It doesn’t matter if you’re driving, biking, riding the bus or the tube, commuting is without doubt one of the most stressful things you do every work day. In fact, stressful commutes are terrible for our health.
You don’t have to live in London, Rio, Los Angeles, or Istanbul to know the pain of commuting. Even the shortest commute in a small town can come with its own unique headaches.
Whether you spend hours in the car, smothering minutes pressed into a railcar or bus, or braving the streets with your bicycle, you hate arriving at your destination already frazzled, and you want to know how to make this twice-daily experience less frustrating.
While we can’t transform your commute into a holiday, we do have some tips to make your daily travel a little happier and perhaps even calming and productive.
Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near one.”
While you’re likely not commuting with past mythical beasts, you probably have metaphorical dragons of your own — nightmare intersections, tourist-glutted stations, or other commute obstacles that you simply cannot avoid.
Chances are you must deal with your commute dragon no matter what, but some careful planning can help make it much less stressful.
A good commute plan begins the night (or weekend) before. Prepping clothes, meals, and work supplies is the easiest way to cut minutes out of your morning routine and remove the stress that many of us carry with us into the commute.
Having that umbrella or surprise cold snap jumper by the door has saved many a commuter exasperating minutes and countless stresses.
The less manic you feel heading out the door, the better prepared you are for the challenges ahead.
While we can’t control what awaits in the traffic, we can control when we leave and the route we take. If possible, alter the time you leave to avoid peak travel rushes, and always add in buffer time.
Handling the commute itself is much easier if you have access to traffic updates, station or line closures, and gridlock-inducing incidents. Be sure to download commuter apps to keep you informed. Having one or two backup routes is vital to an easy commute, and these apps can offer real-time detour options.
Move & Meditate
It doesn’t matter if you drive or ride, there are ways to move your body and create space for your mind mid-commute.
Healthy stretches and calming music and podcasts can keep your car from becoming a rage box. There are a number of stretches you can safely do in your car to keep your neck, core, and back strong and relaxed. Stretching is also great on those longer train commutes — and a great conversation starter.
Drivers can also safely practice mindfulness exercises to stay calm on the road. Train and bus commuters have a little more flexibility here, and can use the time to meditate, read, or even get ahead on the day’s work.
Choose Your Groove
We all know the mood-enhancing effects of our favorite music, but did you know that a 2010 study found that music has powerful calming effects on our cardiovascular systems?
Listening to music that calms you is one of the simplest ways to make your commute happier. Bicyclists and walkers should be careful to practice this safely, because there are many environmental sound cues to keep us out of harm’s way.
The most calming music is whatever you love most. It doesn’t have to be a Chopin piano concerto or soft jazz. If hip-hop or metal are the genres that put you in your happy place, then queue it up.
Bring a Buddy
Carpooling isn’t just good for the environment. It’s good for your mental health.
Having a friend or co-worker along for the ride can make all the difference in how you experience the journey.
Commuting with a friend isn’t limited to the car. Any time you can share the trip in company, you’re likely to experience it differently. Conversation is a welcome distraction, and simply having a companion to vent to can make the experience a little less tortuous.
Find Calming Remedies
We know that putting the kettle on is one of the simplest and most versatile acts of self-care. A good cuppa can be calming, it can be eye-opening, it can give us what we need to get through nearly any situation.
Similarly, you probably have other supplements or remedies you rely on to help you wind down and chill. Many commuters swear by calming commute supplements, from lavender aromatherapy air fresheners to chamomile tea in the travel mug.
CBD is one an increasingly popular supplement that people turn to for a number of stress-related reasons.
Morning capsules formulated with CBD, CBG and slow-release caffeine can transform your morning commute experience, and a hemp tincture or vape can provide a fast-acting, end-of-shift CBD boost to ease you into the journey home.
Take Care of Yourself
Stress takes a toll on our bodies, but the way we treat our bodies also affects how we handle stress.
If your mind and body are operating at their best, it is far easier to handle the surprises and stresses of the daily commute, whether it’s unexpected traffic or a rude stranger.
Keep It in Perspective
Finally, it’s absolutely crucial for our happiness and mental health to right-size the commute in our minds.
Sure, it’s stressful and we wish we didn’t have to suffer it. But we spend a considerable part of every work day engaged in the commute — and that’s a considerable portion of our lives. We may not be able to choose not to spend that time as commuters, but we can control how we experience it.
The stress of getting to and from work shouldn’t overshadow our days. Anything we can do, from leaving earlier to practicing mindfulness and exercising, to even moving closer to the workplace can help how we experience the commute.
And, to some extent, how we experience our commute is how we experience our lives.