The average commute in the United States is just over 25 minutes one way. Unfortunately for Americans, studies have shown commuting for more than 20 minutes can cause chronic stress.
Mental stress leads to increased levels of cortisol, which produces inflammatory chemicals that encourage symptoms of depression and anxiety. It can also increase blood pressure and lead to fatigue and irritability.
Despite all this, commuting is a daily part of life for most Americans. We’ve put together a list of different ways you can de-stress your commute (and maybe even enjoy it).
Develop healthy habits
Do your fraying nerves a favor — make the time to be healthier. Physical health is essential to reducing stress and staying calm.
Bike to work at least twice a week
Take time to ride your bike to work. It’s a great way to incorporate some fun into your daily routine. Health guidelines recommend about two hours of moderate activity each week to combat stress, so biking a 25–to-30-minute commute a few times each week will help you hit this goal.
Cycling helps lower blood pressure and boost energy, and exercise of any kind has been shown to alleviate symptoms of depression. Outdoor exercise also improves your mood by releasing endorphins and stimulating neurotransmitters, the signals that control emotional response.
Drink a citrus smoothie along the way
Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day — it kick-starts your metabolism, gives you energy and has even been shown to improve concentration.
Include citrus and green tea into your morning drink when you’re feeling stressed. Citrus prevents spikes in cortisol — the smell alone can be enough to calm your mood. Green tea is another must-have when it comes to your stress-fighting breakfast. It boosts dopamine and serotonin, the “happiness hormones.”
Enjoy the ride
Who says commuting can’t be fun? Put on a smile and insist on having a good time — whether you drive, take the bus or walk!
Make yourself laugh
Laughter has mood-boosting effects that can leave you feeling relaxed and happy no matter where you are. In fact, laughter induces physical changes in your body that can have a big impact on your mental state, including boosting endorphins, increasing heart rate and blood pressure and stimulating circulation to aid muscle relaxation.
If you drive to work, a comedy podcast or talk show is a great way to get a good laugh in before work. For public transportation commuters, there’s nothing quite like watching videos of stand-up comedians, cats doing weird stuff, or laughing babies.
Carpool to work with a friend
Sometimes talking with a friend is the best medicine for a stressed mind. Just being in the presence of a close friend has been proven to lower cortisol levels. One study found that spending time with someone who is happy makes you more than 15 percent more likely to be happy yourself.
Riding to work with a friend or coworker is a great way to squeeze much-needed social time and fun into your busy schedule. Grab some coffee and hit the road to work with a buddy to boost your happiness levels and theirs too! You can also call a friend or family member on your way to work for a chat — just use hands-free if you drive!
Bring your dog along for the ride
A dog a day keeps the doctor away. Our furry friends help us counteract stress by boosting our oxytocin and lowering cortisol levels. Pets can also help to reduce feelings of fear and loneliness.
Having the company of your pet on the way to work will improve your mood. If allowed, bring your pooch to work with you one day a week. If your boss isn’t cool with a dog in the office or if you don’t have a pup of your own, take another route to pass by an animal shelter or dog park on your way home from work. Just looking at cute dogs can make you happy!
Switch things up by taking a different route
If you’re feeling wound-up on your morning commute, you may just need a change of scenery. A study from York University in Toronto found that boredom could be a cause of mental stress.
To fight boredom, switch things up by finding a new way to get to work. Drive through a park or by a river, take a different train or map out a new bike path to the office.
Do something nice for another commuter
Altruistic behavior produces a ‘reward’ in the form of happiness and an improved mood. Think of this as giving yourself a mental pat on the back after doing something kind for someone. In one study, Americans who demonstrated altruism consistently were 48 percent more likely to be in excellent health.
Fight stress on your commute by doing something nice for another commuter. Give up your seat on the bus to an elderly woman or let another driver into your lane during rush hour. You might even make a new friend!
Find your zen
Instead of getting worked up or frazzled during your commute, try to find some inner peace. A calm, quiet mind is a happy and healthy mind.
Use a guided meditation app
Meditation has been shown to decrease stress by reducing the inflammation caused by cortisol hormones. It can also alter brain function by increasing the physical volume of areas of the brain dedicated to emotion regulation and self-control.
You can practice meditation wherever you are — whether you walk, bike, take the subway, or drive yourself to work. Guided meditation utilizes visualization and auditory instructions to walk you through a short meditation session. Apps like Calm provide guided meditation sessions that you can listen to and follow no matter how you commute.
Utilize essential oils that promote calmness
Aromatherapy uses essential oils inhaled through the nose or mouth or rubbed on the skin. The scent of these oils interacts with an area of your brain called the limbic system, which plays a role in emotional regulation, behavior, long-term memory, and even physiological functions like breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.
The best oils for stress reduction include lavender, chamomile, and eucalyptus. Use an oil diffuser in your car or carry a rollerball to practice aromatherapy on your way to and from work.
Use the time to “read” with an audiobook
According to Mindlab International at the University of Sussex, reading for six minutes a day can reduce stress levels by 68 percent. Researchers involved in the study believe that by fully immersing yourself in a story, your mind and emotions can be put at ease.
Public transportation commuters can dive into a novel on their way to work, but those who drive to work may need some improvisation. Luckily, there are thousands of audiobooks you can listen to while you drive. Just remember to pay attention to the road!
That nine-to-five work life can take its toll. Reward yourself for a hard day’s work every once in a while — you might even find yourself looking forward to your commute!
Wear cozy clothes until you get to the office
Why not keep your pajamas on while you commute? Instead of putting on uncomfortable heels or work shoes, carry a pair of slippers or flip-flops with you to slip on when you commute. Your clothing can affect your mood, so keep the fuzzy bunny slippers on while you head to work!
When the weather gets chilly, bring a fluffy jacket or scarf with you. Warmth has been proven to boost mood and relax the mind — stay toasty and stress-free on your way to work.
Snack on dark chocolate on the way home
When the work day is over and you’re ready to head home, treat yourself to dark chocolate. Chocolate with high concentrations (at least 70 percent) of cacao has been shown to have positive effects on stress, inflammation, and mood.
In place of that soda or cheeseburger you were going to grab on the way home, consider snacking on dark chocolate to relax after a long day of work. You’ve earned it!
Your daily commute doesn’t have to be stressful. Whether you’re on the way to work in the morning or heading home after a long day in the office, we hope these stress-reducing tips will help improve your mood and calm your mind the next time you commute.