It’s a well-known fact that commuting to work each day causes stress and anxiety and that it can take a psychological toll on individuals. Psychology Today reports that it’s partly because of its “unpredictability and a sense of loss of control.”
But does it have to be that way? Even though commuting times are increasing and traffic is getting worse, is there a way to take back control and bring some balance to time spent getting to and from work? Can you find your inner peace while driving in bumper to bumper traffic? While pressed up close to your seatmates on the train? Listening to your carpool partner talk for an hour about the floral arrangements at her upcoming wedding? The answer may just be in changing your habits and your mindset.
A study conducted at the University of Anglia looked at survey data from 18,000 commuters and their findings were that those who commuted by transit were happier. They believe that this is because driving is a “non-passive travel mode” meaning that drivers have to be constantly on alert and paying attention and that this can be “boring, isolating, and stressful.” By comparison “active travelers,” such as those who use transit, were happier and weighed less. This can be attributed to that fact that most transit riders walk for at least part of their trip. The researchers concluded that this appeared to “cheer people up.”
Mindfulness is a mental state that promotes a focused awareness on the present moment and on the thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations that are happening in that moment. It has become incredibly popular. The Harvard Gazette recently published an article touting the benefits of mindfulness saying that there is “a growing body of research showing that it reduces stress and anxiety, improves attention and memory, and promotes self-regulation and empathy.” Combining mindfulness with meditation can yield many benefits as well. The practice involves sitting comfortably, regulating your breathing and, focusing your attention in a way that isn’t expectant on a particular outcome. Practicing mindfulness and or meditation before and after work or even during the day may help to calm your thoughts and help you manage the negative impacts of your commute.
Most experts agree that planning ahead can help to reduce your stress level, much of which comes from feelings of anxiety or pressure. Commuting can often be unpredictable and that leads to getting stressed. While no one can see a major traffic incident or transit delay coming, you can try to make sure that you have enough time built in to your schedule to arrive at work without feeling totally frazzled. This could mean negotiating flexible work hours so you can commute around peak traffic. It could also involve some days spent teleworking from home and avoiding the commute altogether if your company allows it.
Nothing zaps the zen out of your commute faster than feeling tired and having low energy. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that between 2011 and 2015 there were a total of 4,121 crashes related to drowsy driving and it is strongly believed that this number is seriously underreported and so is likely considerably higher. If you are driving, then don’t put yourself and other drivers at risk. Check out our earlier blog post for tips on getting better sleep. You can help yourself to be alert and at your best by starting with any number of healthy foods to get you going in the morning including things like oatmeal, egg whites, yogurt, and fresh fruit. New research even indicates that coffee is beneficial and may even help you live longer so go ahead and enjoy that cup before you head out.
Share Your #CalmCommute Story
Things like listening to music, podcasts, or audiobooks are often good ways to refocus your energy on something positive that you enjoy while you are commuting. How do you find your commuting nirvana? Share your story on social media with #calmcommute and we will publish the best ideas.