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A nation of car people

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The country seems anxious. Underlying the incompetence and corruption in every aspect of life for years (think Piarco, 15 years and still in court; Cancer Centre, 14 years building, $700 million gone through, like a “dose of salts”; think “fake oil”, ferry to Tobago, scarce forex; State Agencies with an accumulated debt of $44 billion; tax and more tax until riot, I suppose; think the silence of every professional organisation on these and any other matter of national concern, sucking up to government so they could congratulate each other at Christmas time on their “success”; hell, make up your own list, personal or public), now comes “Uncertainty”.

This is an uncertain government. It demonstrates little leadership except perhaps on the golf course or in China, we shall see. The Minister of Health is trying and seems to be on the right path but will he make the correct decisions in the long run? The Ministry of Education is mired in early 20th century educational philosophy. The best I can say about Social Development is that I have no idea who is in charge.

Uncertainty, on top of chronic problems, creates anxiety. Unfettered anxiety leads to anger. Nowhere is this seen more than on the road. I’ve been driving to COSTAATT in El Dorado once a week for the past year. It’s a one hour drive from St James, supposedly against traffic. In practice, there’s no such thing any more unless you coming or leaving town in the morning or evening. That is a two-hour drive from East and South. A generation of children is growing up eating breakfast in the car, doing homework in the car and getting to know daddy in the car. We are a nation of car people.

In the 60’s in oil-booming Caracas, my psychiatry professors did what was perhaps the first third-world study on the effect of traffic on people. Fertile ground for the local guys? Nope, they too busy giving conferences, travelling and answering simplistic questions in the newspaper. Or treating coke addicted fantasies?

The Caracas study was done on people commuting for one hour a day, 30 minutes to work and 30 back. We talking a four-hour commute.

Studies show that driving more than 10 miles each way, to and from work raises your blood pressure, your blood sugar and your cholesterol. The sugar and cholesterol spike is temporary but no one knows what happens after years of intermittent sugar and cholesterol spikes. The blood pressure rise is permanent. The longer the commute, the higher the blood pressure reaches.

People with ten-mile commutes each way have a higher tendency toward depression, anxiety, and social isolation. This may not reflect local mores since it is common to see cars stop on the highway to exchange pleasantries with their neighbour or buy nuts and pawpaw while searching for change. A sort of highway marketplace, unique to these isles.

Your anxiety increases. People who commute more than half an hour to work each way report higher levels of stress and anxiety than people with shorter commutes or no commutes at all. Just what we need.

Those are the ups. The downs? Happiness and satisfaction with life declines. People with commutes of any length experience lower life satisfaction and happiness than people with no commutes at all.

Cardiovascular fitness drops. The longer the commute, the worse.

Your sleep suffers. People always complain about no longer being able to sleep well. If you commute for longer than 45 minutes each way, you cannot sleep well. Next day you are tired. Children too. That’s for commutes of 45 minutes!

Finally, those back ache and pains everyone complains about? Is not old age. Is spending hours a week slouched over in a car seat, either as a driver or a passenger. What you expect?

And we haven’t began to talk about the quality of driving and its effect on your nerves!


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