Sometimes it feels like it’s every stupid day. You just wanna get on the road and get to work with a minimum of fuss, but there’s road construction on Highway 3 again, and a pileup on your alternate route. And even when all is said and done and there’s no traffic at all, sometimes just forty-five solid minutes of tension and focus navigating traffic and keeping safe can begin to take its toll.
The average commute is around twenty-five minutes, but regularly driving more than twenty minutes to and from the office can significantly increase your risk of burnout, reducing your productivity at work – and worse. Stress can result in higher blood pressure, encourage the buildup of cholesterol, increase your likelihood of smoking & obesity, and even lead to heart disease. Additionally, stress (“I’m going to be late for work AGAIN!”) can cause severe gastrointestinal problems and depression.
In other words, there’s a nonzero chance your commute is killing you.
Yeah, it’s kind of an exaggeration, but the health risks from high stress are real, and as much as possible you should be working to reduce yours. So here are four effective techniques to help you get through your commute – with your sanity intact.
- Breathing Exercises
If you’ve ever seen Fight Club, you probably remember that scene where Brad Pitt tells Edward Norton that the reason airplanes have oxygen masks is to calm you down; “Oxygen,” Pitt says with all the patience of an adult explaining how hot air balloons work to a five year-old, “makes you high.”
This isn’t strictly true, but controlled breathing does have a demonstrable calming effect, controlling anxiety and stress, and can have an immediate effect on blood pressure. It helps to put a brake on your “fight or flight” instinct, helping you get centered and calm down.
- Use Your Phone for Music – and Nothing Else
If you drive to work as opposed to using mass transit, you can’t exactly pop in some headphones and shut out the world, as much as you might want to. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use it to help you turn your commute into something more pleasant.
Put your phone in Do Not Disturb mode and give yourself a little bit of quiet space where it can’t ring, ping, buzz, beep, jingle, jangle, or otherwise interrupt your commute with something else to worry about. The problem with being always connected is that we never get a respite anymore. And that’s a problem we need to be able to overcome.
So plug your phone into your dash, put your music on at a reasonable volume, and get to and from work in some modicum of peace.
- Practice the Right Kind of Productivity
If you must work on the train, keep it to low-priority, low-impact tasks that will help make your job less stressful when you’re there. Build your daily to-do list. Sort through your emails, trashing things you don’t need anymore. Check in on larger goals you’ve been working toward, and develop action items to help you move them forward. Don’t worry about sending out a big important email or what you’re going to say to a client or your boss.
In other words, clear out the muck of your job so you can work better when you’ve made it to the office. You’ll feel better when you’re done.
- Stop Rushing
This one is a little harder, and it requires a little more diligence, but seriously, stop rushing to work. Leave a few minutes earlier to make up for possible delays, find a more efficient route, and slow down; you don’t need buckets of stress caused by constantly wondering if you’ll miss the clock or not.
Instead, take advantage; this is a time to get away from your computer, your TV, your mewling cat, your dripping faucet, your stacks of bills, your….you get the idea. Embrace it as an opportunity, and build a little bit more time into your daily trip to make this time something that recharges you rather than drains you of that last bit of life.