For many of us, the daily commute is something to be endured rather than enjoyed. More often than not, it adds an undue amount of stress to our already demanding lives. To build up a better idea of just how stressful commuting can be, we conducted a survey of 1,000 American commuters aged between 18 and 65 to see how they felt about their own commutes. Unsurprisingly, we discovered that 76% completed their daily journeys by car, which – according to a recent McGill University study – is also the most stressful form of transport in comparison to all others.
But why, when cars are the most favored mode of transport, are they also the most traumatic? Research suggests that drivers have the highest average stress levels due to the number of “unexpected delays” they experience weekly. To counteract these likely delays and undesirable patches of congestion, drivers end up budgeting in an average of 21 minutes extra travel time, undoubtedly adding more stress and resentment to their day. Furthermore, they agree more strongly than walkers or transit riders with the statement that “the only good thing about traveling is arriving at my destination”—suggesting they derive little to no enjoyment from the trip itself.
However, it’s not just drivers that feel stressed when making their daily trips. Unexpected delays, cancellations and fellow commuters came out on top as the biggest causes of stressful journeys across individuals who used all modes of transport. According to Annie Barreck of the University of Montreal’s School of Industrial Relations, “A correlation exists between commuting stress factors and the likelihood of suffering from burnout.” So, how can you “keep calm and commute on” in the wake of everyday stress?
A growing awareness of mindfulness, and its effectiveness in mitigating stress, has led to apps like Headspace offering guided commuting meditations. To date, around 1.2 million commuters have listened to these through the app and the website, meaning you have most likely been in the presence of someone practicing active mindfulness techniques next to you on the subway, the train or the bus.
Breathing exercises are an excellent way to control anxiety and stress, and allow you to regulate and moderate your response to external pressures. Inhaling for four counts, holding for two, and then exhaling again (4-2-4) will put your body into a relaxed state. While you may receive a few sideways glances if you over emphasize your breaths, the serenity you feel will be worth it.
Aside from hiking up our stress hormone levels, one of the other problems with modern commutes is that they no longer provide downtime where we can reflect, disconnect and be present in the moment. By setting your devices to either the Airplane or Do Not Disturb mode, you will intentionally create a short pocket of time in which you can digitally-detox and switch off from everything except your own mind.
This can almost seem blissful, until it’s interrupted with unwanted detours and delays. When we feel like we’re not moving or that events are out of our control, it can cause a great deal of anxiety. Mindfulness teaches you to shift your focus away from thinking of commutes as “wasted time in trying to get somewhere,” and toward the understanding that being late is ultimately not the end of the world.
To find out more on how to reduce commuter-induced stress, read the full infographic featured below.
Legraina, A., Elurub, N. and El-Geneidya, A.M. (2015). ‘Am stressed, must travel: The relationship between mode choice and commuting stress’. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, 34.
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