5 Research-Backed Routes to a Happier Commute

April 4, 2014

It’s something we all must deal with on a regular basis and perhaps one of the least favorite parts of our day:  the daily commute. According to the last U.S. Census, the average American spends about 25.4 minutes traveling to work in the morning alone. Here in Lexington, we’re slightly luckier at an average of 19.1 minutes, give or take a few minutes depending on your zip code. In the fast-paced world of today, however, when it feels like you don’t have any extra time to give, 40 minutes a day in traffic is a substantial chunk of time.

Commuting has the potential to be a big source of added stress on our daily lives. A study done in 2008 showed that those who reported higher stress levels during their daily commute, consequently, reported a lower feeling of overall well-being. Clearly this is something we should be giving more attention. Whether you find your commute boring or stressful, here are 5 ways to make your commute more enjoyable.

  1. Change your mindset (commuting vs. normal driving)
    An article from the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science showed there is a difference in people’s perceptions of a commuter drive versus a car ride for leisure. They showed that the attitude going into the drive can affect stress levels. Use this to your advantage by changing your mindset towards your daily commute. Many people in this study chose to change their view of the commute to a peaceful “me” time between the stressors of work and home life.
  1. Enjoy audio-based activities (podcasts, audio books, etc.)
    Put on your favorite music, find a good podcast, or listen to an audio book during this time. A study in 2007 found that self-selected relaxing music can help quell anxiety. By creating your own little oasis of relaxation while driving, you can actually look forward to this time instead of dreading it.
  1. Practice being more mindful (unplug, classical music, etc.) 
    With the capability of cell phones and technology these days, many of us are constantly “connected” 24/7. Not only is being aware of your phone while driving dangerous, but it also increases stress levels every time it buzzes or beeps by over stimulating your brain. Why not use your commute to unplug and have a little tech-free time. Take this time to be truly present in each moment instead of driving on autopilot. Try to acknowledge how you’re feeling and then explore why you are feeling that way with no judgment. Or, try listening to music with a mindful approach.
     
  2. Go for active transportation (bike, walk, part or completely)
    A study out of Cornel University found that being active in the morning, specifically walking, will not only boost daily physical activity levels of course, but reduce feelings of stress throughout the day. Of course, not everyone lives within walking or biking distance to where they work. If your location or environmental circumstances don’t allow you to walk or bike to work, try driving most of the way then walking the rest.
     
  3. Try carpooling (strengthen relationships)
    Riding to work with a friend or neighbor can not only help out your wallet by saving on gas, but it can also build and strengthen relationships as well. It’s been pretty well established that healthy relationships are a big part of a healthy life. Not to mention that a study in 2006 found that commuters who carpooled had lower stress levels than those who drove alone.

References

Wener R., Evans G. (2011). Walk or Bike to a Healthier Life: Commuting Behavior and   Recreational Physical Activity. Environment and Behavior, 43: 488-500

Koslowsky, M., & Krausz, M. (1993). On the relationship between commuting, stress symptoms, and attitudinal measures: A LISREL application. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 29, 485-492.

Labbe ́ E, Schmidt N, Babin J, Pharr M, (2007). Coping with Stress: The Effectiveness of Different Types of Music. Applied Psychophysiol Biofeedback, 32: 163-168.

Schaeffer, M. H., Street, S. W., Singer, J. E. and Baum, A. (1988), Effects of Control on the Stress Reactions of Commuters. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 18: 944–957.

House J.S., Landis K.R., Umberson D, (2003). Social Relationships and Health. Science, 241: 540-545.

By Kelsey Sheron, NASM, CPT, WLS

This article was published in Healthy You, the monthly online newsletter from UK Health & Wellness.