There is nothing good about traffic congestion; that is something everyone can agree on. It is bad for the environment, hard on your car and your car's gas mileage, and rough on your body.
But what about your brain? Researchers have been studying the effects of traffic congestion on the human mind over the past few decades.
While they haven't yet found anything that is fully conclusive, the scientists have found some disturbing correlations. Here are some of their findings.
1. Congestion can cause stress.
Of course! Whether you're late getting somewhere or really just want to get home, stalling at an intersection while the light turns green more than once can make anyone itch with anxiety.
But stress itself can cause changes to your behavior, personality, and ability to make decisions. Studies have even suggested links from everyday stressors such as sitting in traffic to anxiety or mood disorders that manifest later in life.
2. Traffic jams may cause brain damage.
Several studies have looked at the dangers of pollution on the human mind, particularly in urban areas where there are lots of cars. Scientists have shown that the fumes and particles of pollutants that we inhale while waiting in traffic can contribute to memory loss and problems with reasoning.
In other words, having the windows down while you inch your way through the five-o-clock rush can actually age you mentally. This is because the pollutants entering your body cause minor brain damage that can build up over time.
All pollutants have the ability to do this--but you put yourself at a higher risk of absorbing them by being in traffic. Essentially, you are a prisoner in your car.
3. Sitting in traffic might lead to Alzheimer's.
The operative word in the phrase "sitting in traffic" is "sitting." Sure, you can tap your toe, play air guitar, or bang your head against the steering wheel.
But you still can't do much to move around while you're traffic, unless there's a full-on dead stop due to an accident or other blockage, and people have started getting out of their cars. The lack of movement that comes along with traffic congestion is bad for your physical health, which is linked in turn to your mental health.
Connections have been found between Alzheimer's disease and a lack of physical activity over the course of one's life. The disease has also been linked to a lack of mental stimulation, particularly during one's adult years.
Spending a lot of time zoned out in traffic over the course of a lifetime could contribute to the disease as you age. The more you move your body and use your mind, the less likely you are to get Alzheimer's.
Certainly, there are ways of beating traffic congestion to the punch on ruining your brain. You can dance in your car, listen to a challenging book on tape, and keep the windows closed while you wait.
Nonetheless, you will be healthier yet if you can avoid the jams by following smarter routes and using alternative modes of transportation.