By Saurav Rajbhandari

The everyday commute varies among individuals due to differences in the time required to reach the workplace, the means of transportation, and the condition of the physical infrastructure. All of these factors play a major role in determining the mental state of an individual.

In Nepal, there are limited options for transportation. It is easier if a person owns a vehicle and more difficult for commuters using public transportation. The public buses are crowded and stop at multiple places which aren’t assigned as bus stops. This makes riding a bus feel like it takes a lifetime, especially if one has to travel long distances. A way of avoiding buses would be to take a taxi, but they usually cost 10-15 times more than a bus ride, so taking a taxi for most people is a luxury and isn’t affordable for the long-term.

The state of a person’s mind once s/he has reached the office is influenced by the way they’ve traveled to work. It is most likely to have its effects during the early hours of the work day. The stress endured during a commute depends on several factors like commute variability, personality factor, and control factor. Let’s take an example. Individual A has to travel a certain distance each day to reach her work. “A” knows the exact time it takes to get there and the amount of traffic she has to face. Individual B has variable commute distances everyday, which is the exact opposite of what “A” has to face. Who do you think will be more vulnerable to stress?

According to the studies done by Koslowsky and his colleagues, Individual B is more prone to stress than “A” due to a simple psychological trick that our brain plays. “A” knows how much time and distance she has to travel during the day which makes her mentally prepared. But “B,” traveling in variable commutes, even though predictable, limits the cognitive ability to control the environment. Another moderator of stress depends upon the personal factor. The rushed feeling of pressure to reach work just in time also helps with the significant increase of stress. In my personal experience, as I have traveled to different places of Nepal and India, I’ve noticed variation in the road traffic. In Kathmandu where I live, roads are comparatively congested & traffic is dense than cities like Bardiya, Chitwan. I ride a motorcycle to work but there are different protective measures before I begin my journey. First I put on a mask, then the helmet and gloves. The roads are unpredictable most of the times. There are many places where roads are being widened to make room for increasing vehicles which means buildings close to the roads are being torn down. This has caused a severe problem of air pollution, and if by chance I forget my mask, it might probably lead to me being sick for a few days. Commuting is stressful sometimes, but I have gotten used to it and cannot imagine traveling on any of the public vehicles. I would rather walk the 11 kilometers to work.

According to research done by Thomas James Christian of Brown University the length of the workday doesn’t matter, but the amount of time spent commuting makes all the difference. Take a worker with a negligible commute and a 12-hour workday and then take a worker with an hour long commute and a 10-hour workday. The former will have healthier habits than the latter, even though total time spent on the relatively stressful, unpleasant tasks is equal. The commute stress also has its gender inclinations. Novaco at al (1991) found that female commuters were at greater risk of being negatively affected by the stress factors. The stress endured during the commute can lead to several effects on health, family, and work organizations. It can manifest itself in work absences and lower productivity. But as human beings we have a set of adaptation and coping mechanisms which has got us through the times. The first minor step, according to the research paper, would be behavior adaptation, where the drivers and the commuters adjust in the transportation environment, whether that be in their overall commuting scheme, roadway or transit conditions, vehicle conditions, or changes in skill level or state of functioning in order to enhance their well-being.

Everyone has their way of dealing with stress. I’ve tried driving with earphones on but it creates a distraction. Traveling with a companion in public vehicles might help reduce the stress. I’ve learned through years of travel in public buses and my motorbike that maintaining patience while traveling is most important. Companies should focus on stress caused during commuting as it is related to employee’s job satisfaction which may lead to higher productivity and growth of an employee if the matter is properly dealt with.