How to Reduce the Stress of Your Work Commute During Rush Hour
The morning and evening commute is like paying taxes or bra shopping: Nobody likes it, but most of us have to do it.
However, with preparation, a change in attitude, and maybe a little technology, there are ways to reduce the stress of the work commute—even during rush hour.
Why do we hate the commute?
There are four reasons commuting can be a pain in the butt: traffic, road rage, boredom, and feeling like you are wasting so much of your time. You may feel more strongly about one reason, or they may all affect you. However, there may be solutions for each one.
Change when you leave or how you get there
The obvious solutions: If your job and/or supervisor allows it, change your hours to a more traffic-friendly time (for example, 9–6 instead of 8–5).
You can also try a different route. Personally, I'd rather go 35–40 miles an hour consistently than sit in stop-and-go on the highway.
If neither of these are options, there are options to make the traffic you have to sit in more bearable.
Leave the house or work in a better mood
If you can get into the car happier, the drive won't be as harrowing. Try to give yourself even just a small bit of time to relax (or energize yourself) in the morning. Read the paper, have some cereal, do some jumping jacks. I would do well to take my own advice here—my mornings are a race to get dressed and brush my teeth before jumping in the car and breaking all the speed limits.
As for the evening commute, do the same thing. Take 5 minutes, after you're done working for the day but before you leave, to breathe, collect your thoughts, maybe play a game on your phone. It's all about the attitude even before you unlock the car door.
Make the car a place you want to be
There's a reason we decorate our homes: to make them unique places we enjoy being in. Do the same thing to your car to take the edge off commuting.
Choose a car air freshener that you like—smell can have a powerful effect on your emotions.
Keep it clean. A cramped, messy car can have a corresponding effect on your mood.
Do a little decorating. Hang something from the rear-view mirror: a picture, a knick-knack, anything that makes you happy. Get a fun steering wheel cover. As long as it doesn't block your vision or endanger your driving.
Do something constructive with the time
One reason we hate commuting is the time we feel like we're wasting just sitting in our cars. Do something that won't distract you or make driving unsafe, such as using a digital voice recorder. You can record:
- a grocery list
- that novel you've been meaning to write
- your feelings about something... sometimes it's easier to untangle your thoughts about a complicated issue if you talk them out, even to a voice recorder that can't talk back
- a new stand-up comedy routine
- the dream you had the night before
If you don't like that idea, listen to an educational audiobook or podcast. You'll be learning something while you drive, and it won't feel as much like the commute is just a waste of time and gas.
Treat the commute like a road trip
You don't dread the thought of driving when you go on a road trip, right? So treat your daily commute like a road trip. Here are some ways to do that:
- Make a playlist of songs you love or that put you in a good mood.
- Only let yourself listen to those songs when you are commuting—it gives you something to look forward to.
- Sing out loud. Really loud.
- Listen to an audio book only when commuting (again, only let yourself do it when commuting, so you look forward to it)
- Put recordings of stand-up comedians on a playlist (CD, iPod, etc.) for the car
Give the driver a face
Bet you thought I was going to say "Give the driver the finger."
I'm quite guilty of road rage. Sometimes it seems like every other driver on the road (except me, of course) is an idiot or a jerk (and that's the cleaned-up version).
But you've cut people off in your lifetime of driving, haven't you? You've swerved or slammed on the brakes because you were distracted by the radio/phone/political bumper sticker on another car? And you're neither an idiot nor a jerk. (However, if you ARE one of those things, do us all a favor and take public transportation. No, scratch that, just stay home.)
The point is, people make mistakes. People get in bad moods. People suddenly realize they need to get off at an exit when they're in the left lane. Next time you get angry at another driver, give them a backstory. Sounds silly, but if you imagine the girl in the next car is distracted because she just got dumped, or the old man in front of you is trying to find his grandson's new apartment, you may be less likely to become enraged.