Having a long commute is something so many people dread. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the opportunity to avoid a commute and work from home was preferable for many employees. Now, as they’re returning to the office, that means they’re also spending more time getting to work.
People might even have a longer commute now than they did before the pandemic because so many relocated to suburbs out of big cities.
When you’re commuting, first, you want to stay safe. Unfortunately, when you’re behind the wheel for long periods and especially when you have to sit in traffic, it’s easy to let your mind wander. If it wanders too much, you’re at a higher risk of being in an accident because of distracted driving.
If you commute on public transit, this isn’t a concern, and you have more opportunities to multi-task.
Regardless of the specifics of your commute and how you make it, the following are some tips to ensure it’s more manageable and maybe even somewhat enjoyable.
Don’t Turn It into a Race
When you’re a commuter and you drive yourself, you might think that if you’re constantly speeding past other drivers and weaving in and out of lanes you’re going to get there faster. The reality is, you’re probably saving little if any time, and it may end up costing you quite a bit.
For example, speeding will increase your stress and anxiety and make you more likely to get a ticket or be in an accident. It’s also going to put more wear and tear on your vehicle.
Try to pick a lane and stay there as much as possible, and you’ll feel less frazzled when you arrive at the office.
Combat the Effects of Commuting
You should be mindful of the ways your commute is affecting your mental and physical health and increasing your overall stress levels. When you’re conscious of these effects, you’re in a better position to combat them.
For example, a study in Sweden found those people who made long-distance commutes were 40% more likely to separate from their spouses than people who worked closer to their homes.
In 2009, German researchers found heart attack survivors were three times as likely to have been stuck in traffic within an hour of their attack.
Medical research shows people with long commutes are more likely to have higher BMIs that qualify them as obese, neck and back pain, and high cholesterol.
There’s also anxiety related to commuting that you can’t just turn off when you arrive at your destination. You carry these effects into your job and your home life. Your mood, performance and relationships can be significantly affected.
Women tend to be affected, especially emotionally, by commutes more so than men.
By at least identifying the pitfalls and risks of your commute, you can start to take steps to be healthier in other parts of your life.
Even just simple neck stretches when you’re in traffic can help your health and reduce your stress.
Listen to Classical Music
You don’t have to listen to it during your entire commute if you don’t prefer it, but classical music does a lot to alleviate stress and calm your nerves. You can be a less anxious or even aggressive driver if you play classical music when you’re in the car.
There was a study from 2010 finding relaxing classical music was more effective in reducing anxiety in patients preparing for an operation than a sedative drug.
More aggressive music can actually raise your blood pressure, so be aware of that.
Bring Healthy Snacks.
There are a few reasons healthy snacks can be good during your commute. First, if you do get hungry, you might be tempted to pull off for fast food, contributing to the physical health risks cited above.
Second, when your blood sugar levels take a dip, it affects your mood and even your stress level.
You can find car diffusers that will let you reap the positive and mood-elevating benefits of aromatherapy while you commute. For example, lavender has been shown in clinical trials to help reduce stress. Lavender can also improve your focus and attention and help you stay mentally sharp behind the wheel, as can peppermint.
Give Yourself More Time
Nothing will add stress to an already challenging commute, quite like not giving yourself enough time.
The night before you have to commute, you should plan out as much of the following morning as you can. Lay out your clothes, get your snacks and water bottle ready, and make sure you’re prepared.
Then, leave as early as you reasonably can. This will help you not just avoid being late, but it will also reduce dangerous driving habits like tailgating or speeding. You can maintain lower blood pressure when you’re not as stressed and you’re taking some of the unpredictability out of your commute.
Look for the Positives
Reframe your mindset to see the positives of your commute.
You can use it as a time to unwind, be with your thoughts, and even find ways to improve yourself.
For example, you can listen to deep breathing exercises when you’re on the subway or audiobooks. This may be the only part of your day that you’re entirely alone, and it can be an essential buffer between work and home life.
If you’re driving for your commute, audiobooks can be great, as long as you can stay focused. If you’re a car commuter, you might want to avoid meditation exercises, however, because they can make you distracted or drowsy.
If you’re driving for your commute, a good idea is to improve how present and mindful you are. Then, these are skills you use in other parts of your life, plus they will make you a better and more focused driver.
A commute isn’t necessarily ideal, but there are a lot of ways you can ease the burden and maybe even enjoy parts of it.