There was a point in my career when I was making a three-hour roundtrip commute to work. And every single minute of it felt stressful. The drive into the office was a frenzy through traffic lights, freeway lanes, and radio station traffic reports — all in an effort to shave a few minutes off my ETA.
But then one day, it all changed…I had kids. Sounds counterintuitive, right? But after the kids were dropped off, I actually began to relish those quiet car rides to work. And since my commute became one of the few moments in the day that I had time to myself, I learned to take advantage. And you should too!
If you find yourself stressed during your commute, here are a few tricks and tactics you can use to make your ride a little less hectic and put you in the right mindset for a more productive day.
1. Plot out your entertainment
Frantically flipping between radio stations or shuffling songs is just another activity that can take you out of the moment and increase your anxiety. Instead, settle on a playlist of your favorite songs or new music you’d like to try ahead of time.
Or if you’d rather tune into something else, you don’t have to listen to music at all. Download a podcast or audiobook. If you’re not driving, read that article you’ve had open on your computer forever or try a crossword puzzle.
Most importantly, think about what might put you in the perfect space for a successful day. But take heed to avoid anything with the opposite effect. For example, one Harvard study suggested listening to negative news (like talk radio) can lower your job performance, raise your stress levels, and affect your mood.
2. Embrace a silent commute
As I mentioned earlier, it wasn’t until having children that I really appreciated the beauty of a silent car ride. (Love the little guys, but mommy needs an occasional break from Kidz Bop.) Think of your commute as an the opportunity to enjoy the time with yourself.
If it helps, disconnect from your phone or radio and embrace the silence. Be mindful. Reflect on your mood. Take in any scenic landscapes or skylines along your commute. Focus on your breathing and posture. One Washington Post story reported that many commuters who practice mindfulness relayed benefits like lower stress, greater tolerance of other commuters, and decreased road rage.
If your thoughts are a little too active, try using the time to think about your week ahead and make a plan if that relaxes you. Just be sure to steer things back to happy thoughts if any negative ones begin to creep in.
3. Catch up with someone important
I got into the habit of calling my mother on my commute home. It served as a way to pass the time, taking my mind off of the drive. If I had a tough day, she always emanated positive energy, turning my mood around.
While many moms are great for this, you can enlist anyone as your positivity partner — someone you can regularly talk to on the way to or from work. Or use the time on your commute to write a note or email to a friend or family member and catch up. You’ll feel more fulfilled and connected when they write back.
4. Pre-eliminate those stressors
In a pre-epiphany commute, my car ride home was often no less melodramatic than my commute to the office. Though I should have been relieved my workday was done, I was often “hangry” and impatient. I would sit in a rigid posture with fingers so tightly clenched around the steering wheel that I developed calluses. Obviously, that wasn’t healthy.
Now, I’ve gotten in the routine of packing healthy snacks for long rides ahead of time. (And did you know there are even stress-reducing foods?)
But your commute preparation shouldn’t stop there. When we’re rushing or ill-prepared, it’s easy to get worked up and set a bad tone for the day. Eliminate potential stressors by allowing yourself plenty of time to get to work, even accounting for potential delays. If you use navigation or Bluetooth, have your route plotted and device paired before you head out.
I’ve been there before; I’ve experienced the weight of plenty high-anxiety rides and commutes. No matter how much time I’ve saved in rushing to my destination, those experiences only left me drained and sour. But I’ve learned a valuable lesson. The traffic might be out of your control, but when it comes to controlling your reactions to it, you’re in the driver’s seat.
Nina Reeder is a journalist and media manager, who has contributed to outlets such as Ebony, AOL.com, Marriott Hotels, and more. She’s a self-proclaimed foodie, but also has passions for health/wellness (which doesn’t always work out well). You can follow her on Instagram here.