Picture this: You happily hop into your Ford Fusion, but immediately you dread the drive ahead. For the average U.S. commuter who spends five hours or more every week traveling to and from work, commuting can be the most stressful part of the day. The most common commuting times for people who work standard 9 to 5 jobs are during peak rush hours, and it’s hard to feel calm and relaxed when you’re stuck in heavy gridlock traffic.
Fortunately, there are many real, effective ways to reduce the stress of your commute. Check out these tips to learn how to ensure that your daily commute doesn’t add to your stress levels—and how it can even help you feel more relaxed.
1. Listen to the Right Music
A lot of people choose to listen to music on their daily commute. Music helps entertain you and distract you from the chore of commuting. It also naturally lifts your spirits and energizes you, which helps you stay alert and drive more safely and less aggressively. That being said, not all music is created equal when it comes to commuting.
Certain songs and genres are more effective than others at helping your relax and feel happier during your commute. When you’re feeling tired and sluggish in the morning, listen to fast, upbeat music—like the type of music you’d play when you’re doing cardio at the gym. If you’re sitting in heavy traffic after work and feeling stressed and wound up, put on some slower songs that are upbeat enough to keep you alert but not so lively that they add to your anxiety.
2. Trust Yourself Over Your GPS
The GPS technology at your fingertips through apps on your smartphone is helpful and convenient, but it isn’t perfect. If you’re like most modern drivers, you probably rely on a navigation app on your phone to calculate the best route for you. Many drivers even use these apps to route them to familiar places—like the job they drive to every day.
If you’ve been commuting to the same place for a long time, you probably know your way there better than your navigation app does. These apps don’t always register every back road or alternative route that might help you avoid the heaviest traffic on the road. Stand by the route you know to be the shortest from personal experience. However, take a look at your navigation app before you start driving to check for any unexpected accidents, construction, or other obstacles along your planned route that might get in your way.
3. Make Eye Contact with Other Drivers
One of the most stressful parts of commuting is the road rage many commuters experience or encounter during their drive. Road rage and aggressive driving are even more common during peak rush hours when traffic is heavy and the road is full of other tired, stressed commuters.
Dealing with road rage can severely amp up the stress of your daily commute. When you’re commuting, drive defensively—not offensively. Making eye contact with other drivers on the road can help you connect with them and humanize yourself in their eyes, which reduces the chance of road rage and aggressive driving directed toward you.
Releasing your anger toward aggressive drivers can help you relax and stress less over tension with drivers around you. Remind yourself that everyone else on the road is probably just as annoyed as you are by traffic, construction, etc. Most other drivers during peak rush hours are also commuting and in just as much of a hurry as you are to either get to work on time or arrive home ASAP. Do what you can to be a polite, courteous driver. Avoid cutting off or brake checking other drivers, even if they’re driving aggressively. Signal well before you change lanes, and slow down to let other drivers merge ahead of you whenever possible.
4. Don’t Travel Alone
Humans are social creatures by nature, and the social isolation that comes with commuting for an hour or more every day by yourself can significantly increase your stress on the road. More than 85% of workers commute via car. If you’re among that majority, consider carpooling with a friend or coworker. Having someone else in the car with you to talk or even commiserate with can make your long, lonely drive seem quite a bit shorter. Plus, carpooling cuts your gas expenses in half—which can also significantly reduce your stress.
If you don’t commute via car or are unable to find someone to carpool with you, try talking to someone on the phone while you’re commuting. Using your commute as time to catch up with a friend or family member you don’t get to chat with very often helps you feel more relaxed and keep in better touch with the important people in your life. Always make sure to use a Bluetooth connection or other hands-free method while driving to avoid getting distracted and/or pulled over on the road.
5. Prioritize Comfort
When you’re uncomfortable in the clothes and shoes you’re wearing while you commute, any stress you feel is magnified. Wearing comfy clothes can be tricky if you’re heading to a job that requires specific attire—like business casual. If possible, wear more comfortable pieces while you’re commuting and switch into your at-work clothes
once you arrive. Just make sure your comfy commuting clothes are easy to take on and off.
Wearing comfortable shoes is especially important if you commute via walking, biking, or public transportation, as these commuting methods require more movement and time on your feet than commuting by car. Wear more comfortable and supportive shoes—like running shoes—while you’re walking/biking/riding the bus, and switch them out for a pair of heels or loafers when your commute is over. Store whichever pair you’re not wearing in your bag, purse, or briefcase.