Time to Rethink the Commute

by Kaitlyn Ranze

There is nothing worse than being stuck and stressed. Ok, 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 a gridlock.

 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American commuter spends a little 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.

After all, hourly wages make it easier to evaluate how much time is worth and with return to work orders increasing, commuters are picking up on it.  According to one study, most people would trade away five minutes of any other leisure activity to avoid one minute of traffic. In fact, 40% of Americans would rather clean their car than commute to work.

These commutes also have some pretty bad outcomes. I’m talking decreased job satisfaction and increased risk of mental health issues, while shorter commutes have the opposite effect.

But maybe there are healthier and more productive ways to managing the time in the car.

In this article, I break down why we get stressed in traffic, review ways of coping better with it and spell out strategies for saving more and stressing less with alternatives.

First, let’s understand stress.

Whether it’s 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 getting our bodies prepared to fight or flight.

What happens when we stress out about traffic

The fight or flight response prompts a burst of energy, but when we’re sitting in traffic there is nowhere to release the energy. It turns into physical and emotional discomfort.

But what happens if we’re chronically stressed? 

Stress can disrupt your appetite and cause a series of 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 couple strategies we can use to mitigate the impact of stress.

  1. 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 floormat, your hands on the steering wheel, and your seatbelt across your chest. Practicing mindfulness has been shown to 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.
  2. Breathe. In particular, try box breathing. Also called square breathing or four-square breathing, box breathing is a relaxation technique that is 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. This cycle is then repeated for a total of four breaths. Some of the benefits of box breathing include reducing stress, promoting calmness, and improving concentration.
  3. Listen to calming tunes or your favorite songs to help you feel more relaxed while in traffic. 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 at all. 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.
  4. 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.

If you’re staring down a bunch of break lights, it can be challenging thinking of the upside of traffic, 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, entertaining audiobook, or make it a practice to reach out to friends you’ve fallen out of touch with. By focusing on the opportunity in the time, you can accomplish new things.

Ultimately, the best solution is avoid traffic jams in general. From lost time, more pollution and increased spending on gasoline, traffic is a sink of resources.

Let’s talk alternatives to driving.

The benefits of carpooling

As remote work wanes, gas prices continue to rise with inflation and traffic jams becoming a familiar part of morning commutes, carpooling and other forms of commuting has 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 a ton of variables, like how much you drive, and the fuel-grade you use for your car, 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.

Carpooling is more sustainable

The next benefit of choosing to carpool is that it helps the environment by reducing carbon footprints and pollution . One person driving alone typically produces 10 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 as a means of reducing 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 your own account, you can search for riders who live in the same area as you need them to commute from. In addition to that, many people have found success in posting ads or emailing friends and family members who they think 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. It can also provide some great benefits for your wallet and your mental health.

Here are three reasons why you should consider cycling to work instead of driving.

1. Cycling can save you money on gas and parking.

2. Cycling is a great way to get exercise without having to go to the gym. It’s alsolow-impact activity, so it is easy on your body and won’t exacerbate any existing stressors.

3. Cycling can help reduce stress levels. Exercise releases endorphins which improve mood.

Final thoughts

Long commutes can seriously impact our mental, emotional and physical health, but with the right strategies we for coping, we can stress less, save more money, and have a better commute. Drop us an e-mail and let us know what strategies you use to manage commute stress.

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