Commuter Woes: Transit’s effects on your health and wellbeing

It’s not just you: transiting takes its toll

Image courtesy of Daily Hive Vancouver

By: Alannah Wallace, Peak Associate

Most SFU students make quite the journey to and from school every day. It comes as no surprise that we often hear our fellow peers complaining of the wear and tear this daily commute has on us. Sometimes, it feels as if each bus ride has taken 10 years off of our lives.

We get too soaked in the rain and too hot in the summer. Our bodies often get jam-packed into the transportation vessel, up close and personal with all types of interesting smells. To top it off, people are constantly sick and coughing in these condensed areas, so we inevitably get sick on the monthly.

Getting anywhere takes twice as long when transiting, and if there is a delay, you’re guaranteed to be late to class . . . but is there anything we can do about our transportation woes? As for those who commute by driving, they face their own set of problems with rising gas and parking prices as well as unpredictable road conditions. Is there any way we can modify our commute to offset these challenges?

A quick Google search reveals that there’s actually hundreds of studies out there on the stress that commuting causes. Researchers studying New York City have noticed that commute times have increased, causing the commuters more stress. A study of Sweden’s biggest metropolises reports that being satisfied with your daily commute, on the other hand, contributes to your overall happiness.

Not all commutes are equally taxing; according to a Montreal-based study, a big factor is the type of transportation used. People who walk, take the train, or ride a bike during their daily commute are significantly less stressed than those who drive or take the metro or bus.

In the New York study, car commuters in particular reported more stress and negative emotions. Drivers feel that they put more effort into the commute and that their commute can be less predictable. This makes sense: at least on the SkyTrain and bus, if you get a seat, you can kick back and get some readings done or catch up with friends on your phone. You may find yourself wishing you had a car or that SFU parking wasn’t so expensive, especially on those rainy days, but car commuting is not always the luxurious ride we imagine.

Other big irritants for car commuters are delays and other drivers, stressors which other types of commuters don’t have to navigate firsthand, given that they’re not the ones operating the vehicles. It is also worth noting that traffic delays that come unexpectedly make commuters angrier than expected ones.

One study found that more efficient commutes can reduce job-strain. Others, like the New York study, have shown that the stress we experience while commuting carries over into the workplace (or classroom for us) as absenteeism, decreased motivation, and reduced job satisfaction.

With that being said, here are some things you can do for your commute to offset these negative feelings.

Walk or bike

Research shows a correlation between commuters who walk or cycle and lower cardiovascular risks. People who walk or cycle tend to find their commute more relaxing and enjoyable.

Luckily, there are tons of hiking and biking trails all over Burnaby Mountain that connect right to SFU. If you aren’t one of those jacked 60-year-olds you see in spandex biking up the mountain at the crack of dawn, you could always bring your bike up to school on the bus and bike back down the mountain instead of getting on the bus again. Additionally, walking from SFU to Production SkyTrain station is about a 30-minute walk for me.

Podcasts

Did you know you can use Spotify to download more than just music? You can also grab podcasts! Researchers have found that social or entertainment activities during longer commutes make the experience more positive, offsetting not only stress but also boredom, another common commuter complaint.

You can download your podcasts while on Wi-Fi so that you don’t use up all your data. Popular podcasts such as The Joe Rogan Experience (covers all sorts of topics) and Dirtbag Diaries (outdoor adventure stories) will no doubt distract you from the deathly boredom of transit.

Audiobooks

Since some people get nauseous reading a book on a vehicle, and it isn’t always possible to hold open a book while standing, listening to an audiobook is a great way to pass the time. Audible.ca has some great offers for people who aren’t sure if this form of entertainment is for them.

The first 30 days are free, your first book is free, and you can get 30% off a large selection of audiobooks. How cool is that?

Brainstorm for your assignments

Have you ever sat down to do schoolwork, only to realize that the first hour of this process is just sitting and thinking of ideas? What better place is there to waste this time than on a bus? You can even jot down some notes on your phone if you need to, and this is basic enough that you won’t need your phone or computer or textbooks out.

Use this time to organize your time

Another thing we often don’t realize is how long it takes to organize social gatherings, or how long we spend messaging our friends. Try to use your commute time to sit down and sort out the details of the party coming up this weekend, or the dinner you’re putting together tomorrow night. Message all those people you’ve been meaning to get back to (*cough* sorry, mom and dad). These tasks are going to distract you from your schoolwork later, so you might as well get this out of the way now.