It’s no secret that commuting causes stress, but seventy-six percent of Americans commute by car, and the average commute time is twenty-five minutes. It’s a lot of your life to spend behind the wheel of a car, and unlike track days, this isn’t always a fun driving experience. In many cases, it’s driving during some of the busiest hours of the day and with some of the most stressed-out commuters.
The Very Real Symptoms of Commuter Stress
Commuting can cause a wide range of symptoms. Some of them annoying and some of them dangerous. These are some of the most common symptoms that can be caused by commuter stress. If you’ve noticed these symptoms in yourself, it may be time to think seriously about how you can reduce your commuting stress.
Stress can really knock your immune system down a few notches. Commuter stress is no exception. If you notice yourself feeling a little more malaise than normal, your commute might be to blame.
Okay, was that person really driving too slowly? Slowly enough that you needed to yell at them? Commuters are more likely to report a feeling of general anger, which is a terrible way to start or finish the workday.
Negativity is almost too light a word to describe the feelings that commuters seem to feel. Not only are people with commutes of greater than twenty minutes more likely to feel burned out on their job. If your commute is greater than thirty-five minutes, you’re more likely to feel cynical about your job. If your commute is forty-five minutes? You’re 40% more likely to get divorced.
New Yorkers have the worst commute on average at 32.6 minutes, but even the best state (South Dakota) only got their average down to around 16.9 minutes. If you added up all of the time that people spend stuck in traffic over the course of a year, people in DC would spend 82 hours waiting on traffic. In short, almost everyone is spending enough time commuting for it to have serious effects on their health and life.
One study from the UK found that even commutes of as little as ten miles were enough to raise your risk of depression and increase your blood sugar, and people with any commute time at all report lower life satisfaction. The same study also found that bus riders had the lowest levels of life satisfaction, so mass transit isn’t the solution we really need it to be.
An analysis of how activities affected individual’s perception of their own happiness and life satisfaction actually had “Morning Commute” as the number one offender, with “Evening Commute” as the third. Sandwiched in the middle was “Work.”
Of those things causing stress, unexpected delays edged out on top, with other commuters coming in as a close second. Really, there are a lot of things to be stressed about while sharing the road with many other drivers. Whether it’s dangerous weather conditions or having to deal with traffic jams, commuting is a high-stress activity.
How to Deal with Commuting Stress
Many listed the wasted time of their commute as being a cause of stress, but it doesn’t need to be wasted time. By focusing on improving your commute, you can stop worrying about how long it is and instead look forward to it.
Change Up Your Audio Routine
Since most cars have a way to stream music from your cellphone, there’s no reason to not make a few great playlists. Other commuters have found that audiobooks and podcasts give them a way to enjoy hobbies while driving.
Traffic Jam Yoga
Okay, congestion is bad. But while you’re stuck at a standstill, keep your body from getting stressed by engaging in some light stretching. Stretch out your arms so they aren’t continually pinned at your sides and focus on your breathing. When people get stressed out, their shoulders tend to move up towards their ears. Take a few minutes to lower your shoulders and you’ll be surprised how much less stressed out you feel. Breathe in, and on the exhale lower your shoulders. By keeping your body from getting stressed out you’ll reduce the effects of mental stress as well.
Rack Up Some Car-Ma Points
So, you know how most people were getting stressed out during their morning commute because of other drivers? To every other commuter, you’re the other driver. Make a game of performing random acts of kindness for other cars. Be the most considerate driver, or just see how many nice things you can do during your commute.
By committing to making your commute more enjoyable, you’ll improve your quality of life and negate the effects of commuter stress. If one strategy doesn’t work for you, try another. This infographic includes additional information about how to make your commute work for you. With any luck, you’ll soon find that you look forward to those minutes every day that you get to yourself.
[click the infographic below]
Sources: 13 Things You Should Do On Your Commute Instead Of Playing Candy Crush, Business Insider | Warren Buffett Makes Over $1 Million In the Time It Takes You to Commute, Here's How to Maximize Your Travel Time, CNBC | 10 Things Your Commute Does to Your Body, Women's Health | Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Daily Commute, The Job Network | Reclaim Your Commute, Harvard Business Review