There is nothing worse than being stuck and stressed. Okay, realistically, there are tons of worse things (like wealth gaps and war), but that doesn’t stop me from dreaming of Bruce Almighty powers to part seas of traffic jams when I am stuck in gridlock.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American commuter spends more than 26 minutes traveling to work every day, adding up to more than 200 hours. That’s not just lost time but also lost money.
These commutes also have some pretty bad outcomes. I’m talking about decreased job satisfaction and increased risk of mental health issues. Unsurprisingly, shorter commutes have the opposite effect.
But maybe there are healthier and more productive ways to managing the time in the car.
Let’s break down why we get stressed in traffic, review how to better cope with it, and spell out strategies for saving more and stressing less.
First, let’s understand stress.
Whether surviving an oncoming car or giving a nerve-wracking speech, acute stress causes our heart rate to climb and our breathing to shallow. It’s our brain’s way of preparing our bodies for fight or flight.
What happens when we stress out about traffic
The fight or flight response prompts a burst of energy, but there’s nowhere to release the energy when sitting in traffic. It turns into physical and emotional discomfort.
But what happens if we’re chronically stressed?
Stress can disrupt your appetite and cause other mental and physical symptoms, including high blood pressure, headaches, and insomnia. It can also lead to other unhealthy behaviors, such as impulse shopping or drinking too much.
How to combat traffic stress
There are a couple of strategies we can use to mitigate the impact of stress.
Take a moment of mindfulness.
Rather than indulging in the urge to progress by creeping forward or switching lanes, take a moment to check in with yourself. Pay attention to your feet on the floor mat, hands on the steering wheel, and the seatbelt across your chest. Mindfulness can lower anxiety, decrease blood pressure, and reduce stress levels. That’s why the Nav.it money tracking app (to the right) has built-in mindfulness practices to combat the impact of financial stress.
In particular, try box breathing. Also called square breathing or four-square breathing, box breathing is a relaxation technique used to reduce stress and promote calmness. The practice involves inhaling slowly for a count of four, holding the breath for a count of four, exhaling slowly for a count of four, and then holding the breath for a count of four. Repeat this cycle for a total of four breaths. Some benefits of box breathing include reducing stress, promoting calmness, and improving concentration.
Listen to calming tunes or your favorite songs to help you feel more relaxed.
In one study, participants who listened to calm music had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those who didn’t listen to music. Additionally, music can help to increase levels of the stress-relieving hormone dopamine. This is likely because listening to music can activate the brain’s pleasure centers and make us feel good. So if you’re feeling stuck and stressed, consider turning on your favorite song or playlist.
Eat a snack.
The stress from hunger can make it difficult to concentrate or focus on anything else but the negative physical sensations you’re experiencing. It can also make you feel irritable or grumpy.
Rethink your time spent commuting.
Thinking of the upside of traffic can be challenging if you’re staring down a bunch of brake lights, but that’s the power of reframing. The time spent in traffic is an opportunity to be productive in new ways. Arm yourself with an educational podcast or entertaining audiobook, or make it a practice to reach out to friends you haven’t talked to in a while. You can accomplish new things by focusing on the opportunity in the time.
Ultimately, the best solution is to avoid traffic jams in general. From lost time, more pollution, and increased spending on gasoline, traffic is a sink of resources.
Let’s talk about alternatives to driving.
The benefits of carpooling
Remote work wanes, gas prices rise with inflation, and traffic jams become a familiar part of morning commutes. Carpooling and other forms of commuting have never seemed so appealing.
Carpooling saves you money
First, carpooling is cost-effective. The average American spends between $150 and $200 on gas each month. While there are many variables, like how much you drive and your car’s fuel grade, prices are rising. If you split the gas money evenly among everyone in the car, each passenger would only have to pay one-fourth of normal gas prices. To put this into perspective, drivers who commute 15 miles to work each way would save more than $1,000 per year.
The next benefit of carpooling is that it helps the environment by reducing carbon footprints and pollution. One person driving alone typically produces ten times more carbon dioxide than when they share a ride with another individual.
How to start carpooling
If this sounds like what you’re looking for, try taking advantage of carpool opportunities offered by local agencies, organizations, or government offices. Many departments encourage carpooling to reduce traffic congestion and pollution caused by automobiles.
There are also websites like Group Carpool that offer carpooling services. If you create a profile and set up an account, you can search for riders who live in the same area. In addition, many people have succeeded in posting ads or emailing friends and family members who might be interested in carpooling with them.
Skip the traffic and try cycling to work instead
We all know that cycling is good for our health, but it’s also a great alternative to driving. Plus, it can also greatly benefit your wallet and mental health.
Here are three reasons you should consider cycling to work instead of driving.
Cycling can save you money on gas and parking.
Cycling is a great way to exercise without going to the gym. It’s also a low-impact activity, so it’s easy on your body and won’t exacerbate any existing stressors.
Cycling can help reduce stress levels. Exercise releases endorphins which improve mood.
Long commutes can seriously impact our mental, emotional, and physical health. But with the right strategies for coping, we can stress less, save more money, and have a better commute. Drop us an email and share your strategies for managing commute stress.