting, and although we try to promote the use of bicycles or electric scooters, in reality, these resources aren’t always useful.

The University of Alicante recently conducted research that claimed how commuting affects our health. They found that the greater the time invested, the greater the negative impact on our lives. They also discovered that longer trips affect women more intensely.

This may be due to the fact that, as a rule, they’re the ones who continue to take on tasks that go beyond their own work. For example, having to waste an hour or two commuting takes time away from their duties of caring for children and the home, etc.

Triggers of stress and anxiety in commuting

On the other hand, some people enjoy commuting. They enjoy having this time to themselves. In fact, if they travel by subway or bus, it gives them the opportunity to disconnect from the world for a while with some reading or listening to music.

However, the truth is that there are only a few who delight in these forced intervals of time. This is because:

  • Commuting usually requires having to get up early, as well as arriving home later.
  • Driving is an activity that requires great concentration. Furthermore, it’s often stressful. Congested roads, traffic, delays, or poor maneuvers by other drivers intensify bad moods. There’s also the element of uncertainty. After all, we never know what we might come up against when we take the car.
  • Public transport is increasingly crowded. Delays are frequent. This is another variable that can generate anxiety.
  • When commuting is long, by the time we arrive, we’re exhausted. This tiredness accumulates day after day, weakening our health.
  • Finally, there are the worrying factors of noise and environmental pollution. Both of these aspects have a great impact on our well-being.
Woman screaming in the car for commuting from home to work
When we drive long distances to work, we often arrive exhausted and in a bad mood.

Commuting from home to work increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases

When we spend an hour or two (sometimes more) commuting every day, the last thing we want to do is play sports. Obviously, there are always exceptions. However, research conducted by Christine Hoehner,  (University of Washington) and colleagues points to an important relationship.

As a matter of fact, their study claims that long commuting periods increase the risk of heart disease. This is because accumulated exhaustion increases the incidence of sedentary lifestyles. People arrive home from work not wanting to move, let alone play sports. Added to this is the always dangerous lack of sleep. It all leads to hypertension, weight gain, poor eating habits, etc.

Another factor is that the hours we invest in commuting take away time for leisure, rest, and spending with our families. We feel despondent, watching the days go by while our suffocating and repetitive routines remain the same. This ends up undermining not only our physical health but our psychological health as well.

Indeed, commuting to and from work is, in many cases, a direct route to discomfort. It’s also difficult to remedy. However, it must always be borne in mind that work should be a dimension that offers projection, sustenance, and well-being, not rob us of our quality of life.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • . (2021) Happy at a price: employment challenges, life satisfaction, and lifestyle benefits among older individuals in rural communities in Canada and Ireland. Community, Work & Family 24:1, pages 39-59.
  • . (2020) Exploring the effects of commuting on workers’ satisfaction: evidence for Spain. Regional Studies 54:4, pages 550-562.
  • . (2020) Commuting and wellbeing: a critical overview of the literature with implications for policy and future research. Transport Reviews 40:1, pages 5-34.
  • . (2019) An evaluation of the value of time for commuting in Seoul: A life satisfaction approach. International Journal of Sustainable Transportation 13:10, pages 703-709.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.