10 Psychologist-Approved Tips for a Happier Commute

The daily commute to and from work can often be as frustrating as work itself. Learn the secrets to a happy commute from Meni Koslowsky, PhD, a psychology professor from Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

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Group of people carpooling
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Commuter Tips #1: Consider Carpooling

Uber isn’t for everyone, but it’s definitely worth considering. And it’s good for the health of the planet, of course! On the one hand, Dr. Koslowksy’s research finds that car-sharing can reduce stress, both in terms of the “giving up” of control and in terms of the social interaction that occurs. But if you’re an introvert who prefers a quiet commute so you can read, think or listen to music, then car sharing with people who expect more conversation could just stress you more. The bottom line: if you’re an out-going people person, try the car-share. If you’re an introvert, stick to your usual mode of transport.

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Highway during rush hour
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Commuter Tips #2: Avoid Rush Hour

It’s such an obvious way to improve your commute, yet the fact that streets and trains are packed every rush hour shows that few people manage to find an alternative. What are the viable options other than moving or getting a new job? Make your commute happier:

  • Ask for a 1 hour shift in the time you start and end work.
  • If your company has satellite offices that are closer to your home, see if you can work there sometimes.
  • Drive in before the crowds, and create a constructive pre-work ritual for yourself, such as exercising, eating a leisurely breakfast, running errands.

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Empty Montreal road
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Commuter Tips #3: Avoid Stop-and-Go Traffic

Make your daily commute more pleasant by taking a longer or more scenic route. It’s better if the traffic flows smoothly and you avoid lots of lights. For most of us, no form of driving is as stressful as trying to move quickly on crowded roads.

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Toronto highway
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Commuter Tips #4: Lose the “Race” Mentality

All that weaving, darting and surging rarely gains you more than a few minutes, but at a huge price to your stress levels (not to mention the extra wear and tear on your car and lower gas mileage). Drive calmly, without abundant lane changes or speed surges, and your commute will become so much more pleasant. It can help to play classical music in the car to avoid getting road rage.

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Happy woman driving
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Commuter Tips #5: Leave 10 Minutes Earlier

You tend to drive faster and more recklessly if you think you’ll be late. Instead, add that extra cushion of time to your drive, both coming and going and you’ll arrive happier. Studies find that the less sense of “time urgency,” or worry about being late, you have, the less stressed out you’ll feel during your commute.

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Highway system in Montreal
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Commuter Tips #6: Find Alternative Routes

Develop five alternative routes for your commute. Again, this goes back to the control issue. If you know you can go a different way, you automatically have more control over the situation. You’ll be happier commuting when “construction season” starts on your main route.

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Car driving during rainy day
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Commuter Tips #7: Be Prepared

You’ll feel better if you prepare for your morning commute the evening before. Check the weather, transport and traffic reports on local websites for information on possible hold-ups and delays. Listen to local radio for warnings and updates. Again, this puts the control back into your hands.

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Man driving in the morning
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Commuter Tips #8: Work Out in Your Car

Do isometrics while driving by tensing and relaxing your leg muscles, tensing your arm muscles against the resistance of the steering wheel and/or tensing your abdominal and chest muscles. When done correctly for bouts of 10 to 15 seconds, these toning exercises can make an appreciable difference to your appearance, improve your fitness and relax you without distracting you or adding an extra minute to your schedule. Wouldn’t that make your commute happier?

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TTC streetcar
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Commuter Tips #9: Use Public Transportation

Here’s why Dr. Koslowsky’s research found that it’s not the commute per se that is so stressful. The real stress comes from the issue of control. If you drive your own car to work, part of the reason you do it is to feel you’re in control. So if you get stuck in traffic, you feel that you have lost control of your commuting experience, which is where the stress comes in. By taking public transport, be it the train or bus, you have already given up control of your commute. If you get stuck, you won’t be blaming yourself for the delay. Plus, you can make it a happy commute by reading or listening to your favourite music since you aren’t driving.

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TTC train interior
Photo: IVY PHOTOS/Shutterstock

Commuter Tips #10: Take the Train

Buses can be a pain, but if the train is a viable option for you, go for it. Going back to that control issue again, Dr. Koslowsky found that another major cause of commuter stress is uncertainty. And there is far more uncertainty in driving a car, or even commuting via bus or car-sharing because of traffic accidents, jams, etc., than in taking a train, as arrival times are more concrete, and that can equate into a happy commute for you. And riding the same train daily means you might make commuter friends and develop some new relationships. All aboard!

Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada

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