Commuters can experience greater stress than fighter pilots going into battle or riot policemen, a new study says.
Commuters are exposed to extreme levels of stress
Stress expert Dr David Lewis compared the heart rate and blood pressure of 125 commuters with those of pilots and police officers in training exercises.
The study, part-funded by technology firm Hewlett Packard, found the stress levels of commuters were higher in extreme circumstances.
Workers' stress is exacerbated by their inability to control their situation.
Dr Lewis, a fellow of the International Stress Management Association, said: "The difference is that a riot policeman or a combat pilot have things they can do to combat the stress that is being triggered by the event.
"But the commuter, particularly on a train, cannot do anything about it at all.
"So it is this sense of helplessness combined with the stress that is perhaps the most worrying aspect of it."
Dr Lewis, who measured the stress levels of the commuters for five years, has identified a syndrome he calls "commuter amnesia", where people forget large parts of their journey because of stress.
"The survey suggests an average commute is between 45-60 minutes," he said.
"That is at least a working day a week that you are losing completely out of your life.
"Switching off the mind, turning people into zombies for 90 minutes, seems to me a quite appalling waste of talent."
Dr Lewis said commuting makes people feel "frustrated, anxious and despondent".
But it was not known if commuters risked damaging their health in the long term.
"It's a bit extreme to say people are actually damaging themselves - we don't know that," he said. "But they are certainly not benefiting from it.
"At best it's a dismal experience; at worst it may well have health consequences.
"How much harm it is doing would depend on how robust your physical system is anyhow and how high your blood pressure goes.
"We have measured a systolic pressure [the force blood exerts on the artery walls when the heart beats] in the region of 170-180 in some people.
"These have been occasions when the person we've been monitoring has lost their temper and had a serious row. And under those circumstances you can have a heart attack."
A wider study of 800 UK commuters, also involving Dr Lucas, found they regard their journey to work as an "ordeal". Some describe it as a "nightmare".
Workers can avoid the stress of commuting by seeking flexible working alternatives, Dr Lucas said.
These include travelling to work outside peak hours or working from home.
A brisk walk between the end of the journey and arriving at the office would "burn up a lot of the hormones released and build up the cardiovascular system," he added.
Does your journey to and from work send your blood pressure through the roof? Send us your stories of commuting hell using the form below.
My advice is to set a goal in life so that work etc. involves as little stress as possible (but this should not preclude being willing to do hard work)and that should include as little commuting as possible. If you are caught in a trap of over-stress at work/commuting then turn on, tune in and drop out of all of it: Change your attitude, change address, change job - get rid of the superfluous things in your life. If your reasons for living such a stressful life are largely linked to consumerism and the desires for expensive cars & houses you should remember that none of these have any substance but are merely "shiney and expensive". Look around at those who are not stressed and see how they live their lives and take a leaf out of their books. You'll be glad you did it! Remember that life is what you make it and yes you can change it!
Franko, Cork, Ireland
Emigrating from London, I thought I'd be done with the M25, but here in Washington, we have our own version - the Capital Beltway. Even though Washington is a fraction of the size of London, I'd say the commute is on a par. Rush hours are from 5:30 until 10:00 in the morning, then from 3:00 until 7:00 in the evening. Travelling outside these hours shaves an hour each way off my journey. It doesn't help that there are only two major crossings of the Potomac River outside of DC, and the I-495/I-270 interchange bears an all-too-scary resemblance of Junction 5 on the M25!
Clement Chung, Washington, DC, USA
My commute is 30 miles of country road. Idyllic some might think, but not when those roads are populated by agricultural vehicles, idiots and decaying surfaces. In better weather I ride the bike to work, a journey time of some 45 mins, not stressful at all. At this time of year the poor road surface makes the bike handle like a pig on stilts and the mud and general junk left on the road side makes it too dangerous to contemplate so I have to come by car. This is normally 70 minutes. The trip home is worse, average of 90 mins exacerbated by people who can't use roundabouts, block yellow box junctions and when there is a clear stretch of road dawdle about and drive in such a way you can't pass them safely.
Such is life. Stop moaning and complaining if you are not doing something about it. Revolt, vote or use your imagination.
I wish I had the option of cycling or walking to work, but unfortunately I don't. I am crammed everyday on a train and a tube and just this morning experiences the usual stuck in a tunnel because of a defective train. Thank you Mr Train Driver, who felt it was only necessary to update us TWICE in the 20 mins of the delay. Got to work late and stressed, can't wait for the journey home! In these situations I always fill out a Customer Charter claim form (obtainable from any underground station, allows you to claim for delays of 15 mins or more). I may only be able to claim for the price of a single fare, but with the amount I spend on my ticket, I don't care if I am being cheap, its the principle that counts! Can you imagine how much worse it will be if we do win the Olympic bid.
I worked in London for 3 months one summer, and my 30mins on the tube each morning and evening was hot, smelly and not a lot of fun! I must admit that I found it a lot easier if i had a good book and a tissue to blot my sweaty face, plus a top to change into at work. After the three months were over, I came back to Edinburgh to finish Uni and now work there. I walk through the green 'Meadows' each morning and evening, listening to the radio, and only get stressed if I'm running late for a 9am meeting. It's a perfect commute. I might be moving in the next year-18months as I get married and move with my partner. I must admit though, any time he mentions 'London' as a possibility, I say no. Edinburgh has made me spoilt and I refuse to move somewhere that the commute will be horrible.
Karen, Edinburgh, UK
I cycle to work - 9.4 miles each way. I observe traffic lights etc (I know many don't), and I find my commute a useful adjustment interlude between home and the office - in both directions. Nearly everytime I travel by underground, I'm reminded why it is such a bad way to commute. And on my bike, I always get a seat.
Mark Dwight, Wimbledon, London
Got to admit, most of the time on my commute I can get a seat and sit and read. To be honest it's the best part of a working day. Have been in the situation where you need to stand mind and that does change things completely, that and walking through central station, dealing with ticket queues, slow shuffling people and the up-river swim of trying to get near a platform when the train arrives. But, get a book and a walkman and your journey is easy.
Murray, Glasgow, Scotland
I usually get the train into work - 5 mins walk, 30 mins on the train and 10 mins at the other end, train is usually pretty crowded but it's not too long a journey.
Otherwise I drive 20 mins to the western edge of Edinburgh and cycle into the city centre which takes another 20 mins or so.
The cycling provisions in Edinburgh are fairly good and most drivers respect considerate riding. I can comfortably beat the traffic into the city by bike, either on the road or along the Water of Leith cycleway and Union Canal.
There's a long uphill on the way home though which isn't quite so fast! I still think cycling out is more pleasant than a crowded train and always arrive at work more alert and have a more productive day when I ride in.
Stuart, West Lothian
In London, it is normal for many people to spend 3 hours a day commuting to and from work. That's 15 hours a week, which is 750 hours per year, which comes to 31.25 days a year...that means one can spend a whole month of their year doing nothing but commuting, and I think that is pretty sad as life's too short to waste the hours as such...
Ahmed Usmani, London, UK
I commute from a suburb south of Orly into Central Paris every day. 1 hour and 15 minutes each way on the RER train. Once a reliable place to read a good book and de-stress, the RER is becoming increasingly smelly, dirty, noisy and irregular. But you know things are getting really bad when the SNCF copies their British colleagues. Heard the other day on a Paris-bound train: "delays on the line are due to wet leaves".
Jackie Granger, Paris, France
Staying in control of the commuting experience, or any other event, is key to reducing stress. Seeking flexible working alternatives is really about regaining control over your life. Simpler methods are to read a book, listen to music you like, catch up on letter writing, or do something else that allows you to determine how your time will be spent. The mental shift in self-perception from helpless "victim" to "master of one's fate" is often within our control.
Tom O'Connell, Genève, Switzerland
The reason why people get stressed is there are too many inconsiderate idiots who commute complied with the abysmal level of transport service the commuter receives. Smelly people, slow bumberlers, speed walker, 1 and a half seat takers, fanniers and general idiots fuel the pressure, then when a pathetic excuse (if you are lucky) is given due to a delay, its not surprising sane people are tipped over the edge. Everyone who commutes will understand and appreciate this plight!
Luckily most of my journey is in the opposite direction to those trying to get into Manchester. However, I do have the continuing pleasure of the Thelwall viaduct which is slow moving both ways every day.
Roger, Stockport, Cheshire
My journey to work is actually one of the only times I have during my day to think. Thankfully I don't rely on public transport as a method of getting to work, I use a much more reliable method "walking" not only does this give me time to think but is a healthy less stressful way of travel. I have travelled on the tube in London and for all those poor people that have to do so every day, you have my deepest sympathies
Jan Tickell, Aberdeen, Scotland
I used to be such a sane person until I started commuting by train.. now I find myself being acutely annoyed at the most stupid things including: coughing, blowing noses, noisy children on early morning commuter services, people who don't observe the 'no talking' rule on all commuter trains, people who have too much luggage, people who use luggage racks for luggage when they could be used as perfectly good seats by those forced to stand up .. hmm need I go on !!
Cat, Basingstoke, UK
Actually mine is quite a pleasant journey through the countryside for 45 minutes - 1 hr, but only because I haven't been here long and it's a novelty (just moved here from NZ). Long term commuting in England is so bad I would advise people to leave this country whilst you still can and go somewhere where you can have a 'lifestyle'
Tim Enright, Bampton, Oxfordshire
Travelling to work is a nightmare. Every morning I travel to work to find road works and cones closing off lanes. Every day it changes and cars are all over the place. I have tried to get a tram however that does not work because you never get a seat, you are squashed up to a large number of people. I can always count on the morning rush hour to wind me up for the rest of the day!
Carl Gash, Manchester
You should try driving in Bracknell in the rush hour. Roundabouts everywhere, crazy BMW drivers (BMW UK HQ here). I witnessed one BMW X5 driver today take the left lane into a busy roundabout to take the 3 o'clock exit just so he didn't have to wait in line in the correct lane to go right. I do get very stressed and currently do not enjoy driving in the Thames Valley.
Jonathan, Bracknell, Berkshire
Our town has a poor traffic infrastructure combined with poor management. Road works compromise all routes and as I have multiple work places this becomes a drain on time and energy as I spend a lot of time sat in the gridlocked town centre.
Chris Gillings, Boston, Lincolnshire
How about the time during a strike when one train ran instead of the usual five. Jammed in, face to face, standing on one foot when the train comes to a standstill at a station. Driver keeps the doors closed no one can get off and after 10 mins of overheating and oxygen starvation yours truly suffers a panic attack, smashes the emergency release and gets off. Since then I suffer claustrophobia, hate flying and have to catch a seriously early train to avoid the crush. I'd sue the railways if I could for stress and loss of quality of life.
Doug, London, UK
Any train/tube journey in London is a nightmare these days. It wouldn't be so bad if the drivers actually talked to passengers to let them know what was happening, even if we don't have control, the information helps. All too often we are stranded for what seems like ages with no information (having said that the Northern line drivers are a lot better these days!)
Russell LB, London, UK
I used to have a fairly easy commute by London standards (40 minutes on the tube), but would still arrive at work in a fluster. I have since moved to Edinburgh, and now have a 20 minute walk; saving a packet, getting more exercise, and have time for 18 holes after work in the summer time. Those with a dismal commute in London should realise that it is there choice to drag themselves into the City every day for the sake of earning a few grand more.
Each morning I cycle from my house to the Luas light rail station, about 2 miles away. From there, a 20 minute journey takes me into town, during which I read a book or play my Game Boy Advance. I walk down Grafton Street to Trinity College. I repeat this twice every weekday. But I, unlike most people I know, enjoy my commute. The exercise is good for me and I enjoy the 20 minutes of uninterrupted reading-time. Far from a stressful experience...
John Lunney, Dublin, Ireland
My previous job involved a rail commute between coastal Seaford & Falmer just outside of Brighton, which should have been an idyllic rural route - however, thanks to filthy, late (or delayed)trains packed almost literally to suffocation with children & teenagers whose behaviour would put wild animals to shame the experience was frankly insufferable. Stress levels were prone to going through the roof, particularly when, in one instance, a teenage boy attempted to set light to my travelling companion's seat. The rail guards don't particularly care, except to take your money off you. Who remembers the old advertisement, "Let The Train Take the Strain"? I don't believe that really applies any longer....
Sean Walworth, Lancaster, Lancs.
I cycle across central London every morning (4 miles in 20 minutes) and enjoy the exercise, but other commuters around me look stressed and miserable in their cars. I'd really like them to join me but somehow they don't get it...
I commuted for 20 years and I have switched to working locally. I will never ever commute again to central London using BR/LT. I sometimes used to be sick as I came off the train at Victoria Station, due to the crush. My firm did not offer flexible working hours.
Pauline King, Greater London
I travel daily from Poole, Dorset to London which is two and a half hours door to door each way, 25 hours a week spent on a train! The trains are very rarely on time and this makes me very agitated, especially on the way home, as I get to spend precious little time with my family as it is. If I worked in Poole, the wages wouldn't be enough to buy any property and I can't live near London as the property costs too much!
Chris McGregor, Poole, Dorset. UK
Last Xmas there was work on the A12 motorway at Witham. This Xmas there is work on the A12 motorway at Kelvedon. This adds about 30-60 minutes to your journey (without any breakdowns or accidents). I realise maintenance is essential, but in rush hour it is extremely frustrating, especially at Xmas time when you know you have months of waiting in queues ahead of you! I wondered why I kept having mental blocks and forgetting large parts of journeys to and from work. I think your site has answered that for me!
Hayley, Witham, Essex
I cycle to work. Twenty mins each way. A bit cold in Winter but fantastic in summer. Occasionally I do drive, but find myself arriving much more stressed in the morning when I do.
Peter Homes, Derby, England
Here in Frankfurt at least, as with most cities in Germany, commuting with public transport is bliss. The underground works well, is on time (only 2 or 3 mins late max), and trains are quick and clean. However, driving to work is another story, with red lights galore, confusing one-way systems, heavy congestion on the major roads at rush hour, building sites (city centre is going through an urban renewal programme at the mo) and very little parking available. Not to mention frequent outbursts of road rage on the streets and overuse of the car horn. All of this is guaranteed to make my blood boil - I'll stick to the underground thanks!
Lukas, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany
I haven't had my blood pressure checked in a while, so I can't say whether my blood pressure has gone up since I started working where I am now, but forget 45-60 minutes: I have to travel two hours to work (and obviously two hours back) every day and the stress is unreal. I've become bad tempered and am unwilling to do anything over the weekend because I am too exhausted.
Darryl LeCount, Paderborn, Germany
It takes me 3-4 hours and 4 buses a day to travel between Harrogate and Leeds on Public transport. The school run cripples the roads.
The alterative train is a two carriage 60s relic which you pay twice the price 50% more for.
cb, Harrogate, North Yorkshire
The evils of the A470 holds no fears for me after being groped on a tube train a few years ago. I managed to grab the offending hand and bit it as hard as I could. Hoping someone would "squeal" and give the game away in a carriage packed like sardines, there wasn't a single sound! So travelling from the Rhondda to Cardiff along the A470 in bumper-to-bumper traffic holds no fears for me. At least I don't have to suffer on tubes and trains no more.
Saska Shepherd, Wattstown, Rhondda
I used to commute daily to Reading - about 25 miles from where I live. The journey could take up to 1.5 hours. That's an average speed of 20ish miles an hour. Bearing in mind that most of this was dual carriage way and the A4, it was a nightmare.
I used to look at motor bikers in envy - whizzing through traffic and passing me every where. Until I decided enough was enough and dumped the car for a motorbike.
My daily commute now takes between 30 - 45 minutes. And I don't speed. I just don't get stuck in traffic jams anymore. And my work mates say I'm a lot less stressed when I get in now!
Jacob Kennedy, Bucks, UK
I am one of the stressed commuters who used to commute between Birmingham and Tamworth daily for nearly six years. I had to travel through rush-hour Birmingham traffic (through the city centre) and then went onto TWO motorways to get to my secondary school in Tamworth where I faced MORE stress from the teenagers who I taught! One bit of snow or crash on the M6 or M42 could add an hour onto my journey as traffic would be diverted or we'd all go along at snail's pace!
I would often switch off during the journey and the car would literally drive itself! I would get to work - jaded, worn-out and tired before the assault of teenagers and secondary education! Yes, I suffered from stress - being sick in the shower before work, psoriasis and being unable to sleep. I became a living robot!I left this job and have now regained control of my life. I do supply teaching - I earn less but have a better quality of life and more time for ME. No amount of money would get me to repeat the lifestyle I left behind!
Yasmin Zimnowodzki, Birmingham, England
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