Traffic... It makes me so stressed! | Gottfried Catania

Stress while in traffic can result in increased impatience... If not handled promptly, impatience can turn into resentment, aggressive driving, and anger – all of which can eventually lead to road rage

Dr Gottfried Catania, Department of Psychology

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone the spotlight on mental health issues. Studies are still being conducted on the possible long-term psychological effects of the pandemic and associated lockdowns, as well as the effects on the economy which have been partly responsible for the inflation and consequent increase in prices in most countries.

As a result, our wellbeing has been come to the forefront, and we have become much more sensitive to the effects of stress. One of the situations which causes daily stress in the lives of most of us is being stuck in ever increasing daily traffic, especially during peak travelling times when most of us commute to and from work. A long time spent in traffic results in wasting time which could have been used better, and has been associated with weight increases and higher blood pressure. Cars waiting in traffic are exposed to as much as 40% more pollution, with the consequent negative effects on our health.

Download UNITY in pdf here

Being stuck in traffic frequently can also lead to chronic stress problems. Stress while in traffic can result in increased impatience, while having to wait for the traffic to move and deal with the mistakes of other motorists on the already overcrowded roads. If not handled promptly, impatience can turn into resentment, aggressive driving, and anger – all of which can eventually lead to road rage.

It is also well known, of course, that stress may lead to a number of long-term physical and psychological negative effects, including heart problems, stomach problems, depression and anxiety. Drivers who regularly wake up early in order to avoid the morning traffic and get to work on time may also be deprived of sleep. Lack of sleep can lead to anxiety, frustration, impulsive behaviour, lower immunity, and greater propensity to abuse drugs and alcohol. It can also affect long term memory, attention and performance – leading to an increased risk of traffic accidents.

The above statements seem to be reflected in the results of a survey carried out by the Faculty for Social Wellbeing at the University of Malta in 2020, which found that while most of the 600 participants reported being satisfied with life in general, traffic congestion was noted as being a problem by of half of them.

Infrastructural issues related to the situation are complex and difficult to address – the rapid increase in population and related increase in number of cars on the road these past few years, as well as the roadworks being carried out all over the island in the hope of improving the situation but impacting traffic flow in the meantime, have definitely taken their toll on the deteriorating traffic situation.

The inconsistency of the public transport system, even though it has been made free of charge for all Maltese citizens, means that few drivers consider this as a viable option to using their private cars. As a result, we might need to look elsewhere in order to find effective solutions for the problems caused or aggravated by ever increasing traffic.

The COVID-19 pandemic already referred to above may provide some possible solutions. During lockdown periods, when most workplaces, except for the essential ones, had to resort to finding ways to work from home, we managed to cope relatively well with the situation and life went on, albeit mostly behind closed doors. The streets were so refreshingly car free for those who had to drive through necessity!

After lockdowns were lifted, most workplaces returned to previous methods, with employees expected to commute daily to the workplace and work from there.

It seems most of the lessons learned through necessity during the pandemic were forgotten!

Finding more creative methods of working can be part of the solution to the traffic problem – if, for example workplaces which can do so were to adopt a hybrid method of working, say with employees working one day a week from home on a rotating basis, the effect on traffic would be significant.

Another solution might be staggering working times, so that not all employees start and end the working day at the same time.

These adaptations have the added advantage of being potentially family friendly, and thus will probably be welcomed by some, if not most, employees.