Your dashboard says it’s 8:51 a.m. The staff meeting starts in nine minutes. You’d easily make it to the office in that amount of time — if there were no traffic. But you see bumpers and brake lights all the way to the horizon. There’s nothing you can do except roll up the windows and crank the music so the other drivers don’t hear your screams.
That scenario sound familiar? You’re not alone. Every day, millions of commuters feel stressed before they ever get to the office — and they pay a steep price for a commute that leaves them feeling strained. According to Citi’s ThankYou Premier Commuter Index, the average U.S. worker spends 200 hours and $2,600 each year traveling to and from work. And for people with extra-long commutes, the costs can run significantly higher.
Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to help. Sure, you may have to give up a few bad habits, but a little discipline and a dash of creativity can turn daily pain into something much closer to contentment.
1. Leave 15 minutes earlier
Let’s say your commute takes 45 minutes. If you spend all 45 of those minutes worried you’re going to be late, you’re going to be exhausted before you walk into the office. Why? Because you’ve just put your body through a stress-induced wringer. Your heart rate goes up, your breathing gets quicker and shallower, you start sweating. It’s kind of like a workout, except it doesn’t improve your mood or your health.
It can be hard to master the habit of leaving 15 minutes before the last possible second. If that’s the case for you, consider heading out early just once. When you arrive at work, take a minute to notice how your mind and body feel compared to the days you race the entire way. You may just find the perfect motivation to change old patterns.
2. Don’t turn your commute into a drag race
You think you’ll get to work faster if you constantly change lanes and speed past your fellow drivers. But how much time do you really save in the end — and at what cost?
If you do the math, you might be surprised. You’ll probably find you’ve significantly increased the wear and tear on your car (and your nerves) just to get to work only a few minutes faster.
3. Leave your car at home
If public transportation is an option for you, give it a shot — even if it means spending a little more time and cash up front. The benefits can be substantial. Studies have found that those who commute by public transport experience less stress than those who drive to work.
Besides reducing anxiety levels, you also free up your hands and mind for more productive activities. You can plan your day, read over that report or get ahead on work emails on particularly busy days. Or you can just sit back and enjoy the ride with a book, a magazine or a few rounds of Candy Crush.
4. Queue up your own personal oasis
Everyone has his or her own definition of an oasis. For some, it means rock music blasting. For other, it’s a comedy podcast. Maybe for you, it’s Mozart, waves crashing on a beach or the silence to entertain your own thoughts.
A smartphone, properly deployed, can completely transform your commuting experience. The solution is literally at your fingertips, especially when you apply a little creative forethought. Consider taking some time at night to queue up your playlist for the following day.
5. Pack snacks
An afternoon traffic jam is that much more infuriating if you’re starving, or your throat is parched. Some commuters keep sports bars or bottles of water in their trunk or desk drawer so they can fetch a quick pick-me-up before plopping down in the driver’s seat. Others make a ritual out of stopping for a latte and a snack. By planning ahead, you also short-circuit that impulse to reach for chips and a soda as soon as you arrive home.
6. Minimize screen-staring
Most of us spend much of the day in front of a screen. If you commute by public transport, you may be tempted to spend that time texting friends, checking social media, reading news online, watching cat videos … whatever. In other words, yet more screen time, which can contribute to workplace fatigue.
Instead of always defaulting to your phone, arm yourself with non-digital media — a book, a magazine or even an old-fashioned crossword puzzle. Music and podcasts are good too, since they don’t require you to stare at a screen.
If you keep arriving at your job feeling frazzled, try to think more closely about your mental and physical responses to your commute (in other words, learn how to practice mindfulness), and how you might alter them for the sake of your own sanity.
Feeling tense at work too? Read our tips on how to help reduce your workplace stress.