You know that stress can take a toll on your health over time, but it might also increase your chances of an accident.
Stressing out about work can mess with your sleep, make you gain weight, and increase your risk of heart disease. (Is there anything chronic stress doesn't make worse?) Now you can add another health risk to the list: car accidents. People who have a lot of work stress are more likely to have a dangerous event occur during their commute, says a new study in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology.
Americans commute an average of 26 minutes each way per day, according to recent census data. (To see the average commute time where you live, check out this nifty interactive map that will either entertain you or, if you live on the coasts, just depress you.) That's a lot of time on the road—and when you're driving to or from work it makes sense that you're thinking about work. And the more preoccupied with work stress you are, the more dangerous your commute, the study found, likely because you're distracted by your worries.
Not all work stress is equally bad for your driving habits, though. Researchers found that the number-one stressor that indicates someone will take more risks while driving is if they're having a hard time balancing work and family life. The more someone felt conflicted about work-life balance, the more likely they were to text or phone while driving, overtake other cars on the inside lane, tailgate, or do other dangerous maneuvers. The stressor that had the second-most impact on driving was having an awful boss. The more a person reported disliking their direct manager, the worse a driver they became. Even scarier, being stressed about these things not only meant that people drove dangerously but also that they saw these behaviors as acceptable and normal—meaning they were more likely to drive dangerously at other times, not just while commuting.
As anyone who's ever had a stressful job can attest, this study makes sense. After all, the quiet time in the car is the perfect opportunity to mentally work through stressful conversations or deal with family conflicts. But just because you can doesn't mean you should. Anything that takes your mind off the road, even for a second, can be fatal, the researchers wrote in the paper. So it's important to find a safer way to deal with work problems. Need ideas? Try these seven expert tips to deal (safely) with work-related stress.