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How Commuting Stresses Mind and Body

Settled in at work after a long commute? Bet you're feeling worse about the experience if you read Post staff writer Eric Weiss's story headlined "Your Car + Your Commute = A Visit to Your Doctor."

Many of you with long and complex commutes may need physical or emotional therapy. The physical toll may become apparent in your blood pressure, your neck or your spine. The emotional toll may include a level of stress that hurts your performance at work. (And we were worried about the tolls on the HOT lanes.)

A Fredericksburg orthopedic surgeon told Eric that some patients say the best thing about a back operation was that it forced them to suspend their daily commutes during recovery.

Interesting point: One researcher says that drivers with multiple route changes are at greater risk. (I'm thinking about the shift going from the express toll lanes at the Dulles plaza to the Beltway entrance, or the wait in the southbound right lane of Route 29 to get onto the Beltway's outer loop.)

And several researchers note a connection between the emotional stress and physical problems.

Eric notes that commuters will come up with their own travel aides, like a car-seat pillow. What's your worst physical or emotional stress, and what techniques can you share to combat such things? I remember when I did a 50-mile-each-way commute in New York, through two tolls, and learned about audio books. There were times when I thought the drive home was actually a stress reliever -- except when it took three hours rather than the standard one and a half.

Share your thoughts here, in the comments section, and join me at 1 p.m. today for a Live Online discussion of this and other transportation topics. (You can submit a question or comment here right now.) And, of course, anytime you want to share your concerns about getting around our region, write to me at drgridlock@washpost.com.

Eric's article is about driving, but what do you transit riders, bikers and walkers have to say about the physical and emotional stresses of your commutes? Does getting crammed into a Metro train leave you feeling as stressed out as a drive used to? Do walkers get in a knot about getting across a particular intersection each morning?

By Robert Thomson  |  April 9, 2007; 7:53 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting  
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Next: D.C. Commuters vs. Tourists

Comments

I'm not saying that there aren't bad days on the Red Line, but none of it comes close to how horrible it was to have to get in a car at 7am and fight endless interstate traffic for an hour and a half every morning -- which is what I did in the city I used to live in. And that's not even to mention the gasoline costs!

I know which of the "two evils" I'll pick.

Posted by: former driver | April 9, 2007 10:16 AM | Report abuse

I commute from Manassas, VA to Chinatown each day by riding the VRE which keeps my stress level way down. I use the ride home to unwind from my day. On the rare occasion I have to come in late I drive to Vienna and Metro in. I can honestly say I spend the whole day dreading that drive home from the slow crawl merge at Vienna onto 66 and then the inevitable slowdown heading past Rt 29 at Centreville.

VRE may run late from time to time, but I agree with "former driver" it certainly beats fighting gridlock in my car.

Posted by: Happy VRE rider | April 9, 2007 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I used to drive into the city from Calvert County -- 48 miles each way. When they raised my monthly parking fee to $250, I started taking a commuter bus. Monthly fare for the bus is a lot cheaper than parking and gasoline and wear and tear on the car. In the seven years I've been riding the bus they've only raised the fare once. I much prefer the bus -- I can nap, read, listen to audio books, or just gaze out the window. No hassles. And I'm on time for work 99.9% of the time. Another option is to drive to Suitland Road or Largo and take the Metro from there, but first preference is the commuter bus.

Posted by: Aching Back | April 9, 2007 11:24 AM | Report abuse

When commuting from SoMD to Crystal City I just spend the time pinching heads off.

Posted by: SoMD | April 9, 2007 11:30 AM | Report abuse

I bicycle 32 miles a day from Alexandria to downtown DC. I would say about 99% of the time, it is stressfree. The 1% of stress would be when the weather is difficult to deal with (high winds, ice, thunderstorms) or if I happen to get a flat, which is rare. The commute takes an hour and 15 min. each way, and it's the best part of my day!

Posted by: Charmaine | April 9, 2007 11:35 AM | Report abuse

For what it's worth, I used to live in DC and was able to walk to/from work for several years. Those were the good old days. No car expenses, cheap rent, daily walks for exercise, paltry salary. However, your life revolves around the daily route you take to/from work. Now I have my little house by the Bay with beautiful view, fresh air, nice neighbors, no violent crime and I love it. Wouldn't move back into DC for anything -- outrageous costs, violent crime, noise, pollution, arrogant Hill staffers, you know the drill. I plan to retire in 22 months, not that I'm counting or anything, and daily commute will be a thing of the past.

Posted by: Aching Back | April 9, 2007 11:49 AM | Report abuse

I used to do the MARC train from Frederick to Union Station. While the commute itself wasn't too stressful the getting up at 5:30 every morning and getting home at 7:30 each night was a real drag. I'd have just enough time to get home, have dinner, take a shower and get in bed and do it all over again. That made me stress because I would be on the train thinking about everything I needed to be doing at home. However compared to the alternative of sitting on 270 for hours on end it definitely evened out.

Now I live in Falls Church my commute is a lot quicker, just the Orange Line train into Metro Center. I dread the over crowded trains and the massive train delays but over all these things happen only a few times a month. Otherwise, I read a book and enjoy my 30 minutes and get home in time to do a lot of errands.

Stress-wise, I know I really don't want to be doing this for the next 10 years. A few years is okay but I know eventually, sooner rather than later, I'd like to have a short commute with less hassel. If such a thing exists!

Posted by: Falls Chuch, VA | April 9, 2007 11:55 AM | Report abuse

I drive only because public transportation would take me 1 hr+ each way and driving takes 20 mins in the morning and 45 mins in the afternoon. That's my breaking point.

Posted by: Silver Spring | April 9, 2007 12:55 PM | Report abuse

I used to commute from Martinsburg to Alexandria. I got real sick because of stress. IBS (irratable bowel syndrome), stomach pain, loss weight, memory loss, anger, anxiety, vericosele.

I sold my house and moved back to Virginia and have a 5 minute commute.

All symptons are gone! It is way better to be closer to your job. Who cares about a big house if you can downsize and spend more time with family and yourself.

Posted by: de | April 9, 2007 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Used to commute from Gaithersburg, MD to Dulles Airport. Hour-and-change in, usually two hours home for a forty-five minute trip when there wasn't traffic.

No more.

Now I commute in from Silver Spring to an office in downtown DC. It's 45 minutes door-to-door by Metro, but I can read or sleep or otherwise occupy myself besides sitting there watching minutes go by and cursing the gridlock.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 9, 2007 1:55 PM | Report abuse

I commute for an 1-1.5 each way right now. I'm moving at the end of the month closer to work. I'm so looking forward to my new 15 min. commute. I'm moving into an apartment that is much smaller, not as nice, and more expensive. But at this point I'm ready to move into a cardboard box if it'll get me out of the 2-3 hrs a day I spend driving right now.

I've definately noticed the toll the commute has taken on me. I get migraines much more frequently then I did before I move here. I'm often grumpy and irritable with my husband when I get home in the evenings. I can't seem to find the time or energy to work out after I get home. Most nights even making dinner seems more than I can handle (thank god my husband likes to cook). How is it that driving can be so exausting? It's not the driving really. I use to have to travel for work and would often have to drive 3-4 hours to get to a job site. That never bothered me as it was mostly open highway driving. It's the congestion, stop and go, drivers cutting you off, the honking, the road rage.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 9, 2007 4:35 PM | Report abuse

I live in Olney, and have worked downtown most of my work career. If it wasn't for the Metro (car/metro 1 hour trip one way), I wouldn't even consider working downtown. It can get very congested in the system most mornings (especially close to Metro Center), but as long as trains come every 2-3 minutes, it is tolerable.
For 1 year I commuted to Tysons (50 mins AM, significantly more PM), and would never do it again; felt much more stressed out driving all that time rather than having Metro do some of the work. More (and more time-sensitive) mass transit options likely would help many commuters.

Posted by: mh | April 9, 2007 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Sometimes my bike does not want to behave (flats and chain problems). Sometimes drivers pass too closely or yell things at me. But all in all my commute is pretty free of stress - but then so was my commute when I drove.

Posted by: VC | April 9, 2007 6:11 PM | Report abuse

Driving is for losers. It's time everybody thought about it.

Posted by: David | April 10, 2007 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Commute by metro: 1 hour using bus and rail and legs.

Commute by car: 15 minutes with free parking and nary any traffic (I live and work in the same city, thank you lord.)

Guess which one wins?

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | April 10, 2007 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Driving may be for losers, David, but transit is always an option.

Commute by car: 1 hour in the AM; 1 hour 15 to 1 hour 30 in the PM.
Commute by transit (still have to drive 13 miles): 2 hours 30 minutes each way IF everything is on time (and that's become a mighty big IF for MARC).

Really David, now which would you choose?

Posted by: cb | April 10, 2007 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Should have previewed..:)

"transit is NOT always an option..."

Posted by: cb | April 10, 2007 2:43 PM | Report abuse

david, **Driving is for losers. It's time everybody thought about it.***
------------------------------------------------Driving from Reston-Pentagon City= 40-60 minutes, depending on traffic. Let's look at the other choice:-----------
Transit=15 minutes to Weihle Ave. park and ride lot, plus time to wait for bus, plus 30 minutue ride to West Falls Church Metro, plus 35 minute ride to Pentagon City Station, total 1 hour, 20 minutes on a good day. OR 40-minute Drive from Reston to W. Falls Chuch Metro, find a parking space [forget it after 8 AM] + 35 minute ride to Pentagon City, total, 1 hour, 15 minutes, IF you can find parking at W Falls Chuck Metro and don't end up driving to Pentagon City anyway. Work late/ Last bus from West Falls Church Metro leaves at 7:30. Miss it and take $30 cab ride from the station to the Park and Ride. Not to mention Metro Fares and parking fees at the lot and I never factored in the time spent waiting for busses and trains, plus the strong likelihoodd of having to stand for the entire ride. Now, exactly WHO is the *loser* in this?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 11, 2007 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Driving is for losers?

Look, Dave. You need to remember who is paying the 70 per cent cost of your train ride that you're not paying for.

Even a stray dog has sense enough not to bite the hand the feeds it. Grow up.

Posted by: CEEAF | April 11, 2007 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Actually, I think I may be in the wrong place, but couldnt find a "site" to comment on the Joshua Bell experiment at the Metro Station.

It is precisely things like that that can help with the stress component of commuting and hence the reason for radios and ipods. But, just as with Mr. Bell, it is a matter of attention.

I dont live in the city (including DC) anymore. But, musicians are quite common at El stations and platforms. (Can you tell I am talking about Chicago?) Some musicians go there to practice (between trains, the acoustics are great - we dont have the waffle concrete to dull sound, we have hard relatively smooth concrete and/or tile), some to earn money, some for both.

In the process of commuting, often you do not have time to stop and smell the roses. Sometimes the musicians are a godsend to help quite the relative stress. But it's easier when the musician is ON the platform and not at the entrance to the station (which would never to tolerated in Chicago. And those just outside the station are more clearly there to try to make some money, not for music appreciation.)

In Chicago, I do recall talking to some of the artists (hence my ability to tell you why the artist is where (s)he is. I would not be inclined to stop and listen (more than a few seconds) or talk with an artist who is just by the door.

You do not know how many of those passerbys noted Bell and his magnificent playing but were not able to stop due to other concerns. While we too often are not mindful of all that goes on about us, life's pressures (esp time pressures) can also make it all to difficult to be mindful or to let on.

Posted by: Susan | April 15, 2007 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Actually, I think I may be in the wrong place, but couldnt find a "site" to comment on the Joshua Bell experiment at the Metro Station.

It is precisely things like that that can help with the stress component of commuting and hence the reason for radios and ipods. But, just as with Mr. Bell, it is a matter of attention.

I dont live in the city (including DC) anymore. But, musicians are quite common at El stations and platforms. (Can you tell I am talking about Chicago?) Some musicians go there to practice (between trains, the acoustics are great - we dont have the waffle concrete to dull sound, we have hard relatively smooth concrete and/or tile), some to earn money, some for both.

In the process of commuting, often you do not have time to stop and smell the roses. Sometimes the musicians are a godsend to help quite the relative stress. But it's easier when the musician is ON the platform and not at the entrance to the station (which would never to tolerated in Chicago. And those just outside the station are more clearly there to try to make some money, not for music appreciation.)

In Chicago, I do recall talking to some of the artists (hence my ability to tell you why the artist is where (s)he is. I would not be inclined to stop and listen (more than a few seconds) or talk with an artist who is just by the door.

You do not know how many of those passerbys noted Bell and his magnificent playing but were not able to stop due to other concerns. While we too often are not mindful of all that goes on about us, life's pressures (esp time pressures) can also make it all to difficult to be mindful or to let on.

Posted by: Susan | April 15, 2007 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Walking to the metro while having to stare down drivers in order to cross the streets does leave me very stressed out. And I feel frustrated that these jerks drive when they should be taking public transport. They are doubly affronting to me by driving and not pausing at crosswalks so pedestrians can cross. DRIVERS ARE SUCH JERKS.

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