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Your Daily Commute Is Killing You

It takes a toll on your mental and emotional well-being, too
by Anne Mari Ronquillo | Feb 5, 2018
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It seems urban commuters are fighting an invisible, insidious enemy. No, it’s not the body odor of the poor guy who forgot to put on deodorant this morning. It’s chronic stress.

A study has shown people with a daily commute upwards of 50 kilometers die sooner than those who are lucky enough to work near their homes. But the distance from Quezon City to Makati is a tiny 17 or so kilometers. The average Metro Manila commuter doesn’t travel 50 kilometers in a day. So how come it still makes you want to die?

We hate driving here.

In our metropolis, where CO2 is dense and traffic is globally recognized as horrible, the shorter distances mean nothing. Sometimes, when you want to travel a laughable five kilometers, it’s no longer a surprise if it takes you half an hour. Waze’s 2015 Global Driver Satisfaction Index reports Manila to have the worst traffic on earth. The Philippines was first to cross this upside-down finish line again in last year’s report. Our drivers don’t seem to be in the mood to be sweet lovers.

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If you’re a passenger, it may seem like you are coddled. You’re just sitting there, after all. You couldn’t be more wrong. Your stress levels are probably the same. Being constantly paranoid about a sketchy seatmate, holding your possessions close, while keeping your body in check to avoid any potential injuries in case the driver suddenly brakes—being a passenger is basically an exercise in personal safety while riding a steady flow of stress.

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Taking public railway transits? You are not spared.

Many people stand while on the MRT, and shorter folks often have to endure elbows to the face inside a crowded carriage. It’s worse during summer, because the heat puts everyone at an increased risk of dehydration.

Commuting in Manila is inherently stressful. Have you met anyone who said they enjoyed commuting? It’s cheaper, sure, but you pay for it with a bunch of little inconveniences. For many people, it may seem like a simple day-to-day annoyance that one just has to deal with and possibly ignore. But when your body regularly goes through the rigors of urban commute, you’re also regularly going through stress.

Stress prompts your body to produce more cortisol, and overproduction of this hormone can do a number on your immune system. Chronic stress is no bueno.


Your mental and emotional well-being also suffers.

Very few good things can happen while you’re commuting. For one, you can’t be productive. You spend time being agitated instead of enjoying the rest of your day with loved ones, breathing well-circulated air. Also, those hours spent sitting in traffic could be hours added to your sleep or workout, which we all know we need lots of if we want longevity on Earth.

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The road to the business district is a taxing one, and a Harvard political scientist has stated that commuters tend to feel isolated in those woeful hours to and from work.

Michelle, an assistant manager, has a daily average travel time of three hours. That’s 15 extra hours spent on the road every week that’s not paid for. Her benefits package doesn’t even include transportation allowance. The health risks (for instance, catching a virus in a crowded UV Express) and time spent worrying about your safety and/or doing nothing are often not considered.

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You can’t even use your commute time to zen out or listen to a podcast for fear of snatchers. When your health is hit, you use up sick leaves. Sometimes even the best benefits packages can’t make up for the damages incurred from commuting.

So now you might be thinking, “Why commute or work at all when the end of your day feels like you've become Jennifer Lawrence during the end of Mother!?” Well, no one’s going to just hand you money on a monthly basis for doing nothing. We all have to earn our keep and power through the lethal discomforts of commuting while accepting the fact that everything has a potential death risk anyway. In the meantime, let’s be thankful for small wins like telecommuting and ridesharing.

Photography Lian Dumas


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