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Toronto’s traffic affecting driver health: stress expert

Is Toronto’s traffic stressing you out?

According to a Toronto family doctor and stress expert, all of those hours spent in stop-and-go traffic takes a toll on a driver’s health and his or her life outside of the vehicle.

“So their heart is beating quick, and they’re feeling angry and fearful and anxious, and it does take a toll on us,” said Dr. Mel Borins, associate professor at the University of Toronto’s department of family and community medicine.

Toronto is one of the most congested cities in North America, and a driver named Bill said it takes longer than ever to get to where he needs to go.

“You get frustrated very quickly because you’re just trying to pop somewhere, and there’s no popping anywhere in Toronto anymore,” Bill said.

Dr. Borins said that for some people, getting behind the wheel feels just like going into battle, and it’s not healthy.

“Some people when they walk into a car, it’s like they’re in a combat zone. They feel like they’re at war; they have to speed, and conflict and anger — that is the life of some people in a car,” Dr. Borins said.

Instead, he said drivers should spend the time in a positive way — such as reflecting on the day with family members in the car or listening to music — and realize that stressing out won’t help them get to their destinations any faster.

A driver named Annette agreed with that.

“No, I just learn to relax, take it easy; I’ll get there eventually. It’s funny when you see people speeding through a red light. That’s like the funniest thing ever. It’s like I’m still there right beside them, and I just took my time,” Annette said.

Dr. Borins said she has the right attitude — keep calm, be patient and stay positive.

He also said that he sees how commuter stress can affect a person’s health at his practice.

“I have patients who come to the office, who have high blood pressure and measure they’re pressure when they first arrive. It’s sometimes quite high because they’ve just been through a stressful journey to the office. We’ve only been in the room for 20 minutes, and they’re pressure goes down to normal,” he said.

One option to alleviate driver dress may be for commuters to try and leave the house at a different time of day. Statistics Canada said 30 per cent of commuters leave for work between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m.

According to a recent study out of Sweden, if a person drives more than 45 minutes to work, he or she is more likely to get a divorce than those who have shorter commutes.

Meanwhile, a recent study published in the journal Psychological Science has found that everyday irritations like traffic can add up and lead to anxiety and mood disorders in around a decade from now.

Dr. Borins is the author of Go Away Just for the Health of It. For more information on his research, visit his website or @MelBorins on Twitter.