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The Link Between Car Exhaust, Depression, and Anxiety

The Link Between Car Exhaust, Depression, and Anxiety

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A recent study out of London found evidence that traffic-related air pollution may make people more likely to suffer from mental health problems.

The research team assessed over 1500 participants over a five-year period for common mental health problems, including physical symptoms associated with mental distress, as well as psychotic episodes.

They found that increases in exposure to particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide from exhaust fumes increased the chance of developing common mental disorders by 18-39%. 

This suggests that repeated exposure to air pollution over the long term could impact mental health, specifically your chances of developing depression or anxiety. 

What counts as traffic-related air pollution?

Car exhaust contains particulate matter, which are microscopic particles that can get into your lungs and bloodstream. Exhaust also contains nitrogen dioxide, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons.

Traffic-related air pollution doesn’t just come from a car’s tailpipe. You also have a small amount of particulate matter that comes from wear and tear on tires and brakes. 

Negative effects of air pollution

Clean air is vital no matter who you are. Breathing isn’t exactly a process you can turn “off,” so it’s imperative that your air is as free from pollutants as possible. Some of the more troubling effects of air pollution include:
  • Lowered lung capacity 
  • Cancers of the lungs or trachea
  • Changes in heart function
  • Heart disease
  • Allergies
  • Emphysema
  • Sleep disorders
  • Liver damage
  • Asthma
  • Potential blood sugar dysregulation 

Pregnant mothers should be aware that there are measurable effects on baby’s brain when she is exposed to copious amounts of air pollution.

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Is it possible to choose cleaner air?

You can change your diet or exercise plan. You can buy a water filter for your water. But do you have any influence on how clean the air you breathe is?

You might assume that the air pollution levels in your area depend on the traffic, the industry, the native plants, and the population in the vicinity, and that is correct, to a point. But, there are things you can do to reduce your exposure to pollutants. 
  • If you live in an area with higher levels of air pollution, consider running an air purifier in your home. If you count your time sleeping, you’re home more often than you’re not, so breathing clean air while in your home could make a world of difference. 
  • If you commute twice a day and sit in traffic breathing fumes, consider shifting your work hours outside of rush hour, or talk to your team about working a few days from home if that’s an option for your profession. 
  • If your air quality drops because of an infrequent occurrence, like wildfire, consider a temporary living situation where the air is a little better. 

What to do when your air quality is low

Lots of things affect air quality - winds, dust and pollen, and weather patterns. You can check your area’s air quality score for the day here. 

If your air quality is low, you may opt to stay indoors until your air quality returns to safe levels again. If your air quality scores are exceptionally low and you have to go out, you can wear an activated carbon filter mask to reduce the particulate matter you inhale. Also, drink plenty of water to help your body flush out whatever toxins you may have inhaled.