According to US Census data on commuting, about 8% of workers in the USA have commutes of an hour or longer, and nearly 600,000 full-time workers endure “megacommutes” of at least an hour-and-a-half and 50 miles. If you are one of that 8%, you know that a long commute can be draining and stressful. Various studies have shown that lengthy commutes have a broad range of impacts including increased stress levels, reduced social interaction, and less sleep. And a recent multivariate study of over 21, 088 commuters found definite associations between commuting and a variety of negative health outcomes.
While some people who commute long distances have little choice in the matter, others accept the commute a necessary trade-off—swapping time on the road for lower accommodation costs in outlying areas. Ironically, economists have determined that an individual commuter would have to earn 20% more to make up for the damage a 45 minute daily commute does to that commuter’s well-being.
If commuting to work is unavoidable, there are some things you can do to make the most of your time in transit (or at least limit the downside). Here are few strategies to help you survive your personal version of commuter hell:
- Optimize: If you commute by car, experiment a little. Try leaving at different times to see whether you can shave 10-15 minutes off your drive time. You can also check out different routes that might take you past the worst of the rush hour traffic. GPS devices can help identify alternate routes along with revised timelines.
- Try public transit: If the commute is immutable, maybe the form of transportation isn’t. Taking the train or bus instead of driving can reduce the stress of a lengthy commute. And leave your hands and head free for other pursuits.
- Learn something: Whether you’re driving a car or being driven, you’re a captive audience for that period of time. Why not take advantage of the opportunity. Pick up some educational audio books: you can stay on top of trends in your industry; exercise your memory with brain games; even learn a new language on the way to work.
- Make it social: One of the negative impacts of commuting identified by researchers is reduced social interaction. Consider finding a driving or transit buddy, so you can pass the time in conversation. The commute will feel shorter and less stressful, and it may prevent you from becoming a social recluse. You can also use this time to keep in touch with family and friends by phone (hands free if you’re driving!) Conversations in transit are often less rushed than at other times and offer a great opportunity to catch up. Even talking to strangers in transit has been shown to create a more positive commute and to enhance well-being.
- Be entertained: There is no reason why the time spent travelling to and from work can’t be pure indulgence. Try using this unavoidable downtime to listen to your favorite music or radio talk shows if you’re driving. If you’re not driving, as long as your entertainment of choice is socially benign, your options are endless.
- Enjoy the head space: Having a block of time between home and office is not such a bad thing. On the way to work, you can use the time to mentally plan your day as you drive. If you commute by train or bus, you can do your planning hands-on and even get a head start on your work day. On the way home, try using your commute time to decompress and let go of any workday stress that may have accumulated. Let your mind relax and shift gears into a more personal and/or family-oriented perspective before you walk in the door at home.
- Try Telecommute Tuesdays (or Wednesdays, or Fridays…): If your job and employer can accommodate it, schedule one or two “work from home” days each week. Breaking up the monotony of the week and re-capturing a few of those hours spent commuting might be just what you need to overcome commuter hell.
- Have a Crash Pad: If you have a truly prodigious commute (over 2 hours each way), you might consider staying in town during the work week and commuting on the weekends to reduce wear and tear. If you combine the cost of travel, the value of your time in transit and the potential health impacts of a lengthy commute, renting a room or studio apartment might well be the less expensive option.
While the majority of North Americans face an average daily commute of about 25-30 minutes each way, some have to be road warriors for much longer periods of time. According to a study in Science magazine, commuting is associated with fewer positive emotions than any other daily activity. That’s right. For most people, their commute is the worst part of the day. But it doesn’t have to be.
Chances are most of us will be commuting tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that. Until someone invents teleportation (or all jobs can be done remotely), it just makes sense to take charge of our commute and do whatever we can to make that time less stressful and a little more enjoyable.
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