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5 ways commuting can negatively affect you and your health

a man wearing headphones walking to work

Prior to the pandemic, it is estimated that over 24 million people commuted daily to work in England and Wales using various modes of transport (RSPH). The Coronavirus pandemic has accelerated a shift towards hybrid working in the world of work which has minimised, or cut out entirely, the often tedious daily task of commuting. 

Opinions on how commuting impacts us vary in society and even between academics – Harvard Business Review researchers propose that commuting can promote work-life balance, whilst other academics argue that commuting increases sleep issues, stress, and difficulties building and sustaining relationships.

 

Continue reading to find out more about how commuting affects your wellbeing.

 

What is commuting?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, commuting is ‘the activity of travelling regularly between work and home’. In addition, within this blog, we will refer to active commuting as cycling, walking, and other physical activities that are used to get to and from work, whilst non-active commuting addresses modes of transport such as driving and taking public transport.

 

Commuting statistics in the UK

A 2019 report by Trade Union Congress states that the average commuting time in the UK was 59 minutes (both ways), with Londoners commuting the longest with an average commute time of 1h 19min. In addition, commute times have risen in the last 10 years, and it is expected to continue to increase in the future.

 

5 ways commute impacts you, your mental and physical health 

1. Daily structure

For some, imagining their daily routine starting with waking up in the early morning hours, getting ready and heading out to catch a train to work can seem daunting; however, for others, it creates a sense of control and ultimately, a consistent daily routine. We have so many decisions to make on a daily basis, so keeping a stable skeleton of our day can be comforting.

Grupe & Nitschke explain that routines are important to all of us, and not having a set routine makes it harder to know what issues we could face in the future and how to avoid them could cause anxiety and stress. With a daily routine of commuting, you are already aware of the key issues that can arise during the trip and how to tackle them; however, if you don’t have this structure, you could be putting yourself through unnecessary stress. 

Ultimately, it is important to establish a daily routine that works for you; if commuting gives you a sense of control, go for it! However, you could also be spending this time in a much better setting – a daily calming walk in the local park, not a cramped tube, could be your new way of signalling your brain and body that it is time to get in or out of ‘work mode’. We have discussed this in more depth in our article about how to switch off from work.

 

2. External stressors

Commuting can come with a lot of external stressors – traffic, delays, noise or cranky fellow travellers – all of which are out of our control. If you commute by car or public transport, you are heavily influenced by traffic or delays which often makes it hard to make plans and effectively plan your time which could cause further issues with forming and nourishing relationships.

In 2019, it was reported that road commuters in the UK spent an average of 115 hours stuck in traffic, with Londoners averaging 149 hours lost in traffic. Not only can the unpredictability of traffic & delays can make you lose your precious time that can be spent with your family and friends or your well-being, but an article by The New Times argues there can be a significant impact on your psychological well-being, derived from the sense of helplessness we experience when stuck in traffic, and its inconsistency. All of which can stress you out, and it is often hard to not take out this frustration on those around you after the commute. 

If your job allows you to work remotely, consider one of our 100+ Virtual Office Locations to save your money, time, and mental wellbeing – and commute only for important client or team meetings. 

 

3. Added financial pressure

Another external stressor that can take a toll on your well-being is the costliness of commuting. Besides the obvious expenses of non-active commuting such as monthly tickets, car insurance, tyres parking and fuel, consider how much unpaid time you spend when commuting to and from work. Time spent commuting and financial sacrifices could be put towards hobbies you actually enjoy spending time & money on. 

 

4. ‘Me time’

An article by The Times offers a different perspective on commuting – it is said to offer a hidden benefit of spending some ‘me time’, explaining that if you look at your time commuting as some time for yourself,it offers a whole different meaning to your commute. Spending your commute as ‘me time’ can help separate your work and home life. 

 

We believe that this is a fantastic way to look at your commute, however, it needs to consider your mode of transport. If you are an active commuter meaning you walk or cycle to work, or if you drive to work alone, it is perhaps easier to consider commuting as time for yourself than if you are in a packed public transport with no personal space. 

 

5. How commuting takes a toll on your health and well-being

Lastly, a Commuting and Wellbeing Study shows that longer commute times can negatively impact your mental health – however, if you choose an active commute like walking or cycling, you could actually improve your mental and physical health whilst on the way to work.

 

Clinical psychologist Carla Manly suggests that various external stressors could have a short term effect on your stress hormones, as well as the potential to experience a variety of symptoms. These include a racing heart, sweating, anxiety, and irritability. Manly suggests that the “long-term effects of dealing with a stressful commute can be significant, including depression, ongoing anxiety, negative impact on sleep, eating behaviours, enjoyment of interpersonal relationships and a dread of the commute cycle”.

 

Furthermore, the Commuting and Wellbeing Study also suggests that active commuting increases leisure time satisfaction, as shown in the table below.

Leisure time satisfaction graph commuting

The Commuting and Wellbeing Study

Leisure time enjoyment decreases as commuting time increases, meaning that as commuting takes longer, it intensifies personal time constraints and therefore decreases leisure time satisfaction. In addition, longer commutes decrease job satisfaction, and unsurprisingly, job satisfaction is higher when working from home as not having to take time out of the day to commute.

 

There are many different factors that might negatively or positively impact your health with regards to commuting. It depends on the mode of travel you have chosen, traffic, fellow commuters, length of the journey, and more. Many companies are now embracing more flexible ways of working, allowing staff to choose if they’d like to work in the office or from home. Ultimately, it all comes down to what works for you, and what fits into your daily routine.

Haley heads up all things marketing here at Virtual HQ - making sure that we're visible online and that we look damn good.

Haley Darby
Haley Darby

Head of Marketing

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