Commuting More Stressful than Flying Jet Fighters

Commuting ‘more stressful than flying a jet fighter’ (Evening Standard, 30 November)

The true level of stress faced by commuters in London is revealed today. A major new study claims the average journey by train or bus is more stressful than being a fighter pilot in combat, or a police officer in a riot. The researchers also say that as passengers’ stress levels rocket, their brains switch off, leading to a condition they identified as “commuter amnesia”. Psychologist Dr David Lewis, who led the research, warns that commuters-could suffer serious heart problems. He also says staff are arriving at their offices less able to work. “People’s productivity is damaged. The stress levels harm their ability to concentrate when they make it in.”

Researchers measured the blood pressure and heart beats of more than 125 commuters, on a variety of routes. More than 800 people were also interviewed. The normal resting heartbeat on a healthy young person is about 60 beats per minute. However, as they battled to and from work, the volunteers’ heartbeats reached peaks of more than double that – comparable with the rate during strenuous exercise. Dr Lewis said: “Getting to this rate during physical exercise is good but commuters get this from purely psychological reasons and it puts them at risk of serious heart problems.”

He compared the commuters’ stress levels with that of fighter pilots and police in training. He said: “The levels experienced by commuters were higher. It’s pretty shocking. We found spikes in the heart rate that corresponded with changing trains. The key for commuters is the feeling they are not in control, this is what makes them lose their temper. The phenomenon of “commuter amnesia” discovered by the study, conducted on behalf of Hewlett-Packard, was found by studying volunteers’ brain patterns. Dr Lewis said: “It’s a form of self-hypnosis. It’s a defence mechanism for the brain, and it’s very effective.”

I’m not the least bit surprised by this.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. McGehee says:

    I wonder if part of it is that fighter pilots undergo intensive training to deal with the stresses they encounter in combat.

    In some states, the training you get for commuting amounts to a written test, a quick supervised drive around town, and the humiliation of realizing you really do look like the picture on your driver’s license.

  2. Attila Girl says:

    One thing employers could do to cut down on the stress *and* the congestion is to make the hours people work more flexible: if people simply had a range of times they could show up at the office (with the understanding that they would leave seven or seven and a half or eight hours later), it would ease things up a lot, as opposed to everyone trying to be at the office at 8:30 or 9:00.

  3. Davod says:

    Bullshit baffles brains anytime. I get sick and tired of these sort of comparisons.