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Malta is one of the most traffic congested places in Europe, and this problem has been around for quite some time now. Most probably, many of us who drive encounter this on a daily basis, and not just during rush hours. In this blog, we will be looking at how traffic may be affecting us.  

For its size, Malta is a small country, however it holds almost 500,000 people and more than 390,000 vehicles on the streets. In Malta, public transport is available and the prices are reasonable, however it may not always be consistent and reliable, and may often result in people arriving late. Therefore, many of us are inclined to use our personal car, as our roads are also not the safest for riding a bicycle to reach our destination. Due to this and also due to roadworks which have been taking place, Malta has been faced with significant traffic congestions in the past years.

Each person may perceive and experience traffic differently, depending on personality characteristics and situational factors. People who are perfectionists, or who are particular about time management, may experience the traffic situation as highly stressful (Ganesh, 2019).  However, traffic  generally impacts people through the 5 aspects highlighted below:

  1. The Environmental Aspect

Traffic is known to be one of the major sources of air and noise pollution, and it increases one’s exposure to traffic-related air pollution (TRAP). TRAP involves a mixture of vehicle exhausts, secondary pollutants formed in the air, vehicle emissions which contribute to climate change, and non-combustion emissions such as road dust and tire wear (Matz, Egyed, Hocking, Seenundun, Charman & Edmonds, 2019). All of this enters the air we breathe. TRAP has in fact been linked to a range of health issues, including adverse birth outcomes, respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, reduced lung function, and cancer (ibid.).

2. The Psychological Aspect

When driving, commuters face many issues including road rage, negligent driving and also loud honking. This can result in various consequences psychologically, and this can affect the person themselves and other commuters too (Ganesh, 2019). Traffic and long commuting hours can cause stress, anxiety, fatigue, lack of energy, lack of control, anger, work frustrations, isolation, and also problems in the way of responding and reacting to situations (Naieem, 2018; Ganesh, 2019). Consequently, one may be experiencing other stressful situations which may heighten the tension. All of the above may further result in one making errors, finding difficulty in making decisions, in concentrating and in communicating, experiencing a lapses in memory and a slower reaction time (Ganesh, 2019). These factors may be perceived to be dangerous whilst driving. Furthermore, stressors which are experienced on the road, are most often carried home and misdirected towards the family members, for instance through anger. This could form a viscious cycle and may result in road rage or rash driving (ibid.).

3. The Cognitive Aspect

On a cognitive level, one may experience a sense of lack of control and helplessness. This may contribute to frustration, and if one has a poor tolerance for frustration, one may find it more difficult to hold back certain thoughts, behaviours, and actions, and therefore one is more susceptible to act out of impulse (low response inhibitive ability) and do whatever comes to mind at that moment (ibid.).

4. The Physical Aspect

Apart from the physical health issues one may face when being exposed to TRAP, one may experience physical symptoms whilst being stuck in traffic. One may experience high blood pressure, agitation, changes in body temperature and enhanced activity in the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) which controls the automatic bodily functions such as breathing, heartbeat and digestion (ibid.). Furthermore, with time, the immune system’s ability to endure pressure reduces, especially when one has high activity in the ANS (ibid.).

5. The Social Aspect

Traffic may also affect people socially. One may go to extreme lengths in order to avoid traffic stress, for instance, skipping a day of work. Stress and fatigue experienced due to traffic may lead one to change jobs. Furthermore, this may lead to a lack of motivation to meet people, thus bringing about isolation, especially if one spends a lot of time commuting.

However, the traffic problem isn’t going to vanish anytime soon. We do not have control over the main causes of traffic, but we do have control over our attitude towards it. Therefore we need to find healthy ways of dealing with this. Using alternative routes, deep breathing, carpooling, and time management are a few ways which can help you cope in such situations. If you feel that the traffic situation is affecting you in a negative way, do not be afraid to reach out.

Michela Aquilina is a trainee Gestalt Psychotherapist who is currently reading for a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy and working as a Trainee Gestalt Psychotherapist with Willingness Team. Michela offers therapy to young adults and adults who are experiencing various challenges and issues relating to mental health and psychosocial, emotional wellbeing.

References

Ganesh, L. (2019). Can everyday traffic affect our mental health. White Swan Foundation. Retrieved from: https://www.whiteswanfoundation.org/mental-health-matters/understanding-mental-health/can-everyday-traffic-affect-our-mental-health

Naieem, I. (2018). How traffic may be affecting your mental health. Her Campus. Retrieved from: https://www.hercampus.com/school/george-mason/how-traffic-may-be-affecting-your-mental-health

Matz, C.J., Egyed, M., Hocking, R., Seenundun, S., Charman, N. & Edmonds, N. (2019). Human health effects of traffic-related air pollution (TRAP): a scoping review protocol. Systematic Review 8(223). Retrieved from: https://systematicreviewsjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13643-019-1106-5