A Long Daily Commute Could be Damaging Your Physical and Mental Health
A lengthy commute is not good for your mental or physical well-being, according to experts, and that's especially bad news for people in New Jersey, where the average one-way work commute is five minutes longer than the national average.
Dr. Michael Kirk, president of the Association of New Jersey Chiropractors, said he's seen plenty of patients who make appointments simply due to pain and discomfort caused by driving to and from work.
"Sitting puts the most compressive loads on the discs, or the cushions in between the bones, in the lower back," Kirk said. "And then you have the bouncing up and down, going over bumps."
Kirk said a rolled-up bath towel, in the right position against the lower back, can work wonders for motorists, as well as lightly rocking the hips and pelvis every once in a while to break up the monotony of the same position for the whole trip.
"You also have the tension and stress that goes with driving, and a lot of individuals will carry that in their neck and shoulders," he said.
The stress of getting to work on time is pressing enough, but it's multiplied when factoring in other drivers, some of whom are very aggressive, as well as bad weather.
Tom Cifrodella, whose commute from Plainsboro to Bridgewater can take 75 minutes on some days, said he has limited time to "relax and decompress at home."
"It turns an 8.5-9 hour work day into an 11-12 hour day," he said. "I'd definitely say there's stress involved."
According to Donna Ray, clinical director at Stress Care of New Jersey in Matawan, commuting traffic causes an adrenaline rush, and since drivers are stuck behind the wheel, they have no physical means to expend that energy. One's stress level can spike even higher when they're cut off or inconvenienced in some other way by fellow motorists.
"You really have to be able to relax yourself and realize that there's no amount of getting angry that's going to make that any different," Ray said, noting drivers can also calm themselves through breathing and self-talk exercises.
Malika W. of Jackson said her 35-minute commute to Eatontown can be aggravating on certain days, but she's learned that "timing is everything" if she wants to escape stress-free.
"If you get to 195 at about 5:15, it's ridiculous, but if you get there at about 5:08, it's clear," she said. "You'd be surprised how much of a difference that makes."
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average commute in America lasts about 25 minutes. In New Jersey, the average commute time is a half-hour.