On average, Americans spend 46-minutes commuting every day and that time is directly related to reduced well-being. Back pain, tiredness, anxiety – commuters know it all too well. A recent Swedish study even linked long commutes with a higher risk of divorce. Without sounding too much like a backseat driver, we’re willing to say it doesn’t have to be so bad.
“It’s amazing how many people enjoy their commute time,” says Dr. Alan Pisarski, a travel behavior consultant and author of Commuting in America. “Some people relish the time they have in the car.” Here are some ways to make your commute more enjoyable:
Make a Funny Noise
A stressful commute can plant the seeds for road rage. When we’re cut off or tailgated after a tough day at work or on our way to an important meeting, we’re inclined to get angry. “When bothered by another driver's behavior it helps to intervene immediately by making funny sounds aloud to yourself or slowly counting to ten,” says Dr. Leon James, a professor of psychology who specializes in driving psychology at the University of Hawaii. Getting angry only exacerbates an already stressful situation, so smiling, making silly noises, or concentrating on something like counting can be surprisingly effective at reducing stress.
Aromatherapy on the Go
A study from the University of Miami School of Medicine demonstrated the relaxing, de-stressing effects of lavender scents. Cognitive performance increased with the smell of peppermint, which can keep you more alert and responsive on long drives. So next time you’re about to reach for that Christmas tree air freshener, consider lavender or peppermint for a less stressful, more focused commute.
We all know we should carpool. It helps reduce pollution and fewer cars on the road means less traffic. What’s often overlooked are the other benefits of carpooling: it can be emotionally gratifying and stress relieving. “Carpooling often creates real friendships and helps ease discomfort knowing you’re all in the boat together,” says Dr. Pisarski. Add in the financial benefits of sharing on gas, and carpooling starts to look like a no-brainer.
“Stress really comes out of the relationship between the expected versus the actual,” Dr. Pisarski says. It’s frustrating if you make a point to avoid traffic by leaving early, but instead find the roads are still jammed. “People have to recognize that there is that variation and there is the need to think about time flexibly.” He recommends trying alternate routes to see if you can get to work faster. That way, if you find a better way, great; but, if not, you’ll do away with the anxiety that comes with thinking you could be going faster on some other road.
Classical Music & Audiobooks
A study by researchers at the University of Utah showed that music can divert attention from anxiety and pain. Slower music, such as Beethoven and Chopin, are best known to reduce stress. If you’re not a fan though, don’t worry. Whatever soothes you – be it soft rock or top 40 – will do the trick. Audiobooks and podcasts are also a great way to de-stress and stay entertained during a drive. Sometimes it can be so engaging you’ll wish your commute were longer. “I know people that will get to the office then sit in the parking lot until they finish their audiobook,” says Dr. Pisarski.