The longer your commute to work - the more likely it'll damage your health! That's the upshot of new research on traffic and how it affects us daily. And it all starts with our emotions.

Stop and go traffic is annoying, frustrating and can lead to anxiety. We're worried about getting to work on time - so we're already primed to blow our top. Then someone cuts us off or makes a bonehead move, and the next thing you know, you're screaming and cursing and honking your horn. In fact, we're more likely to lash out when we're in our cars because we think of them as a private, personal space that’s been violated. And that tension can linger. How many times have you arrived at work, only to tell your coworkers about that some driver who cut you off? Well, when we do that, we're reliving the incident and our tension escalates again!

But all that commuting stress does more than tick you off. The stress chemicals can damage your health. According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine – the farther a driver commutes, the higher their blood pressure and body mass index tends to be. And all of that increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

We’re also setting a bad example for our kids. Dr. Leon James is a psychology professor and author of Road Rage and Aggressive Driving. And he calls the back seat “the road rage nursery.” Because that’s where kids see and hear their parents swearing, yelling and honking at other drivers. And they tend to grow up to mimic that behavior. So, what’s the solution to a killer commute?

  • Write down how you feel after every commute. Then, reread it to see what kind of negative thoughts you have. And ask yourself: Are these feelings justified, or am I overreacting? Is this the kind of person I want to be?
  • Then, let it go. Re-living the tension by sharing your commute with others just reinforces the stress. And primes you for tension the next time you get behind the wheel.
  • Kiss your spouse goodbye before you head out. Or if you don't have a spouse, kiss your kids - or even your pet! Research shows that people who do have fewer accidents. Because their bodies are coursing with feel-good endorphins that help prevent dangerous driving behaviors like impatience and hostility.
  • Drive on a full stomach. Low blood sugar can impair a bunch of driving abilities. Like rapid decision-making, attention span, hand-eye coordination, and speedy analysis of visual information.
  • Replace negative thoughts about other drivers with positive ones. If someone’s blinker has been on for the past 6 miles, think, “I do that sometimes, too,” instead of “What an idiot!”

Comment on this story