Zen Your Way to a Better Commute

traffic commute
SAN FRANCISCO – JUNE 30: Traffic leaves San Francisco at the beginning of the 4th of July holiday weekend on June 30, 2006 in San Francisco, California. Despite the rising cost of gasoline, daily gasoline demand was up 0.9 percent from a year ago. According to AAA about 40.7 million Americans will travel over 50 miles or more from home during the 4th of July holiday, an increase of about 1.2 percent over last year. (Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

If you’re a typical American, you spend a frustrating amount of time commuting to and from work.  Speaking for myself, I spend roughly an hour and a half to two hours a day (Monday thru Friday) in my car.  Let’s all utter a collective “Ugh!”, shall we?

Bumper to bumper traffic is one of the worst stressors there is.  That sea of red lights, the gridlock . . just yuck.  I don’t have a Type A personality unless I am in traffic and then all bets are off.   Being tense, upset and agitated before you even stroll (or run) into the office is not the best way to start the day.  Trust me.

So what to do?  Through much trial and error (and a handful of curse words that would make a drunk sailor blush) I have found a few solutions that work for me and might work for you as well.

1.  Change, change, change.  This is a three-fer.  Change your hours, change your route, change your mindset.  The first two you may not be able to do but the third is doable.  So let’s start with the toughest.  If you can work alternate hours, avoid the prime rush hour commute.  That’s a no brainer, isn’t it?  Of course it may mean that you need to head into the office early (which may also translate to leaving early so good on you!) or come in later, which could mean you’re working later hours.  You just have to determine which is a better fit for you (and which is less stressful.)

I did the changing of the routes and it works much better for me.  I had no lack of suggestions for my drive when I moved.  I moved closer to work and yet it was taking me longer.  Why?  Three words . . . southern California traffic.  So I tried this route, that route, cut through here, shoot down there.  No matter what I did – – side streets or freeway – – the end result was the same when it came to timing.  So I elected a route that mileage was is a bit longer but it gives me gorgeous scenery, which certainly helps to keep me focused and calm behind the wheel.  Even if you don’t have that option, try a variety of routes available that may give you a break on mileage and/or time.  And pick the one (or ones, depending on time and day) that work best for you.

Changing your mindset is the most immediate action and the one you have complete and total control over and yet can be the toughest.  We live in a go-go-go, “I want it now” society and our roads are jammed full of aggressive drivers who are on the verge of a coronary if they don’t make it to work in the next five minutes.  (Alongside those who are on a Sunday drive without a care in the world, which creates another type of stress for those of us who do need to get to work.)   It’s not easy to tell yourself “I’ll get there when I get there” but for your own sanity, you have to do it.  If there’s an accident that has caused a traffic jam, there is nothing you can do about that.  If you’re running late, you’re running late.  Just accept that you’re going to be late to work and go with it.

2.  Carpool.   If this option is available to you, it not only helps with wear and tear on your car and your gas expenses (dicey here in Cali) but also helps the environment by putting fewer vehicles on the road.  If you’ve seen a smog layer sitting over your city, that should be incentive enough.  To boot, you also have company on your drive and this could lead to a stronger professional relationship and friendship with a co-worker.  Win-win.

3.  Public Transportation.  Many people might turn their noses up at the thought of public transportation but look at New York’s subway system, Atlanta’s MARTA, San Francisco’s BART and San Diego’s Coaster, to name a few.  Sure, there’s the downside of being on their schedule and missing the convenience of having your car readily accessible from the office but the benefits far outweigh the negatives.  The 405 traffic has zero impact on your commute, you will arrive at your destination station at the same time every single day and you can spend that time on the train or bus reading, knitting, doing crosswords, sleeping . . . however you like, keeping you chill until you arrive at work.

4.  Audiobooks.  If you don’t have the option for carpooling, public transportation or changing your hours and absolutely must be in the car during prime rush hour, audiobooks are a charm.  They have been a saving grace for me.  I belong to Audible and the $22.95 a month I spend to belong is worth every penny for saving my sanity.  Whatever my mood or preference may be – – humor, romance, biography, history, even how-to – – I simply select a book from my library, plug my iPad into my car stereo and away I go.  Listening to a good (or even not so good in some cases) book takes my mind off the road and accompanying stress and I find I don’t mind the time spent behind the wheel.   It actually helps to take a previously “wasted” block of time and use it to learn something new or just laugh along with the author and narrator.  Don’t believe me?  Give it a try.  You can sign up for Audible on a 30 day trial basis for free.

5.  Have Some Good Scents.  I love aromatherapy and essential oils.  I am a big proponent of them for all variety of uses.  Scents affect our moods as well as our brain function and there is an essential oil for any need, whether you feel sluggish and foggy in the a.m. (or p.m.) or just need some basic stress relief.  I have a plug-in diffuser for my car but you can make do with a cotton ball and Ziploc sandwich bag.  Simply choose your essential oil, place 4-8 drops on a cotton ball, drop the cotton ball into a sandwich bag and zip it up.  Once you get in your car, open the sandwich bag and place in your cup holder.  The smell will energize you or calm you (whatever you choose) and it will make your car smell wonderful.  It’s fantastic to get into your car after a long day at the office and be greeted by a comforting/calming/invigorating/clean scent, let me tell you.

6.  BYOB.  Water, that is.  I keep a bottle of water handy in my car.  Frustration can lead to headaches and staying hydrated is the best thing you can do to alleviate those aches and pains.  Plus that water comes in handy on a hot day.

 

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