How high does your commute rank on the list of stressors in your life? There are ways to make your commute less stressful for the sake of your mental health.
It’s easy to see why long and stressful commutes can be such a sore point. Just thinking about spending that much of your life in a way that doesn’t feel productive or enjoyable is enough to get you down.
I’ve lived in one of the country’s worst areas for commutes, and my current daily commute ranges from 30 to 75 minutes each way depending on traffic, time of day, and the weather. As a busy working mom, I’d much rather spend that time with my kids or doing anything but being stuck behind the wheel!
If you have to schlep yourself to work each day, here are my secrets to a less stressful commute:
Tips are based on personal experience and should not be considered medical advice. Full disclaimer.
Ways to Make Your Commute Less Stressful
1. Listen to Podcasts
Podcasts are like a Netflix binge for your ears. In case you didn’t know, they are FREE and available right from your smartphone (see how to get started). Podcasts offer an enjoyable escape from the doldrums of following the same routine day after day. There’s something for everyone—from comedy to true crime to storytelling and more.
If I don’t have new episodes in my queue and end up listening to news radio or surfing between obnoxious morning shows or radio commercials, I feel my stress levels rising. I’ve tried audio books, learning a second language, belting out show tunes… the list goes on. Listening to podcasts seems to make the minutes of my commute fly by in a way nothing else can.
Below are just a few of my current favorite podcasts. If you’re a podcast fan, share your favorites in the comments!
This Is Love: The episodes are just delightful.
Design Matters: Debbie Millman is a fantastic interviewer and gets a variety of interesting guests.
99% Invisible: Roman Mars’ voice is so soothing, and I always learn something new.
If you’ve got your kids in the car, try Brains On. This science show is a lot of fun, even for adults.
2. Accept Delays
Accepting delays is easier said than done, right? It takes practice. Sure, I could sit there and fret about how a spell of rain causes everyone to slam on their brakes, adding an extra 20 minutes to my drive. But really, what’s the point? Stressing over an added delay isn’t going to get me there any faster.
I try to name it and let go. “There’s an accident” or “the weather is terrible today.” That’s it, move on. I’m still going to be stuck whether I stress out or not.
If there are people waiting for you, unless this is a frequent occurrence (in which case make it a goal to work on your planning), they will likely understand. Delays happen and are out of your control.
Try not to let commuting delays hijack your emotions and send your stress levels through the roof.
3. Use Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a powerful tool for changing your mindset and can even be applied during your commute. I’ve found that being aware of my environment beyond the tail lights in front of me helps me feel more positive and connected to the world around me. For example, when I notice the trees along the highway, I’m thankful I live in such a green state.
What are the clouds like today? Is the sun shining on your face? Do you feel a breeze? Make yourself a favorite drink before you leave and really savor it along the way. Can you relax your jaw, your shoulders, and your body? What else do you observe? Give it a try and see if you can notice something new to appreciate every day on your commute.
Learn more about how mindfulness can improve your life.
Rethinking Your Stressful Commute
If these or other strategies aren’t helping and your stressful commute is seriously affecting your mental health, you may have some bigger thinking to do.
Do you need to consider a different route or mode of transportation, moving closer to work, or finding a position closer to home?
Do you have the option to telecommute? Some companies are willing to negotiate this.
Are you incorporating self-care into your life for stress relief?
If you have other strategies you’ve found helpful for creating a less stressful commute, please share them in the comments. Happy commuting!