Commuting. The mere word strikes a sense of dread into the hearts of many. Unless you work from home, you have to find a way to reach your place of work. Commuting sets the tone and pace for the rest of the work day and can have negative effects on physical and mental health, such as increasing blood pressure and blood sugar, and increasing risk of depression, anxiety, and social isolation (Zamon, 2015).
It is reported that approximately 74% of Canadian workers drive to work, however there are a variety of ways that workers commute (Zamon, 2015). A 2015 McGill study on mode of commuting and resulting stress found that in Montreal, driving was the most stressful mode of commuting, followed by buses, subways, trains, and walking (biking was equivalent to walking but was excluded due to a small sample size; Legrain, Eluru, & El-Geneidy, 2015). Driving often involves dealing with the stress of traffic congestion and accounting for potential delays on the road (Zamon, 2015). Although public transportation also has stressful delays due to schedules and wait times, there is an opportunity to engage in other activities such as reading or texting (Zamon, 2015).
No matter how you commute, there are ways to reduce its harmful effects with the following strategies:
1) Find alternative commutes: Figure out if you can carpool or take public transportation instead of driving to work, or reduce the amount of time driving. Biking or walking to work are ways to get some daily exercise in! If you must drive, try leaving earlier to incorporate a scenic route into your drive. Natural spaces tend to be more relaxing than driving in constant urban traffic, and you won't feel a sense of rush.
2) Fill up the commute with engaging activities (if safe to do so): Introducing leisure into your commute will make it more enjoyable. In the car, this could be belting out tunes to your favourite playlist or listening to an audiobook in the car. On public transportation, it could be doing the crossword, reading a book, creative writing, or socializing on the phone.
3) Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness is a state of consciously focusing on the present moment. The same sounds and smells that causes you stress might become a source of calmness as you become an observer – noticing what is around you and noticing your feelings without any judgement. There are plenty of mindfulness apps and resources you can download (free and paid) or you can perform simple mindfulness exercises on your own. For example, name 5 objects, 4 sounds, 3 sensations, 2 scents, 1 taste.
4) Create a comfortable environment: A comforting environment can reduce stress and increase relaxation. Bring a pair of comfy shoes to wear at the end of the day on the bus or in the car. Listen to relaxing music. Bring a pillow or piece of fabric with a drop of relaxing essential oil such as lavender.
How do you feel about your commute? What do you do to make it less stressful? Let us know in the comments below!
Legrain, A., Eluru, N., & El-Geneidy, A. (2015). Am stressed, must travel: The relationship between mode choice and commuting stress. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, 34, 141-151.
Zamon, R. (October 8, 2015). The Best Way To Commute For Your Mental Health. Huffington Post Canada. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/10/08/best-way-to-commute_n_8265394.html