1. Take Control Over Your Commuting Decisions.
On the Huntington Post, Dr. Frank Ghinassi, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, quotes "The attribution is that it’s the traffic that’s making us anxious,” says Ghinassi. “But the control over whether we’re going to be engaged in traffic is really ours. We’ve made lots of decisions ... over things that we can control, and the tradeoff is exposing ourselves to traffic.”
So simply thinking about the situation differently by reminding yourself that the length of the trip is the product of your own decisions about where you live and work can help reduce the stress of sitting in traffic.
2. Find Enjoyable Activities to Pass the Time.
A daily commute can be a peaceful “hammock” of time between other obligations, says Ghinassi — but only if we choose to see it that way. Whether your commute is stressful or relaxing is entirely dependent on the conceptions and thoughts you have about how you’re going to use that time.
“Once you’re in traffic, it can be perceived as a horrible, time-wasting event,” says Ghinassi. “Some people see it the way I just described, and others see it as a perfect time to spend time on the phone (hands-free, hopefully) talking to loved ones, listening to books on tape. People who commute in trains often use that time to catch up on sleep or a favorite novel. Others see it as an oasis of time when work isn’t bothering them and they haven’t yet gotten re-immersed in home activities.”
3. Listen to Classical Music.
The so-called “Mozart Effect” could actually make your commute a better one. Before cranking up talk radio or classic rock, consider cueing up a playlist of classical songs on your headphones or car stereo. According to a Populus survey of 2,000 drivers, classical and pop music fans are more relaxed drivers, whereas those who listen to rock and metal are more prone to road rage.
A number of studies have shown relaxing music can help to decrease anxiety. Research has shown that soothing songs can lower the anxiety levels of pre-operative patients, and a 2007 study also found that for adolescents, listening to either classical or self-selected soothing music was effective in decreasing anxiety and boosting feelings of relaxation after exposure to a stressor. Try it on your next morning drive to see if you notice a difference.
Many of us spend the majority of our waking lives plugged into technology — and it could be raising our stress levels and negatively affecting our health. Spending some time tech-free can benefit our mental and physical health, and it might make your commute more pleasant.
Your commute may be the one part of the business day when you can disconnect. Whether you’re driving in your car or sitting on the subway, take advantage of that daily opportunity to unplug and recharge. Instead of checking your email and Twitter, texting friends, or making work calls, try powering down your phone until you get home or to the office. Once it becomes a habit, you may actually come to look forward to this tech-free time to read, meditate, reflect, or just be mindful.