Are your mornings filled with stress and anxiety due to your commute? Do you find yourself laying on the horn, screaming expletives at the drivers around you, and feeling extremely frustrated? If so, you’re not alone. Long commutes plague motorists everywhere, and can lead to a variety of health conditions, including high levels of stress, back pain, fatigue, poor sleep, and weight gain. The good news is, you don’t have to suffer any longer. By making preparations, occupying yourself, and considering alternate methods of transportation, you may be able to make your commute less stressful, or even enjoyable.
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Listen to something enjoyable. Changing your environment by creating something that is pleasing to your ears may make your ride less stressful and more pleasant. You may even start to look forward to your commute. Since watching television and looking at your phone while driving are extremely dangerous, listening to something while driving can help to entertain you and keep your mood elevated.
- For instance, listening to a comedy podcast or an audiobook can make driving fun, particularly if you only allow yourself to listen to them during your commute. Finding music that relaxes you is also beneficial. You may even want to listen to a motivational speaker to keep you from getting stressed.
Use an air freshener in your vehicle. The scents of peppermint and cinnamon have been shown to reduce stress, and may be helpful on your commute. Peppermint can lower feelings of anxiety by 20 percent, and peppermint and cinnamon together can reduce feelings of frustration by 25 percent. Also, the scents can make the ride seem like it is shorter.
- To reap their benefits, use peppermint and cinnamon essential oils in diffusers. Many work by simply inserting them into your car’s lighter.
Practice vehicle yoga. When you’re not moving and are sitting in traffic, practicing yoga is a great way to de-stress. However, only perform these moves when you are stuck in gridlock and not actually driving. Performing them while you are driving can put yourself and others in danger.
- Start with seated mountain pose, which is essentially sitting up tall, relaxing your shoulders, and breathing in and out slowly. You can also hug your steering wheel to relieve stress and tension in your back, neck, and shoulders. Gently pushing and leaning your neck from side to side can also provide a nice and relaxing stretch.
Use your commute to unplug. Take advantage of this time you have to unplug and practice mindfulness. Turn the radio off and commit to leaving your cell phone alone. That way, you can enjoy the silence, and perhaps, the unexpected peace your commute can offer.
- Spending this time tech-free can not only make your commute more pleasant, but it may benefit your mental and physical health. Finding time in which you are distraction-free is priceless, and your commute may be just the opportunity you are looking for.
- Try mindful, deep breathing as you drive. Breathe in slowly through your nose for about 4 counts. Hold the breath for a few counts. Then, release the air through your mouth for 8 counts. Repeat as needed. When you find yourself becoming negative due to the actions of other drivers or the frustration of your commute, use this technique to find relaxation.
- If you take a train or subway to work, check to see if there are any “quiet” cars. Some trains and subways have cars where no cell phones, tablets, mp3 players, or even talking are allowed. This might be a nice way for you to unplug and relax during your commute.
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Carpool. Not only is carpooling good for the environment and your wallet, but it can also make your commute more enjoyable. Additionally, spending this time with others can be emotionally gratifying and reduce stress. Carpooling can create real friendships and reduce anxiety, as you know you are all in this situation together.
- Find people to carpool with by sending out an email to your colleagues asking if anyone would like to participate. If you can’t find any takers, search for people in your area on websites like Rideshare.org. However, you must take safety precautions when riding with strangers.
Take public transportation. Allow someone else to take the wheel on your way to work. Not having to deal with traffic and other drivers on the road may be what you need to keep the peace. You can use this time to read a book, meditate, or get caught up on your “to-do list.”
- If late trains and crowds contribute to your stress, practice deep breathing or think about what you are grateful for during these anxious occasions.
Try a different route. Take a different way to work to change up scenery and possibly avoid traffic. Although you may believe that taking back roads to get to work is less stressful and safer than highways, this may be incorrect. In fact, highways are often the better choice as there are fewer points of conflict. For instance, you don’t have to worry about catching the light or keeping an eye out for people coming out of parking lots and other roads.
- Check a driving app for a new route, and you may find that your commute can become enjoyable.
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Get a good night’s sleep. Not getting enough sleep can make drivers feel restless, anxious, irritable, and unfocused. The combination of these feelings and being low on energy can make your commute even more stressful.
- In addition, consider exercising before you go, if physical activity gives you a boost. In addition to helping with your mood, sleeping enough and getting exercise can increase your mental alertness which may prevent you from getting into an accident.
Take a daily omega-3 supplement. According to a recent study, taking a daily omega-3 supplement can decrease your anxiety levels by 20 percent. Although taking the oil may not remove the stressful commute, it can possibly reduce the amount of stress you feel because of it.
- As an added bonus, the supplement may help prevent damage caused by air pollution, such as eye irritation and respiratory issues, which can also negatively affect driving.
Prepare yourself mentally for what is ahead. Make peace with what you are sure to experience on your way to work. You likely know that you are going to be stuck in traffic, so rather than becoming upset when you encounter it, just accept that it is going to happen.
- Doing so can make you become less stressed when you are in the thick of it. Also, give yourself plenty of time to get there, so that you don’t feel rushed and become even more anxious.
- You can help yourself accept the reality of your commute by repeating a mantra like “I love my job, and the commute is a part of it” or “I will have a wonderful day today no matter what happens while I’m driving.”
- Another option is to stop by the break room before or after your commute to decompress. Take a moment to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea, or look at some pictures of your family and friends to help improve your mood.