Ideally, we would wake up each morning and take a leisurely stroll to the office, with no need to worry about traffic jams, packed trains, or late buses. In reality, most of us have to travel some distance to work (even those who work from home often have to commute to meetings), and commuting can have a negative impact on the mind and body.
A 2012 American Journal of Preventive Medicine study linked longer commutes with poor cardiovascular and metabolic health, and a 2014 World Leisure Journal study showed people with the longest commutes as having the lowest overall satisfaction with life. Clearly, commuting isn’t great for living a happy life, but it’s often unavoidable.
The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates (PDF file) the average commute is 12 miles and takes 24 minutes, each way. Here are many things you can do to make the most of the time spent traveling to and from work, including:
1. Avoid peak traffic time
Mornings can be tough, but if you adjust your schedule so you’re leaving before or after the average commuter, you’ll likely have to contend with less traffic (and stress!). In some places, even a matter of minutes can make a difference. Want to really cut down on the commute time? Ask your boss if you can work odd hours (like 10am-7pm).
2. Switch up commute route
Another way to make a commute bearable is by varying your route. Taking new routes—or taking a different route to and from work—can make driving more enjoyable, allowing you to experience new scenery. And, because a new route requires more attention, it can also help you stay more present, which is a great way to cut down on stress.
3. Carpool with a coworker
Not only is carpooling better for the environment, it can positively impact your mental state. Carpooling keeps you accountable for timely arrival, which can set the tone for the day. In addition, sharing the car ride can make the driving experience more enjoyable, as you’re able to have conversations and share observations.
4. Treat yourself on the road
Your commute can be a great opportunity to treat yourself while on the road. For example, if you love coffee or tea, prepare your favorite blend before you hop in the car. Or, if you’re a chocolate lover, keep your favorite bar in your desk and break off a bit for the ride home as a reward for facing the daunting task of traveling in traffic.
5. Listen to a book or podcast
Make your commute more appealing by indulging in a captivating audio book or podcast. Audio books and podcasts have come a long way in recent years, and there are tons of options for quality (and often free!) content. Consider using the time spent commuting to catch up on classic novels, learn a new language, or educate yourself on an unfamiliar topic.
6. Use a calming scent
Consider using a car freshener with scents of lavender or jasmine or bring some tea with chamomile or vanilla. On the bus or train, consider dabbing a tiny bit of essential oil on your wrist in a soothing scent like sandalwood or rose. When you start to feel stressed, you can inhale and receive an instant bit of calm.
7. Soothe yourself with sound
Music has the ability to change the way we feel in a matter of seconds. To ease the stress of the daily commute, fill your music player or phone with soothing tunes. Not big on music and don’t know what would calm you? Consider listening to one of the 10 most scientifically relaxing songs. If music really isn’t your thing, consider downloading a white noise app, which can also have a soothing impact.
Dani DiPirro is an author, blogger, and designer living in a suburb of Washington, D.C. In 2009, she launched the website PositivelyPresent.com with the intention of sharing her insights about living a positive and present life. Dani is the author of Stay Positive, The Positively Present Guide to Life, and a variety of e-books. She is also the founder of Twenty3, a design studio focused on promoting positive, modern graphic design and illustration.