Commuting Stress Hurts Heart

More Than Half of U.S. Morning Commuters Are Stressed

Sept. 21, 2004 -- Do your heart a favor and chill out on your way to work or school. You'll be one of the few commuters around you who are relaxed.

An estimated 54% of American morning commuters experience stress while traveling to work or school, according to a new survey.

It's a dangerous trend.

"Heavy traffic has been shown to produce a high degree of stress, which could be a catalyst for stroke and heart attack," Karol Watson, MD, PhD, says in a news release. Watson is the director of the UCLA Center for Cholesterol and Hypertension Management.

Conducted by Harris Interactive, the new survey includes more than 2,000 Americans aged 18 or older. Nearly 1,000 of the participants regularly commute to work or school.

Teeth-Grinding Travels

Traffic was the biggest stressor, aggravating 74% of participants. Running late, anger at fellow commuters, bad weather, detours, delays, and air/noise pollution rounded out the list.

And while public transportation is good for the environment, it didn't help stress levels in this study.

Almost two-thirds of commuters taking public transportation reported stress, compared with 52% of people driving themselves.

The shorter commute, the better: 69% of people traveling for more than 30 minutes in the morning reported stress, compared with 47% of those with commutes shorter than 30 minutes.

Monday was called the worst commuting day by 27% of respondents; 34% percent said all days were equally stressful.

Evenings vexed slightly more commuters than mornings (40% vs. 38%).

However, there may be special reason to take extra care on Monday mornings. More heart attacks and strokes occur on Monday mornings between 6 a.m. and noon, according to other studies. Most people in this survey didn't know that.

In addition, 43% of those calling themselves "very" or "extremely" stressed on their morning commutes didn't know if they have high blood pressure because they hadn't checked it within three months.

"A stressful commute coupled with high blood pressure may be a dangerous combination for morning commuters," says Watson, in the news release.

Alternative Route to Stress

You can't get rid of traffic, but you can change the way you handle it. Here are some tips for lowering commuting stress:

  • Prepare the night before. You'll get out the door faster, with less hassle.
  • Change your routine. Try commuting during off-peak hours.
  • Create a calming environment. Music, books on tape, and a favorite radio show can help.
  • Exercise. It's a proven stress reliever that helps keep you healthy.
  • Get a checkup. Find out if you're at risk for stress-related illnesses and how to cope better.

The survey was sponsored by Biovail Pharmaceuticals, the maker of Cardizem LA, a blood pressure drug.