My hypothesis is that Lagos traffic can induce trauma. I drove to Ibadan for training during the day but decided to sleep over in order to avoid bottleneck traffic. We left Ibadan at 10:30a.m the next day but didn’t arrive at Ikeja until 4:30p.m. This meant that I wasted six hours of my life in traffic. The average Lagosian spends an average of three hours getting from point A to B, which is time, wasted. According to CNN Travel, The average Lagosian spend an average of 30 hours in traffic each week — or 1,560 annually — while drivers in Los Angeles and Moscow traffic spent only 128 and 210 hours respectively in the whole of 2018. If we think in terms of finances, it would mean multiplying the amount of time wasted in traffic by how much you make an hour. Multiply that per annum to factor how much you’re losing waiting in traffic three – six hours daily.
The consequences of Lagos traffic are varied including emotional, physiological, relational and economical. Imagine all the work that’s left undone and insights replaced with anxiety as people try to navigate an unruly system. In a country where most transactions are conducted in person, it is almost imperative to be on the roads. Cars careen between insistent peddlers; Okadas, Danfos and drivers turn two lanes streets into six or seven lanes. Let us not forget the massive potholes that litter our roads like garbage. It is a city without traffic rules. The impact of this stressor includes relationships that starve for attention; children who don’t see parents till the next morning; spouses who have to sleep at work or stay late to give time for easier drive. Lagosians get to work already tired and return home exhausted. Lagos traffic is definitely a mental health hazard.
According to a study of the world’s least stressful cities in 2017 conducted by UK-based Company Zipjet, Lagos is the 3rd most stressful city in the world only surpassed by Baghdad, Iraq and Kabul, Afghanistan. This study was based upon factors including finance, transport, percentage of green spaces and citizens’ wellbeing.
The lack of infrastructure is not merely an inconvenience; it is stressful and downright traumatic. What is stress? Stress is the physiological and psychological response to real or imagined threats that we feel unable to deal with. How does one deal with gridlock traffic that refuses to budge. It is a threat to physical and mental health. In a medical or biological context stress is a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stresses can be external (from the environment – in this case from the Lagos traffic. Stress can initiate the “fight or flight” response, a complex reaction of neurologic and endocrinologic systems. Stress is how the brain and body respond to any demand.
Traffic induced factors can impact mental health. At the most basic level, stress is our body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event. What contributes to stress can vary hugely from person to person and differs according to our social and economic circumstances, the environment we live in and our genetic makeup. Some common features of things that can make us feel stress include traffic congestion, inability to make appointments, and basic feeling you have little control over a situation.
The human body is designed to react to real or perceived stress in ways meant to protect against threats from predators and other aggressors. The human body treats any perceived stressor as a threat. When the body encounters a perceived threat like the gridlock of Lagos roads, the constant bombardment of peddlers; the inherent helplessness; the constant blaring of car horns; the incessant navigation of potholes, the hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of the brain, instigates the “fight-or-flight response” by contacting the pituitary gland which then sends a signal to adrenal glands to release adaptive hormones – Adrenaline and Cortisol.
Adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) is a hormone released from the adrenal glands and its major action is to prepare the body for ‘fight or flight’ response during stress. We say adrenaline is pumping when the following actions are evident:
• Increase heart rate; Increase in blood pressure; Expansion of the lungs air passage Enlarged eye pupil; Redistributing blood to the muscles; Altering the body’s metabolism
Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances the brain’s use of glucose, and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system, and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of the brain that control mood, motivation, and fear.
The body’s stress-response system is supposed to be temporary. Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume their regular activities. But when stressors are always present, such as those we experience on congested Lagos roads, the body can constantly feel under attack, and the fight-or-flight reaction remains activated. This means your body is constantly on alert and pumped full of cortisol.
The long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt almost all the body’s processes and increase the risk of numerous mental and physical health problems, including: Anxiety, Depression, Digestive problems, Heart disease, Sleep problems, Weight gain, Memory and concentration impairment, Post-traumatic stress disorder
Our daily commute in Lagos could cause post-traumatic stress because the stimuli are pervasive and persistent. The stress of enduring persistent three to eight-hour drive reduces the quality of life and causes us to be less productive. The individual’s daily coping mechanisms are negatively impacted by trauma. Subsequent behavioral responses to daily life may be filtered through this perspective. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) makes you feel stressed and afraid after the danger is over. It affects your life and the people around you.
PTSD can cause problems like: Flashbacks, or feeling like the event is happening again, Trouble sleeping or nightmares, Feeling alone, Angry outbursts, Feeling worried, guilty or sad
The impact of Lagos trauma is not only personal trauma but collect traumatization of the citizenry either from exposure to the traffic or spending time with someone who just spent time held up in Lagos traffic. It adversely impacts employee and entrepreneur productivity.
What are the solutions? The governor should focus on building roads and bridges to contain 22 million people – half of whom cram the limited and dilapidated road in Lagos. The infrastructure is necessary for faster economic growth and alleviation of poverty in the country. Vital state goals also depend on it. A thriving economy depends on reliable infrastructure to connect supply chains and efficiently move goods and services across borders. It would connect households across Lagos to higher quality opportunities for employment, healthcare and education.
Turn your car into an oasis. One of the ways I endure Lagos traffic is to listen to audio books, or music. It is also time to return calls to your relatives and business partners. You can also spend the time performing religious rites like praying and meditation. I’m always a proponent of aromatherapy so fill your car with beautiful scents. Relax, Release, Relate! And if all gets too much, maybe we should all get out of our cars and start walking. Our bodies will thank us.
*Akindotun Merino is a professor of psychology
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