How to Make Your Commute More Sane

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 11, 2021
3 min read

Commuting is an unavoidable part of life for the average worker. Traveling from home to the office and back again can be boring, tiring, and frustrating. It may feel like a waste of time and seem out of your control. It's important to make your commute as enjoyable as possible, not just to perform well in the working day ahead, but also to maintain your general well-being.

Research shows that there's a correlation between long commutes and lower well-being in certain areas of life.

People with long commutes are more tired and less productive at work than those with shorter commutes, one study found. They also have lower job satisfaction. It's not just job performance and satisfaction that's affected by your commute, however.

One survey showed that workers with long commutes felt more anxiety and lower life satisfaction compared to those with shorter journeys. These commuters were also less likely to find their daily activities worthwhile.

Commuting can even have a negative effect on your personal relationships. Research has found that couples in which one partner commutes at least 45 minutes to work every day face a 40% higher chance of divorce. Another study found that for each extra 10-minute period that a person commuted, they had 10% fewer social connections, increasing their sense of unhappiness and isolation.

It's important to shorten and improve your commute wherever possible.

Many people commute via public transit, taking buses, trams, or the subway to get to work. Spending hours of your day in a tightly packed carriage with a bunch of strangers is not ideal. You could consider switching from public transit to other modes of transport like cycling, walking, or carpooling. 

Not only are these other options environmentally friendly, but cycling and walking in particular (also known as 'active commuting') could help improve your physical health. Cycling to work is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and death from all causes. Walking to work is also associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

Cycling and walking are low-cost alternatives to public transit that help reduce traffic and air pollution. If you're walking, make sure to brush up on pedestrian safety rules — follow signs and signals, stick to sidewalks where possible, and walk facing the traffic if you must go on the road. 

If your office is too far for an active commute to be an option, don't despair. Public transit can be enjoyable if you keep yourself occupied. Some common commute activities include:

  • Reading a book or magazine
  • Listening to music or podcasts
  • Journaling or planning your day
  • Learning a new language with audiotapes
  • Watching TV shows or movies

Reading is a particularly good option if the commute stresses you out. Just 30 minutes of reading can lower your blood pressure and heart rate, and reduce stressful feelings similar to practicing yoga. Listening to relaxing music can also reduce symptoms of psychological stress including heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones.

Writing in a journal on your commute is a great option, especially if you've been diagnosed with a mental health condition. Mental health journaling helps with:

  • Acknowledging and prioritizing problems, anxieties, and fears
  • Tracking daily changes in mental health symptoms
  • Recognizing and reflecting on triggers
  • Encouraging positive self-talk

TV shows and movies will keep you entertained during boring journeys, but be careful to not overdo it. Too much screen time has been linked with obesity, depression, sleep problems, and neck and back pain.

Commuting gives you time to shift your mental focus from social or domestic life to professional life. Small everyday rituals can help you ease in this shift and get in the zone for work. These rituals can lower anxiety, increase the enjoyment of activities, and even help you bounce back faster after an experience of failure or loss.

Consider making your own commuting ritual to follow every day. This could include:

  • Buying your favorite coffee from the same shop
  • Reading or listening to the news
  • Drawing, knitting, or coloring
  • Writing a daily schedule or to-do list

Depending on the nature of your commute, you can also socialize as you travel to work. For example, if you drive, you can call a friend with your phone on speaker. If you take a company shuttle, try talking to the person sitting next to you. This will help reduce the isolating effects of long commutes.