Is Air Pollution Stressing You Out?

There is mounting evidence that higher levels of air pollution could be causing you to stress out more than normal.

stress 400x267 Is Air Pollution Stressing You Out?
Getting fresh air outside is key to keeping stress levels in check. Credit: Ed Yourdon, FlickrCC

In a study conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Boston University School of Medicine published in January, for example, scientists concluded that as air pollution increased, perceived stress levels of study participants also increased.

This was especially true with increased pollution caused from vehicle emissions.

Of course, this is hardly surprising. We know the harmful affects that air pollution can and does have on us physiologically. Now you have to worry about pollution messing with your stress levels.

Thankfully, though, you can take action. Here are three ways you can mitigate the affects that air pollution has on how you feel.

Be Vigilant During the Winter


When winter rolls in, two things happen to increase your stress. Air pollution gets worse, and you actually see more of it. The reason is because certain types of air pollution actually increase during the colder months, such as the pollution caused by wood-burning stoves and idling cars. In addition, cold weather inversions can trap cold and stagnant air near the ground, making it hard for the air pollution to rise and be dispersed.


Be especially aware of air pollution levels in and around your city during the winter. Most major cities take the problem of air pollution seriously, and provide tools to help residents monitor air quality levels. For example, Utah’s Department of Environmental Quality provides a website where residents can get a reading of the state’s air quality, broken down into counties. Residents can know at a glance whether or not it is safe to play outdoors or if they are better off staying inside.

Go Outside


While not as much of a problem in the summer as it is during the winter, staying indoors too much during either season has its own issues. Indoor air quality can decrease due to a lack of air circulation. This leads to a rise in indoor carbon dioxide levels, which in turn can be one reason why you feel lethargic when stuck inside.


Take a walk outside or open a window even when it is cold outside. If air pollution levels are down, breathing in the relatively fresh air will dissipate that carbon dioxide buildup and help relieve the headaches and drowsiness that comes from being cooped up indoors for too long. Also, keeping fireplaces and ventilation systems as clean as possible during the winter will help maximize indoor air quality.

Avoid Vehicle Emissions


The Harvard and Boston study concluded that vehicle emissions had a bigger impact on perceived stress levels than other types of pollution. The problem is that unless you live in a cabin in the woods, you and your family are almost constantly surrounded by vehicle emissions. This includes everything from being stuck in traffic on your way to work to your children breathing in bus fumes as they board their ride to school.


Limit your exposure. Living in a metropolitan area can make it nearly impossible to avoid vehicle emissions. However, consciously making a point to limit your own vehicle emissions can simultaneously lower your stress levels.

For example, turning off your car engine while speaking with the drive-through bank teller or pharmacist can keep your own vehicle emissions from coming through the windows and gagging you. In addition, exercising as often as possible away from hectic intersections full of traffic can not only help you stay safe physically, but also can further reduce your stress levels.

Stress is a part of our lives. However, by following these steps to limit the amount of air pollution you breathe on a daily basis, you can at least keep air pollution from stressing you out more than you already might be.