How does commuting affect our wellbeing?
There are many aspects of the working day that can impact on our personal sense of wellbeing and cause stress, but 1 factor that often goes overlooked is the impact of commuting.
According to information from the Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey, we're spending more time travelling to and from work: in 2004 the average man spent 59 minutes commuting, but in 2014 their daily commute took 62 minutes; meanwhile women in 2004 took 46 minutes on average to get to and from work but in 2014 they commuted for 51 minutes.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) also claims the number of commuters spending more than 2 hours travelling to and from work rose from 1.7 million in 2004 to 3 million in 2014. The number of those travelling for 3 or more hours a day has also increased over the same 10 year period, from 500,000 to 880,000.
There may be several explanations why this has happened, TUC experts say, including an increase in the number of people prepared to travel longer distances to keep or get a job, and rising rents and house prices leaving many workers unable to live in areas close to where they work. But whatever the reason, there's also compelling evidence that all that time spent commuting may affect our stress levels, health and wellbeing.
In 2014 the Office for National Statistics published the results of a survey into commuting and personal wellbeing. What it discovered was that the longer your commute, the lower your feelings of happiness, life satisfaction and the sense that your activities are worthwhile, and the higher your anxiety compared with non-commuters.
Taking the bus or coach to work on a journey lasting more than 30 minutes was found to be the most negative commuting option in personal wellbeing terms, the survey adds. Commuting is regarded as a burden, it says, and commuters are less satisfied with their lives in general than those who don't have to travel to work.
Similarly, a 2015 survey by University of Montreal researchers suggests anything more than a 20-minute journey, whether by car, bus or train, may leave you more likely to experience stress, leading to physical and emotional exhaustion.
Impact of commuting on physical health
Commuting may also have real effects on physical health. One study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine claims driving more than 10 miles to work is linked with higher blood sugar, which is a risk factor for pre-diabetes and diabetes (the same report also claims it may cause your cholesterol level to rise).
And if you commute during rush hour it can cause temporary rises in your blood pressure, say University of Utah experts. There's also evidence that the longer your commute, the higher your blood pressure may be, and - unsurprisingly perhaps - the lower your cardiovascular fitness. Even your sleep may be affected, with 1 2012 study suggesting those who commute for more than 45 minutes each way report having lower sleep quality and feeling more tired than those who commute shorter distances.
But could the method of transport you use make a difference? According to the 2014 ONS survey, it very well might. The findings showed that people travelling to work by bus or coach had lower levels of life satisfaction on average than those who drove in their own cars, and that people taking the train to work had higher anxiety levels on average than commuters who travelled by car. Yet those who said they travelled to work -in some other way' had higher life satisfaction and lower anxiety levels than car commuters.
If you feel your daily commute is causing you stress or affecting your wellbeing, you may want to consider asking your employer about the possibility of home or flexible working. Find out more by reading our articles Is flexible working right for you? and How to ask for flexible working.
Our Building your resilience course can also help you develop healthy strategies for managing stress. The course is available at locations across the UK and online, where you can work through the modules at your own pace.
You can also access the emotional support offered by our trained counsellors if you're struggling with issues at work or at home. For more advice and information, call +44 (0) 1788 556 366 or chat to an advisor online 24 hours a day.